Mayor de Blasio deserves The Most Patient Mayor In The World Award for dealing with all these pointless questions about his talks with a handful of lobbyists who take money from clients that have business before the city but also give super good mayor advice so what they say needs to stay a special secret. Why is this so hard for people to understand?
Today de Blasio made his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show and Brian Lehrer asked the mayor about calling these lobbyists “agents of the city,” as if that terminology “is a dodge to hide something.”
As if Mayor de Blasio had anything to hide! (Except for his emails and talks with these lobbyists, which definitely do not contain anything the mayor wants to hide.)
“I’ve said very clearly—these are folks who are advisors, and in some cases advisors for decades. I rely on them to think about the work I have to do to serve the people of New York City. And it’s perfectly appropriate that those conversations be done in a way that’s conducive,” the mayor replied.
Later, he commented, “You could say, you know, let’s look at every conversation someone has in the course of the day in person or by phone. You know, where does the line get drawn here? In the end, we are relied upon to set a standard of integrity.”
Who doesn’t need to have conducive conversations with trusted advisors from time to time? Everyone needs to have conducive conversations. Doctors say you should be having eight glasses of conducive conversations every day!
You wouldn’t want people reading candid conversations with your boss, right?
Now just imagine if you worked for your boss but also worked for this other company that sometimes had competing interests and sometimes did business with your first company, and that both of them paid you—either directly or through some non-profit that supports your boss (your first boss not your second other boss at the competition). Then imagine that your boss was elected by the people of New York City to serve them. See how easy this is?
But what if de Blasio is talking to these lobbyists about the clients they represent? The clients who have business before the city and millions of dollars at stake?
These are questions you ask when you have never been mayor, but Mayor de Blasio is still going to answer them, because he understands your flaws and loves you anyway.
“If any of them were ever to attempt to talk about a business matter related to a client - first of all, I wouldn’t allow it. Second of all, that would be something - of course that is discloseable - but what I’ve said from the beginning is they don’t talk to me about their clients and business matters with clients, they just don’t. I’ve been clear about it. They’ve been clear about it.”
If they don’t talk about their clients, then they must be physically incapable of thinking about them either. It’s as if those other clients don’t exist (even if they do, because they definitely do, which is why none of these people work directly for the mayor in City Hall).
Don’t take de Blasio’s word for it—he doesn’t.
“Everything is based on legal guidance. I don’t make this stuff up. I turn to lawyers to guide me and tell me what’s appropriate. And I think if you’ve got advisors who are offering advice on a regular basis on the issues of the day that is an appropriate area to treat with some confidentiality.”
Robert Freeman has worked for New York State’s Committee on Open Government since 1974 and has been its executive director since 1976. He has a law degree from NYU and arguably knows more about the state’s Freedom of Information Law than anyone else. We asked him what he thought of Mayor de Blasio’s “agents of the city.”
“In truth, the phrase ‘agents of the city’ is a new one. I don’t recall seeing it in any judicial decision construing FOIL,” Freeman wrote in an email.
“There are decisions, however, that deal with consultants, and they refer to consultants ‘retained’ by an agency. The term ‘retained’ in my view means a person or firm hired for compensation; I don’t believe that seeking advice from a friend makes him, her or it a consultant or, therefore, that the communications with that person may be withheld under FOIL as 'intra-agency materials.'"
It’s worth pointing out here that Freeman has never been the mayor of New York City.