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De Blasio Does Favors For Developers Who Donate to Him, Voters Say

By Jeff Mays | May 25, 2016 12:24pm
 Voters believe that Mayor Bill de Blasio
Voters believe that Mayor Bill de Blasio "does favors for developers who make political contributions to campaigns in which he is involved," but a majority feel the activities are just unethical and not illegal, according to a new Quinnipiac University Poll.
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Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

HARLEM — Voters believe that Mayor Bill de Blasio “does favors for developers who make political contributions to campaigns in which he is involved,” but a majority feel the activities are just unethical and not illegal, a new poll shows.

The Quinnipiac University poll comes as de Blasio is embroiled in several federal, state and city investigations into his fundraising activities.

There is a federal investigation into whether donors to the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit the mayor started to advance his political agenda, received favors in exchange for their contributions.

Some donations came from developers who had business before the city. Also being probed by authorities is whether de Blasio's effort to win control of the state Senate violated campaign finance and election laws.

In addition, authorities are looking into straw donors in the mayor's campaign and examining why the city lifted deed restrictions on multiple properties for individuals who donated to the mayor's nonprofit or his effort to win back the Senate.

“With a virtual wildfire of news stories about corruption investigations, voters think Mayor Bill de Blasio has favored well-connected real estate people," Quinnipiac University Poll Assistant Director Maurice Carroll said in a statement.

Fifty-five percent of voters polled felt that the mayor is doing favors for developers who donate to his political campaigns, versus 21 percent who disagreed.

Every demographic agreed with that statement, including de Blasio's strongest supporters, black and Latino voters. Black voters, by a margin of 40 to 29 percent, believed the mayor does favors for developers who donate. Latino voters believed it by a margin of 58 percent to 24 percent.

But a majority of voters who believe the mayor is doing favors — 54 percent — also think de Blasio's actions are unethical but not against the law. Another 28 percent believe the mayor's actions are illegal.

De Blasio has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said that all of his actions were vetted by ethics boards and lawyers.

 The mayor's spokeswoman, Karen Hinton, dismissed the poll's findings.

“This poll is nothing but loaded questions. It’s like asking voters if they approve of robbing little old ladies," Hinton said.

"Contrary to the poll’s premise, this Mayor is requiring developers to build affordable housing, and he is the first mayor to do so in the city’s history.”

The mayor has hired a personal lawyer and the city has hired two law firms at the taxpayers' expense to deal with the probes.

De Blasio has made a moral argument that the issues he was raising money for — universal pre-K and affordable housing — justify the fundraising.

At least two people with business before the city said the mayor personally asked them to donate money to his political activities.

City and state law forbids public officials from soliciting funds from individuals or entities who have business interests before the city or are likely to in the future.

De Blasio counsel Maya Wiley has said "it is absolutely permissible under the ethics rules for a City official to request donations for people who had business before the City. The distinction here that is complex, and that’s getting lost is, pending transactions."

But the mayor has declined to explain further his definition of "pending transactions." That, along with an effort to hide communications with outside advisors from public view, has earned the mayor heavy criticism from good government groups that he is not being transparent.

Voters in the poll also said the mayor is not doing a good job handling corruption, by a margin of 53 to 24 percent. The poll found that 52 percent of voters think political corruption is a "very serious" problem in the city and 34 percent believe it is a "somewhat serious" problem.

Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University, said the numbers show the mayor still has political capital in spite of the flood of bad publicity. Among Democrats, 62 percent versus 13 percent found the mayor's fundraising activities to be unethical but not illegal.

That could change if there are further revelations, she said, but for now "crime is low, Pre-K is working and you have a mayor trying to figure out the public schools," Greer said.

"I'm not sure people think he's a crook," she added. "When people think about crooks they think about Albany."