We’ve all been there: you’re the mayor of the biggest city in America and you need to have secret conversations with lobbyists and public relations specialists who you also really trust. Basic mayor stuff! But there’s this dumb law that says you’re supposed to disclose these emails and whatever. Do you release the communications? Or do you brandish the hundreds of lawyers and near-limitless resources at your disposal to show everyone who’s boss? For Mayor de Blasio, the choice is simple.
The New York Times, which has never been the mayor of a major metropolitan city a day in its life, just published the list of five of de Blasio’s close advisors who he considers “agents of the city,” and therefore exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Law, which normally requires communications between non-city employees and city employees to be part of the public record.
Two of de Blasio’s agents work for a “political consulting firm,” one works for a firm that supplies Democrats with “messaging,” and another is the ambassador to South Africa. The most prominent one is Jonathan Rosen of BerlinRosen PR, whose firm has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors for its relationship to an alleged scheme to funnel illegal money into political campaigns.
They work for firms representing real estate interests and corporations and people with money who need to get things done—except for when they stop working for those things and become “agents of the city.”
How do you know when they’ve become “agents of the city”? When they are talking to Mayor de Blasio about “City business” and not things that are “on behalf of any client.”
But it’s cool for them to have clients though, because they don’t work for the City.
Except when they’re “agents of the city.”
If it doesn’t, it’s probably because you’re not a mayor.
Here, let Mayor de Blasio explain it to you the way he explained it to a group on journalists on Wednesday, as he sat next to his personal attorney and the head of the City’s Law Department.
“I’ve watched all the administrations since Koch, every administration came in with two kinds of people. The people who came in the government, and the people who were very central but not in government,” de Blasio said.
Outside advisors, close confidants of the mayor, people who have been part, often, of their work along the way to become the mayor. Every single time. Giuliani brought Peter Powers in but he had other folks who were outside, and same with Koch, over and over again, the same pattern. There’s a handful of people who have been advisors of mine for years, and who were so consistently sought, in terms of their knowledge and input that we thought were absolutely, legally in a different category.
These “agents of the city” are so vital to the mayor’s success, that de Blasio does not try to hire them. These are free-range minds whose brilliance can't be fenced in. When he needs to talk to them in secret without any scrutiny, he can. There is nothing wrong with this because pretty much every other mayor has done it.
You might ask: does the mayor pay these “agents of the city” for their work on behalf of the city?
Of course not. A group that is totally separate from the mayor and helped push the mayor's agenda and get re-elected, Campaign for One New York, pays their firms, who pays them. Some of the firms' clients also donated to Campaign for One New York, but if this bothers you, go do some research. Bone up on your civics.
Still want to know what Mayor de Blasio and these trusted lobbyists are talking about? Sue. By the time it goes to trial, de Blasio will have already reached the end of his second term. Two New Yorks will have become One. And you will be thanking these “agents of the city” for making it happen.