THE BRONX — Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake is not taking a job with a top political consulting firm, following outcry over the announcement he made the same day former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was convicted in a corruption trial.
Rebecca Katz, a partner at Hilltop Public Solutions, confirmed that Blake would not be joining the firm as a partner. Blake said the decision was his.
"While everything was ethical and appropriate, the climate right now creates a perception," Blake said in an interview.
He added that he didn't want the "distraction" the job created.
Good government groups criticized the announcement Friday that Blake, who has spoken in favor of ethics reform, would take such a position, especially given the climate in Albany around corruption.
Two of the most powerful politicians in the state — Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver— were both convicted of selling their offices by federal prosecutors within the last month.
Both convictions involved outside employment.
Silver was convicted of receiving millions in kickbacks from companies with business before the state by masking the income as money earned from legitimate employment.
Skelos and his son Adam were convicted on eight counts of bribery and extortion after Skelos's son secured no-show jobs based on the promise of favorable legislation.
"How many prosecutions will it take before Albany gives the people of New York the honest government they deserve?" U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tweeted after Skelos was convicted.
Blake's announcement came on the same day Skelos was convicted. The press release did not mention that Blake was an assemblyman.
Blake said he had cleared the position with a state ethics commission and saw no conflict of interest because he would be working with national and international clients. Being a state legislator is officially considered a part-time job. Many assemblymen and senators have outside work.
Although he is single and without children, Blake said he uses his income to support his mother and a nephew, among other family members.
"I understand the sensitivity," said Blake who added that he already consulted for national and international clients over the last year.
"In the exact same way that individuals have multiple jobs to support their families and provide for their needs, this is no different," he added.
Greatly reducing or eliminating the ability of state lawmakers to earn outside income while boosting their salaries is one of the proposed solutions to reduce corruption in Albany.
Legislators earn $79,500 per year plus stipends ranging from $61 to $172 for days they are working in Albany.
Blake's 2014 financial disclosure forms show that he earned anywhere from $82,000 to $146,000 in outside income from speeches and consulting for groups such as Leadership for Educational Equity, Green for All, Operation Hope and 1199 SEIU United Healthcare.
Income over $1,000 is reported on state financial disclosure forms.
Dick Dadey, executive director of good government group Citizens Union, said Blake's position would have placed him in a compromising position in the eyes of the public.
"The world of politics is so interconnected you cannot separate yourself from the sort of influence that political consulting involves," Dadey said. "In that world, everything is connected."
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that a job in the state legislature should be a full-time position. The mayor is connected to Hilltop Public Solutions through the firm's partners— Katz and Bill Hyers—who serve as his advisors.
"I think the assemblyman ultimately made the right decision," de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference. "It was obviously a very sensitive moment. I think he thought about that, and did the right thing."