Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Conflicted? Just Change the Subject

As City Room is reporting, Comptroller Bill Thompson has jumped on the NY Times story about, well, conflicts at the city's Conflict of Interest Board: "Saying that he had “serious concerns” about the integrity of the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, William C. Thompson Jr., the leading Democratic candidate for mayor, urged on Tuesday that the board’s membership and guidelines be revamped."

The key suggestion here, a reasonable one at that, is that the mayor shouldn't be the only elected official to appoint the Board's members: "...Mr. Thompson said Tuesday that board members should not be appointed solely by the mayor. Instead, he urged that two members be appointed by the City Council, another by the public advocate, and the two others by the mayor."

The reasonableness of the suggestion devolves from-at least in the case of Sir Michael-the possibility that those who are beholden to the mayor just may be loath to come down too hard on his possible transgressions. As the Times suggested yesterday: "The article reported that a number of board members had close ties with city financing or with the mayor’s personal fortune, either through their jobs or through other boards on which they sit. And though such affiliations do not violate the law, watchdog groups say they can leave the impression that they are beholden to the deep pockets of Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire who is the city’s wealthiest person."

But even absent the fact that the mayor also moonlights as the city's richest resident, the chief executive's sole appointment power is enough to leave the Board toothless-as has been the case with other mayors as well. But, in a campaign season, what may seem quite reasonable, can't be allowed to percolate without a rebuttal-particularly if it's the mayor's ox that's being gored.

As City Room tells us, the masters of the non sequitor hit right back: "The Bloomberg campaign, as has been its habit, hit back fast and hard. In particular, the campaign repeated its criticism of Mr. Thompson’s handling of the city’s pension funds, which, as mentioned in another Times article, have generally underperformed in relation to other comparable funds. Mr. Thompson has also collected more than $500,000 in campaign contributions from money managers, some of whom have given money to his campaigns."

See the correlation? Neither do we. We may have a lap dog conflicts board, but you're not so good yourself Mr. Thompson. You'll notice that there's nothing in the response of the Bloomberg campaign that's even remotely related to the endemic structural problems of the COIB. But hey, who's paying attention to consistency?

And former Democratic strategist Wolfson, doing what he does best, piles on with more misdirection: "For two terms in office Bill Thompson took hundreds of thousands of dollars firms that did business with his office, and now he wants to talk about curbing conflicts of interest? Maybe he should start by returning all the money he took from firms that mismanaged the city’s pension funds.”

It is left to, of all people, a mayoral appointee to the Board (but for how long?) to offer this hat tip to Thompson: "In an interview last month, one board member, Angela Mariana Freyre, said that she would not mind if the board’s membership came from different appointees. “Why not?” she said. “‘There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s less about who gets to choose them than the qualifications of the candidates. You’ve got to choose people that have intelligence and integrity.”

So, does Bloomberg believe that the Thompson suggestion has merit? Maybe we should ask the late deputy mayor Doctoroff who was put through such an exhaustive meat grinder by the Board for his double dealing with Related's Steve Ross that he simply quit to take a less demanding position as the head of Bloomberg LLP.