Tuesday, September 08, 2009


The NY Times has a report on the swirling number of potential conflicts at-incongruously-the Deparment of Investigation: "Ever since the New York City Charter was revised in 1989, public officials have been warned about trying to parlay their official positions into personal gain. And the powerful, if largely anonymous, body that keeps those officials in line, using the threat of hefty fines and even job termination, is the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board. But even as they scrutinize the ethics of others, several board members, all five of whom were appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, have ties to city funding and the mayor’s fortune that raise questions about their own potential conflicts."

How droll. But really, even though we think that the evidence of possible conflicts at the Department is instructive about the pernicious nature of Mike Bloomberg's monetary reach, we still feel that the story lacks real punch. The reason we say this, is because DOIs have never been real watchdogs of mayoral malfeasance-instead functioning as fig leafs for possible corrupt acts in almost every administration we have seen over the past thirty years.

And David Chen's story-while right on the mark in demonstrating just how the reach of Bloomberg's charitable dollars has the potential for polluting every kind of governmental process-should have spent a brief minute in reviewing the comical DOI decision to absolve Deputy Dan Doctoroff of any possible conflicts in his public dealings with Related's Steve Ross-and the merchants at the old Bronx Terminal Market can tell you how much sense that decision made.

As we wrote over four years ago: "The entire mess at the BTM and the role played by Deputy Dan would seem to compel a reevaluation of the original ruling by the NYC Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), the one that told Doctoroff that Steve Ross' assumption of his $4 million loan to NYC 2012 didn't constitute a conflict because:

'Mr. Ross' guarantee predates your city service [which it did by four days] and inasmuch as you do not, by virtue of his guarantee, have a business or financial relationship with Mr. Ross...'

The last four years exposes this ruling as a sham. In the first place, the Board failed to adequately evaluate the Deputy Mayor's ongoing relationship and commitment to NYC 2012; indeed the Committee continued to list Doctoroff as its founder on all of its communications, even after he had entered into public service. In addition, the Board itself recognized that Ross was "one of the most active members and fundraisers for NYC2012," a role he continued to play well into the Bloomberg mayoralty.

It should also be pointed out, as everyone would now acknowledge, that the goal of obtaining the Olympic bid was a primary economic development objective of the administration. As such, Doctoroff's relationship with Ross, or better yet, using the Board's term - his "association" (That sounds just like the Giuliani-inspired mob busting carting regulations) - must be viewed as ongoing and not "predating".

Read the entire post-and the only possible conclusion that can be drawn is this: If the ongoing Doctoroff/Ross relationship, one that ended up with the most sweetheart deal possible at the Terminal Market, couldn't be construed as a conflict, then there simply aren't any real conflicts to be investigated in the city. But that doesn't stop COIB from continuing to pretend. As the Times points out: "Nor did it help when the board allowed Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, to raise millions of dollars for his national nonprofit education group last fall using city resources and on city time. By contrast, the board fined Susan Finkenberg, who was a lawyer for the city’s Human Resources Administration, $1,500 last month for using her city-issued LexisNexis password to look up 31 people, including several law school classmates. “Personal, non-city purposes,” the board ruled."

And let's not forget the COIB vigilance in investigating our friend Mike Nieves. As we said at the time: "We were a little bemused by the news that the city's Conflict of Interest Board had "scolded" staffer supreme Mike Nieves for his supposed indiscretion in "representing" a landlord. . Leaving aside the actual facts in the case-that the landlord in question was a sixty-seven year old Hispanic woman who was being hassled by her tenant-it is a manifestation of extreme hypocrisy for this useless agency to say anything about Nieves."

And we concluded-alluding to the Ross/Doctoroff conflict: "In the ensuing four years Related has done very well indeed and there is clear evidence of its favored nation status in the awarding of any number of lucrative city contracts... So it seems to us that the COIB should have the decency to keep silent on anything but the most egregious violations in the realm of interest conflicts. After all, giving Doctoroff a pass entitles all but convicted felons the same privilege."

So, while the Times story is germane to the larger Bloomberg issue of how the mayor's vast fortune can easily become a corrosive force in a supposedly democratic polity, the COIB focus is a bit less than compelling. It is but a small symptom of the larger disease-and serves in a minor way to underscore the loss of real democratic decision making in the city where progressive politics should, you'd think, yield a more vigorous grass roots political process.