There’s nothing like a revived conflict-of-interest snafu to wake up an outgoing mayor with his eye on the governor’s mansion. On Wednesday, the New York Times released the contents of a 2018 letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio sent by New York City’s Conflict of Interest Board, cautioning him to stop asking developers for donations. The agency tasked with administering the city’s conflict of interest law wrote that de Blasio’s fundraising tactics “created the very appearance of coercion and improper access to you and your staff” that the administration hoped to avoid. But the record shows they weren’t trying too hard to avoid conflicts of interest, since they had already been warned by the same board years before and kept the practice up.
After coming into office, de Blasio would make calls to developers building affordable housing in the city — including the executives of Douglaston Development and Toll Brothers in the winter of 2015 — followed shortly after by a call from his non-profit Campaign for One New York during which a donation would be made. The outreach to these two firms raked in a total of $50,000, in addition to another $10,000 that April from lobbyist James Capalino. According to previous reporting by The City, by the summer of 2015 he was making six to 10 fundraising calls per week, with aides telling him which donors he could ask for “support” from. This outreach all came after de Blasio’s lawyer contacted the Conflict of Interest Board in 2014 on whether or not he could personally ask for donations. The board informed him that he could do so, but could not address donors who had potential or ongoing business with the executive branch — business like soliciting donations from contractors with projects with the city.
It was not the first time de Blasio was reprimanded for his development strategy. In 2018, the Department of Investigation filed a report detailing how the mayor looked for donations from people “who had or whose organization had a matter pending or about to be pending before any executive branch of the city.”
The conflict of interest concern comes at an interesting time in de Blasio’s mayoralty: While he has taken on the composure of a fun-loving lame duck for much of the last few months, this week he also issued a surprise mandate requiring private-sector workers to be vaccinated by the end of December. With a gubernatorial campaign in the works — he filed to run in early November — a revived issue of questionable fundraising tactics could also muck up his bid in a competitive field.