Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mike's Money

In this morning's NY Times, the paper reports on how the mayor apparently has funnelled-in slush like City Council fashion-illegal appropriations to some favored community groups: "For years, aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg routed hundreds of thousands of dollars in city money to at least two politically connected nonprofit groups in violation of government contracting rules, according to records and interviews. The mayor’s office, from 2002 to 2006, gave $1.1 million to Agudath Israel of America Community Services and more than $400,000 to Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, using a little-known pot of discretionary money that it controls."

Now it just so happens, that the two groups in question are very supportive of someone named Mike Bloomberg-the very same Mike Bloomberg who postures that he is above all of the tawdry special interest politics that hamper others who are less noble than he is. And Mike also is able to double down on these groups it seems: "Agudath Israel and Ohel provide services including career counseling and mental health care and are powerful institutions in the city’s Orthodox Jewish communities — political forces long courted by the mayor. And the organizations have substantial ties to the Bloomberg administration: Mr. Bloomberg, since becoming mayor, has personally donated $200,000 to Agudath Israel, and a former top aide to the mayor is a lobbyist for Ohel."

Now don't get us wrong, we have never been scolds when it comes to this kind of so-called member item funding when the legislature does it-as long as there is some transparency. It's the mayor's holier than thou posture that is disturbing; and his ability to combine his own great wealth with the city's money creates a unique political advantage.

But what makes this situation problematic for Mr. Clean is that it appears to have been an illegal act-done without the required request from a city council member; bring on the depositions! As the Times points out: "In documents, the Bloomberg administration contends that since 2002, it distributed money annually to the two groups at the request of Councilman Simcha Felder, a Bloomberg ally. But Mr. Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, says he never sought the money.“I did not ask for it,” Mr. Felder said in an interview. A spokesman for the mayor said the administration disagreed with Mr. Felder’s account. He said City Hall had conducted a formal audit of all money distributed through the mayor’s fund and determined that all grants had been done at the request of an elected official."

Now we believe Simcha on this because, as the lawyers say, he is arguing against interest: "We have no reason to think that the funding analysis contains any errors,” the spokesman, Marc LaVorgna, said. “And we disagree with the councilman’s recollection.” But the mayor’s office said it had no documentation showing that Mr. Felder had made the requests. In fact, the mayor’s office could not provide documents for much of the money it had distributed and said it relied on interviews with its own staff to conduct its audit. When asked whether Agudath Israel had requested the money from Mr. Felder, David Zwiebel, an executive vice president of the group, said that the group had sought the money directly from the mayor’s office. “It was news to us that the mayor’s money was being funneled through the City Council,” Mr. Zwiebel said."

So why didn't the mayor simply go to Felder in the first place? In our view, it's because of arrogance, and underscores the need for a forensic audit of all of the mayor's largess-both public and private. We have never had a mayor of such vast wealth, and his ability to throw the Bloombucks around pollutes the democratic process-and exposes Mike Bloomberg as just another self interested politician.

And in this current example, what is fully exposed is the extent to which Bloomberg uses time-honored (Tammany honored?) logrolling methods to aggrandize his supporters as well as himself: "Mr. Felder said it was not until the 2007 fiscal year that he even learned that money was being given to the groups in his name. That year, he said, the mayor’s director of intergovernmental affairs, Haeda Mihaltses, asked him whether she could attach his name to the allocations. “We can’t do it without you,” he recalled her saying. Mr. Felder said he agreed to let his named be used, but at a price: he wanted the mayor’s office to distribute an additional $700,000 to his favorite nonprofit groups the next year.The following year, Mr. Felder got nearly all of the extra $700,000 he asked for. Mr. Felder said the extra money allowed him to finance deserving groups. Mr. LaVorgna said that Ms. Mihaltses remembered only that Mr. Felder requested the money for the groups, and he disputed the claim that Mr. Felder was offered $700,000 as part of a deal."

Now, when Felder's appropriations were revealed, we wondered just what the deal was-they were so much greater than those of any other member. Now we know-in spite of the denials from the mayor's minions. And, if the law was broken, Bloomberg should man up; and not try to hide behind Felder's skirts; especially when both Simch and the groups tell the Times that the money was direct deposit: “I don’t know what to tell you. I have nothing to say,” Mr. Felder said. “I am trying to be as honest as I can without ruining my relationships with people who will be annoyed with what they read.” Agudath Israel said it never asked Mr. Felder for the money, going instead straight to the mayor’s office and the commissioner of the community assistance unit at the time, Jonathan Greenspun, who served as Mr. Bloomberg’s liaison to the Jewish community. “We always worked with the mayor’s office,” Mr. Zwiebel said."

The only questions left unanswered here is, who broke the law, and what will be done about it? And we encourage the intrepid Barbaro and Rivera to continue with this auditing of the mayor's money. But the role of Greenspun, typical of the revolving lobbying door that we have come to look down upon as part of the pay to play culture, underscores the extent to which it is hypocrisy, and not even Mike Bloomberg, that is the real ruler of city hall.