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I Don't Have a 'Shadow Government,' De Blasio Says

By Jeff Mays | November 29, 2016 4:27pm
 Mayor Bill de Blasio said he's not running a
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he's not running a "shadow government" and that there was no conflict of interest even as one of his unpaid "agent of the city" advisers— who has clients with business before the city—sat in on regular staff meetings, offered detailed advice and recommended people for jobs at City Hall.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

ONE POLICE PLAZA — Mayor Bill de Blasio says he's not running a "shadow government" with his unpaid advisers known as "agents of the city."

"It's not even close to that. I think that phrase is honestly ridiculous," de Blasio said. 

The mayor has been criticized by good government groups for trying to keep correspondence between himself and his "agents" hidden from the public, even though one of them — Jonathan Rosen from public relations and consulting firm BerlinRosen — has sat in regularly on his staff meetings and recommended people for jobs at City Hall.

"These are individuals who advised me for years and years. They're offering ideas. There's nothing about that that is out of the ordinary," the mayor said at an unrelated press conference Tuesday. "Everyone who holds high office has advisers and they offer advice."

►READ MORE: Emails Show De Blasio's 'Agent of the City' Was Deeply Involved in Policy

The mayor's remarks come after City Hall released 1,500 pages of heavily redacted emails between Rosen and the mayor on Thanksgiving Eve.

The emails show that Rosen — who helped run de Blasio's 2013 campaign for mayor, as well as his Campaign for One New York political nonprofit that is now under federal and state investigation, in addition to his upcoming reelection — was deeply involved in policy decisions at City Hall even though he represents clients with business before the city.

The emails, which don't represent all of de Blasio and his staff's communications with Rosen, show that Rosen sat in on regular staff meetings with the mayor and his top team of city advisers.

Rosen also gave the mayor and his city-employed advisers advice on how to handle policy decisions such as pursuing universal pre-K, sent job candidates to City Hall and requested that first lady Chirlane McCray speak at events held by his clients.

►READ MORE: Read the Emails City Hall Released Related to the Mayor's Fundraising Probe

Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner said that because de Blasio relies on Rosen for political advice, he has no grounds to insist his correspondence be exempt from the Freedom of Information Law, as City Hall has argued.

The arrangement is similar to a "shadow government" — and there are "no grounds" for the setup, Lerner said.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, agreed. He called the arrangement "unprecedented" and "unseemly" at best.

"This is not a way to run city government," said Dadey. "To profit from outside work and then be given inside access blurs the line between influence peddling and government work."

A spokesman for Rosen declined comment.

The city released the emails as the result of a Freedom of Information Law request and lawsuit from media organizations seeking the mayor's communications with his so-called "agents of the city."

Good government groups call City Hall's designation "fictional" and said de Blasio is blocking transparency.

The additional five "agents of the city" are: lawyer Joshua Gold, public relations executives Nicholas Baldick, Bill Hyers and John Del Cecato, and U.S. Ambassador Patrick Gaspard.

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

Gold worked on de Blasio's effort to push through universal pre-K with the help of his UPKNYC political nonprofit. Baldick is the founder of Hilltop Public Solutions where Hyers is a principal. Hyers also served as de Blasio's campaign manager.

Del Cecato is a partner at AKPD Message and Media, the firm that created de Blasio's famous 2013 campaign ad featuring his son, Dante de Blasio. Gaspard is a close friend of the mayor's who is also the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa.

Gold, BerlinRosen, Hilltop and AKPD were paid millions of dollars by the Campaign for One New York, and its precursor, UPKNYC, to run the organizations or serve as consultants.

► READ MORE: Sixth 'Agent of the City' Revealed as Part of Mayor's 'Shadow Government'

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is investigating whether donors to the Campaign for One New York, which was not bound by city campaign finance rules and could accept unlimited amounts of cash from individuals and entities with business before the city, received anything in return for their donations.

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

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics is also investigating whether the Campaign for One New York violated state law by failing to register the agency as a lobbyist.

De Blasio, who has retained a personal lawyer and recently submitted a $10 million legal contract for a white collar law firm to represent the city in the matter — on the taxpayers' dime — maintained that he did everything by the rules.

"I'm absolutely convinced that the highest standards were adhered to. Everything we did we did with legal clearance," said the mayor.

One of the rulings de Blaso is relying on is a decision from the Conflict of Interests Board that the Campaign for One New York was a nonprofit "partner" of the city.

The ruling allowed to City Hall advisers Rebecca Katz and Hayley Prim to work for Hilltop as it was running the Campaign for One New York in spite of a one-year ban on public employees going into a company that directly lobbies the government.

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

The COIB said the waiver was normally granted "sparingly, and only in exigent circumstances." Experts questioned the ruling.

Asked if Rosen had undue influence on City Hall because of his role, the mayor said he and his team were "very, very comfortable saying no" to anyone.

"Those conversations are rare to begin with and I'm absolutely certain that there's no representation of clients involved in those discussions," said de Blasio. "I listen to advice from many quarters. I make the decisions."

But Dadey said it does not appear that way with Rosen's access.

"Jonathan Rosen should not be advising the mayor as a client and having other clients seeking to influence his other client," said Dadey. "In order to have a city government operate with integrity you can't blend the two because of the opportunity for profiteering from one's relationship."