THE BRONX — On the same day one of the most powerful lawmakers in the state was convicted of selling his office, Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake announced he was taking a job with an influential political consulting firm.
Blake will join Hilltop Public Solutions as a partner, the firm announced in a press release Friday afternoon.
"I am excited to be joining Hilltop,” Blake said in the release, which did not mention he was an Assemblyman. “I look forward to working with the team and helping as we focus on progressive issues around the country.”
Blake, in a telephone interview, said there is no conflict of interest between his two jobs because he will work only on national and international projects for Hilltop. He said the release did not mention his role as an elected official because he wanted to make it clear the two aren't related.
"No conflict at all," said Blake who said the position was approved by the legislative ethics commission. "I understand the sensitivity," he added.
The announcement was sent out on the same day that former Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam were convicted on eight counts of bribery and extortion following a federal trial, and weeks after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted of abusing his office by receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks from companies with business before the state.
After Skelos' conviction, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tweeted: "How many prosecutions will it take before Albany gives the people of New York the honest government they deserve?"
How many prosecutions will it take before Albany gives the people of New York the honest government they deserve? @SDNYnews— US Attorney Bharara (@PreetBharara) December 11, 2015
Dick Dadey, executive director of good government group Citizens Union, was disappointed by Blake's announcement.
"This is just more of the same self-dealing that we see in Albany, but with the most horrible timing," Dadey said.
"When the second legislative leader in a month is convicted of corruption and one of the good guys we thought we sent to Albany to change the culture is now becoming consumed by that culture, it's extremely disappointing," he added.
Hilltop did not respond to requests for comment. But its founder and managing partner Nick Baldick hailed Blake's experience in a statement.
“Michael brings a wealth of national experience in politics and public service to Hilltop. From The Bronx to Iowa to Washington, D.C., his impressive background is ideal for working with our wide-ranging client base," Baldick added.
The firm is home to advisors to Mayor Bill de Blasio — Rebecca Katz and Bill Hyers are also partners in the New York office.
Blake once worked on the campaign of President Barack Obama and served in his administration as associate director of public engagement and deputy associate director of the office of intergovernmental affairs, where he is credited with launching the White House Urban Entrepreneurship Summit series.
He said it was his background that helped get him the consulting job, not his current political position. Over the last year, Blake said he has engaged in work as an independent consultant for national organizations and also served as a consultant on elections in Ghana and Nigeria.
"I'm focused on national efforts and international efforts," Blake said.
In order to solve the culture of corruption in Albany, Dadey said major ethics reforms such as severely limiting outside employment while increasing pay need to be put in place. Blake serves on a committee appointed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to examine ethics reforms.
Given the nature of Hilltop's work, it's going to be hard for the public not to believe that Blake's position had something to do with him getting the job, Dadey added.
Blake disagreed and says he plans to be very transparent about his pay and his clients on his disclosure forms.
"I think it would have seemed like I'm hiding something to hold off on the announcement," he said of Friday's timing.
"I'm displaying incredible transparency. It's random in nature that this comes out the same day Skelos was found guilty. Obviously, we did not plan that," Blake added.