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De Blasio Faces Backlash From Council Speaker After Uber Deal

By Jeff Mays | July 23, 2015 5:17pm
 Mayor Bill de Blasio received push back on the deal with Uber to avoid a cap on growth, including from one of his strongest allies, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Mayor Bill de Blasio received push back on the deal with Uber to avoid a cap on growth, including from one of his strongest allies, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
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Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio was criticized by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito over comments he made after the city struck a deal with Uber.

The mayor appeared on "CBS This Morning" to talk about the agreement, where in exchange for dropping a proposed cap on e-hail car services, the company agreed to hand over trip data that will allow a city consultant to the study the traffic effects of the growth of the industry.

Co-host Norah O'Donnell asked de Blasio: "So why did you cave?"

"Well, we haven't," de Blasio responded. "If we decide we need a cap we'll go in that direction. If we need a different approach that's fine."

Mark-Viverito said the mayor was trying to "save face" at the "expense of the Council" and the notion that her leadership could not have lead to the deal with Uber smacked of sexism and racism.

"I find it offensive as a woman and as a Latina who's leading this legislative body that somehow the impression is that I was forced to my position," predominantly by men, Mark-Viverito said.

"In him saying that the cap bill is off the table, it's really not for him to decide," she added.

A City Council source said the speaker had the votes to approve the cap, but decided to work with Uber to come up with a solution.

She helped convene the meeting with City Council staff, the Mayor's Office and Uber Wednesday and had met with Uber in the past.

In the days leading up to Wednesday's agreement, Uber had ramped up a publicity campaign, managed by former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, that said de Blasio was in the pocket of the yellow cab industry because they were major donors to his campaign.

Celebrities including Kate Upton and Neil Patrick Harris also took to Twitter to support Uber.

The company also lobbied African-American leaders to fight the plan because they said it would keep minorities and low-income earners from decent-paying jobs.

"Plouffe ran a brilliant campaign," said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College.

A source close to Uber who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly on behalf of the company, agreed.

"We had a good campaign where we decided to make our case directly to the public," said the source.

In multiple appearances de Blasio framed the agreement as a victory and part of a larger global fight against unchecked corporate influence.

He maintained the same tough rhetoric about Uber— calling them a "multi-billion dollar corporation" most interested in "looking out for its own interests and its own profitability" —  as he described how mayors in Paris, New Orleans and Portland had the same issues as New York City when Uber set up in those cities.

"Everyone went through a similar scenario, where Uber thought its ability to purchase advertising and lobbyists would be all it needed to get its way without any exception," the mayor said Thursday at an unrelated press conference in Queens.

The mayor had recently returned from an event at the Vatican attended by mayors from across the globe.

"So it’s quite clear to me that the victory here is that Uber understands that there has to be a set of rules," de Blasio added.

But the perception that the city was a loser in the deal was hard to shake.

"But it seems like Uber whenever it's challenged simply gets its way in the end," said "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose.

Sherrill believes de Blasio actually came out better on the Uber deal than the perception.

"This standoff made me think about the strategy of deterrence where each side is threatening to go nuclear and meanwhile there are back channel negotiations," Sherrill said. "The end game was face-saving for the mayor because the outcome of a full on confrontation with Uber was unclear and might have been quite damaging."