Ever since the public found out that the Rivington House, a Lower East Side nursing home for AIDS patients, was doomed to become luxury condos, City Hall's stuck by the line that they are shocked, SHOCKED that the property was swapping out a nonprofit health service for real estate cash. Mayor de Blasio and his top officials claimed they had no idea that the restrictions mandating the property remain a non-profit nursing home were lifted in November 2015, and would never have let real estate interests trump the needs of AIDS patients had he known what was going on. But according to memos leaked to the Times, at the very least, first deputy mayor Anthony Shorris (who is, in fact, de Blasio's second-in-command) has known about the effort to lift the deed restrictions—which netted the city $16.1 million—since May of last year. The lesson, as always, is to never put anything in writing and communicate entirely through an elaborate system of smoke signals.
When the scandal over the Rivington House deed restrictions first broke earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio said he would have put a stop to the condo conversion had he known about any attempt to change the terms of the ownership agreement. "If [members of my administration] had informed me [of the agreement] I would've said 'don't do it,'" he told reporters back in April.
Still, the memos do imply that at least one high-ranking official at City Hall had some idea of what was going on.
One memo, from the Department of Citywide Administration Services that dates back to May 2015, informed Shorris that Allure Group, the company that owned Rivington House, sought to lift the deed restriction but only so they could run the facility as a for-profit nursing home. “[Company owner Joel] Landau seeks to remove the restrictions but intends to use the property as a for-profit nursing home,” the department’s then-commissioner, Stacey Cumberbatch, wrote in the memo. “The next step is a public hearing prior to requesting a mayoral authorization document.” Allure Group, meanwhile, went into contract to sell the building to luxury condo developers that same month, to the tune of $116 million.
It's unclear whether Shorris knew about that contract, but at the very least, a second memo from July 2015, let Shorris know that efforts to remove the restrictions were going along smoothly and would be approved by the city's Law Department that month—even though officials at City Hall have said that Shorris did not know the city had lifted the deed restrictions on the property until late February of this year.
This newest turn in the saga isn't helpful for Mayor Tall, especially given that Preet Bharara is investigating whether the deal to lift the deed restriction came about as a way to reward a donor to de Blasio's not-a-slush-fund, the Campaign for One New York. Still, there's a kind of good news/bad news dichotomy at play here. The good news, as far as any criminal culpability is concerned, is that state attorney general Eric Schneiderman's investigations into other Allure Group nursing home sales to condo developers supports de Blasio's claim that he was actually misled by unscrupulous players who are less for-profit nursing home managers than they are for-profit nursing home selling managers (a third nursing home owned by Allure was also sold to developers last fall).
The bad news is that the case helps solidify the theory floated by the Daily News' Alyssa Katz that the mayor isn't necessarily corrupt, it's just that in his rush to transform the city, he's been correctly pegged as a mark by real estate developers. Which, you know, better to be naive than in jail, but that's still not the kind of thing that gets you re-elected (or gets hospice beds for AIDS patients).