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De Blasio Insists Taxpayer-Funded Videos Are Not Campaign Ads

By Danielle Tcholakian | December 30, 2016 1:53pm
 The mayor's video was compared to the work of Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl.
The mayor's video was compared to the work of Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

TIMES SQUARE — Criticism that he's using a taxpayer-funded team to produce campaign videos is "outrageous and ludicrous," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

De Blasio has come under fire for a video produced by his 15-person "creative communications" team, featuring Broadway performers, his wife and a senior adviser literally singing his praises. 



Good government advocates told the New York Daily News that it's unethical for the mayor to use taxpayer-funded resources to make campaign ads.

But de Blasio insisted that the video doesn't count as an ad because he didn't buy airtime for it.

"Ads have to be broadcast. You have to pay to get time for an ad," he said. "No one’s doing anything like that. So I think it’s a pretty big misunderstanding of what we did."

As reporters peppered him with questions about the video at his final press conference of 2016, he grew increasingly frustrated.

"It’s not an ad. You can say it all day long. It’s not an ad," he said. "I’ve actually been deeply involved in organizations that do advertising. You call up a TV station or a radio station, you purchase time. That’s an ad. This isn’t an ad. This is a video."

De Blasio refused to provide an answer when asked why City Hall opted to employ a team of 15 staffers to produce videos to disseminate to the public — on top of his existing press team — saying only, "I don't get into the details of how many people are necessary to do things."

The mayor insisted that the video is akin to "any other government report" — though it only shows statistics and information on a single placard held up for a few seconds.

He maintained that branches of government are "using video more and more as a way of transmitting information" because "a lot of people want to get their information that way."

"It makes sense that government has to do it, too," he said. "We have to put out information that’s accessible and interesting to people. We have to get out to people a whole host of things that the city is doing. We want to do it in an appealing and engaging way. This is how a lot of people like to get their information nowadays and it just makes sense."

The mayor accused reporters of having "developed a new concept of free advertising."

Reporters pointed out that it's not free because taxpayers foot the bill for the salaries of the people who produced it, and noted a line in the video that specifically endorses the mayor himself, not any of his policies: "No matter what will be, we've got Billy dB."

"You’re not talking about policy there. You’re not talking about what government did there. You are selling yourself as the leader of the city," Bloomberg reporter Henry Goldman said.

"Every leader of every organization puts out materials talking about what they’ve done. They usually have glossy pictures of their leaders, and letters from their leaders and quotes from their leaders," the mayor replied. "Come on. This is no different. It’s just a new way of getting information out."

"It's not a new way. Leni Riefenstahl did it," Goldman replied, referring to the filmmaker who produced the Nazi propaganda film "Triumph of the Will."

"The message here is about you," Goldman added. "It’s not about what the government of New York City did."

Still, the mayor insisted his administration would continue to produce such videos in 2017, though by law incumbent elected officials are barred from using their office's resources to promote themselves in an election year.

"Obviously, we know in an election year there’s going to be particular ground rules that we follow. Everything we do like that of course goes through legal guidance," de Blasio said. "But we’re gonna put out a lot of information that has nothing to do with me as being a character in the video. We’re going to be putting out a lot of information on a lot of other topics."

Asked if "the job is going to your head if you think it’s appropriate to have professional singers sing your praises," de Blasio bristled, "I feel my head is quite fine."