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De Blasio: Emails With 'Agents of the City' Should Be Hidden From Public

By Jeff Mays | May 20, 2016 10:47am
 Good government groups say the mayor is limiting transparency in his administration.
Good government groups say the mayor is limiting transparency in his administration.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

NEW YORK CITY — Five top advisers to Mayor Bill de Blasio have been named as "agents of the city," meaning that some of their communications with the mayor are now being shielded from public view.

The advisers are the same people who ran de Blasio's campaign for mayor and subsequently ran the nonprofit to push his political agenda that is now being investigated by federal and state authorities. They are not paid by the city but some have received millions from the mayor's nonprofit.

“The Mayor’s counsel has determined that in certain circumstances the five following individuals are considered personal advisors to the Mayor: Jonathan Rosen, Nicholas Baldick, Bill Hyers, John Del Cecato and Patrick Gaspard," de Blasio lawyer Maya Wiley said in a statement.

"As personal advisors to the Mayor, their communications to the Mayor’s Office, along with those of their support staff working at the principal’s direction on those particular matters, are exempt from disclosure when related solely to City business and not on behalf of any client," she added.

READ MORE: Here's What We Know About the Probe Into Mayor Bill de Blasio's Fundraising

Rosen is a principal and co-founder of the BerlinRosen public relations firm, which was a core strategist for de Blasio's mayoral campaign. Baldick is the founder of Hilltop Public Solutions where Hyers is a principal. Hyers also served as de Blasio's campaign manager.

DNAinfo New York reported two members of de Blasio's staff left City Hall to work for Hilltop before also working for the mayor's now-shuttered nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York.

READ MORE: De Blasio Advisers Easily Moved From City Hall to Mayor's Probed Nonprofit

Both Hilltop and BerlinRosen were paid a total of more than $2 million from the Campaign for One New York to push initiatives such as universal Pre-K and de Blasio's unsuccessful effort to help Democrats win control of the state Senate.

The mayor is facing a federal investigation into whether donors to the Campaign for One New York received favors in exchange for their donations. Authorities are also examining whether the effort to win control of the state Senate violated campaign finance and election laws.

De Blasio has denied any wrongdoing. BerlinRosen was subpoenaed as part of the probe.

Del Cecato is a partner at AKPD Message and Media, the firm that created de Blasio's 2013 campaign ad featuring de Blasio's son, Dante. The firm received $1.32 million in consulting fees from the Campaign for One New York in 2014 and 2015.

Gaspard is a close friend of the mayor's who is also the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa.

Normally, communications between city officials and those not being paid by the city are subject to disclosure to the public under the Freedom of Information Law.

The city used the "agents of the city" designation to withhold information from a records request by NY 1 to disclose communications between Rosen and de Blasio.

"Freedom of Information Law actually provides exemption from communications between the city and itself and its agents. And in certain circumstances there are folks who are not city employees but are acting as agents of the city," Wiley said.

The city also says the "agents of the city" designation is not a formal one.

The designation is reminiscent of an effort by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to keep e-mails from former schools chancellor Cathie Black private. Bloomberg lost a challenge in court and was forced to reveal the emails.

De Blasio said Rosen is someone he has consulted with for years.

"If someone is advising me as he is advising me because he is a friend, because he is a colleague, because he is advising me, no one has to pay him, he can advise me. If it’s something for a client....then it has to be disclosed," de Blasio said.

The city also cited a Supreme Court decision that determined that the "test of an outside advisor’s relationship is whether the outside advisor 'does not represent an interest of its own, or the interest of any other client."

However, some of de Blasio's "agents of the city" have clients with business before the city.

Good government groups such as Common Cause New York and Citizens Union said the "agents of the city" assertion only serves to limit transparency.

"It's an unfortunate effort to hide from the public those who are an important part of the decision-making process at City Hall," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union. "It's not how a Democracy should be run."

Common Cause on Friday requested that the Conflicts of Interest Board and Campaign Finance Board review the emails between the mayor and his listed "agents of the city."

Because four of the five are private consultants who may be lobbying the mayor or using information obtained from the mayor to benefit their clients, "this vague category demands explanation," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause.

"The proliferation of the city's shadow government remains a matter of public interest, especially given this protected class of individuals who operate without oversight or accountability," she added.