A poll last week showed that Public Advocate Bill de Blasio had the support of 32% of Democratic voters ahead of next week's primary, beating out Bill Thompson (18%) and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (17%). Today the Times and the Daily News both carry stories critical of the frontrunner, charging that de Blasio was happy to take donations from a landlord who racked up numerous housing violations as well as a taxi lobby that wanted to stymie the outer-borough taxi initiative that would have helped de Blasio's constituents.
The Daily News's report states that de Blasio, who issued his Worst Landlords list to much fanfare in 2011, took $4,950 from Michael Shah, the owner of two buildings in Staten Island that have more than 200 code violations for vermin, bad locks, broken elevators, and broken windows. Shah then helped raise $11,850 for de Blasio as an "intermediary" (like a "bundler") 16 days before he met with de Blasio to discuss lower his city taxes so he could rent to low income tenants. Shah had never donated to a political campaign before.
It's unclear if anything came of the meeting or if Shah got his breaks. Wiley Norvell, de Blasio's spokesman, told the Daily News, “We advocate aggressively for any tenant, business owner and everyday New Yorker alike that needs help navigating city bureaucracy. That’s our job.”
The Times' story is characteristically circumspect (the headline: "Advocate’s Post Gave de Blasio Platform for Political Ambitions." Well, yeah.)
Aside from opposing the outer-borough taxi plan (which netted him $200,000 in donations from the taxi and limousine industry over a period of two years), the thrust of the piece seems to be that de Blasio attempted to powerfully and visibly wield the underfunded, understaffed office with an eye towards running for mayor.
Before becoming a Democratic front-runner in this year’s race for mayor, Mr. de Blasio was an ambitious Park Slope City Councilman who scrambled into the public advocate job in 2009, looking to turn the often-overlooked office into a fierce champion of neglected communities and the downtrodden.
But a review of his years as public advocate shows that the office often served another aim: Elevating Mr. de Blasio’s political ambitions and his profile in anticipation of a run for mayor.
Mr. de Blasio...showed a shrewdness in identifying issues that would yield political benefits and sometimes connect with financial backers.
The paper points to de Blasio's penchant for speaking out against the Citizens United case as an example of political grandstanding that had little to do with the public he was charged to serve.
De Blasio's response: “The office needed a lot more creativity, a lot more strategic innovation if it was going to have a meaningful role."
As for his opposition to the outer borough taxi plan, de Blasio did not offer an alternative, but said, “I want to make sure it’s done in a way that doesn’t undermine the economics of the current industry.”