Newly released letters from the Conflicts of Interest Board detail Mayor Bill de Blasio’s contact with two prominent developers and a real estate lobbyist — and that he defied the board’s warning to stop.
The letters show the mayor asked Toll Brothers and Douglaston Development executives and lobbyist James Capalino for donations to his Campaign for One New York nonprofit in 2015, a year after the board told him such calls were unethical, the New York Times reported.
The two firms and Capalino all had business before the de Blasio administration, which used city lawyers to fight the Times’ Freedom of Information request to get the letters. The state’s top court ruled in favor of the newspaper, which is now entitled to recover its own legal costs from city taxpayers.
The revelation adds to a litany of findings that de Blasio’s fundraising from the real estate industry violated ethics rules.
The city’s conflicts board sent the mayor a private letter in July 2014 saying he had violated ethics laws by calling developers who needed his administration’s support for their projects. But the next year, he kept right on doing it.
In February 2015, de Blasio called Douglaston Development chairman Jeffrey Levine shortly after the firm won $12 million in city financing for an affordable housing project. One month later, the mayor phoned David Von Spreckelsen of Toll Brothers after the developer’s Brooklyn Bridge Park project had a stop-work order lifted by the city.
Both men ultimately donated $25,000 to the nonprofit. The organization, which pushed for universal pre-K before pivoting to boosting de Blasio’s political agenda, was shut down in 2016 amid a probe from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance that ended in 2017 without bringing charges, though its conclusions were critical of the mayor.
A two-year inquiry by the city’s Department of Investigation found in 2018 that de Blasio had broken ethics rules by soliciting developers including Toll Brothers and George Klein’s Park Towers, which forked over $50,000.
The mayor fired the department’s commissioner, Mark Peters, four weeks later, after a finding that Peters had berated his staff. Peters argued that de Blasio was looking for an excuse to get rid of him.
The second letter from the Conflicts of Interest Board unearthed by the Times reprimanded de Blasio in September 2018 for continuing to make fundraising calls to real estate interests needing his help. That finding appears to have stemmed from the Department of Investigation’s probe. The letters were disclosed this week after the State Court of Appeals ruled the mayor’s office could not block their release, according to the Times.
A spokesperson for de Blasio told the Times that the mayor “has consistently acted in good faith and followed the process set out for him. The board closed these cases and determined no enforcement action was necessary.”
But the board said it declined to punish de Blasio for his ethical breaches only because they would not likely happen again, given that he had closed his nonprofit. The mayor has since come under fire for advancing the interests of the Hotel Trades Council, which supported his short-lived presidential campaign and could aid his expected run for governor next year.
Several developers, including Toll Brothers, were previously fined for improper donations to the mayor while pursuing city business. Brookfield Financial Properties was fined $30,000 for a $50,000 donation in 2015. Greenpoint Landing Developers was fined $20,000 for a donation of the same size.
Toll Brothers was fined $15,000 for its $25,000 donation, according to a settlement reached in the case. It’s not clear if Douglaston was fined.
[NYT] — Holden Walter-Warner