The New York City Council approved two appointees — Ifeoma “Ify” Ike and Georgia Pestana — to the Conflicts of Interest Board on Thursday, including one who faced aggressive questioning over possible conflicts of her own, earlier this week.
The nominations marked the first time the comptroller and public advocate have put forward candidates to the board after a 2019 change in the City Charter designed to make the body more independent of the mayor, who previously appointed all five members. COIB ostensibly serves as an ethical watchdog for city employees and officials — a board member can serve a maximum of two six-year terms.
Members overwhelmingly approved Ike, a lawyer who previously sought to run for public advocate in the same special election as the current office-holder, Jumaane Williams. Ike, however, was kicked off the ballot.
After working two years as deputy executive director for the Young Men’s Initiative under Mayor Bill de Blasio, Ike was eventually tapped to serve as a member of Williams’ transition committee in 2019. In January this year, Williams nominated Ike to fill a vacancy on COIB.
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Notwithstanding Ike’s political background – she also worked on the campaign for mayoral candidate Dianne Morales – Councilmembers were more concerned about potential conflicts of interest involving the think-tank she co-founded, Think Rubix, while serving as a municipal employee. Shortly after leaving City Hall in 2017, the group received a $20,000 city contract through the health department.
During the Council’s Rules, Privileges and Elections Committee hearing on Monday, members grilled Ike on whether she was directly involved in working to secure the $20,000 contract while employed as a city worker. She said she was not.
The Daily News reported Ike did not apply for a COIB waiver exempting her from founding the company while employed by the city.
In testimony, Ike suggested her experience running into a potential conflict as a city employee would serve as a benefit for COIB, arguing her misunderstanding of the rules was driven by no one properly explaining whether a potential conflict could exist.
“Part of what I hope to bring to this space is how, even through my own misjudgments and mistakes, that we can actually look at the context of the situations that do come before the COIB board,” Ike said on Monday, later adding, “In hindsight, I would’ve absolutely been the one to ask questions about, 'Can I even do this work?'”
Ultimately, the committee approved her nomination by an 8 to 1 vote.
Shortly before the full Council vote on Thursday, members came to Ike’s defense, describing her as a successful legal mind and critical to COIB.
“Due diligence was done,” said Council Member Tiffany Cabán. “Ify is somebody who, time and time again, speaks truth to power.”
Pestana, the first Latina to lead the city Law Department, was chosen by Comptroller Brad Lander.
An obscure agency, COIB often investigates claims of malfeasance across city agencies, rendering fines to those found to have committed infractions. Until recently, appointments were made only by the mayor and speaker.
COIB also allows city employees to apply for waivers exempting them from certain conflicts.
That was the case involving Mayor Eric Adams, who was granted a waiver in January to hire his brother to oversee his security detail. Bernard Adams was initially hired at a yearly $210,000 salary. After the mayor retroactively applied for a waiver, COIB agreed to a deal that allowed his brother to be hired as a senior advisor at a $1 salary.