It was a common refrain from the Bloomberg years. "That's off-topic," the mayor or his press aide would contend, shutting down a line of questioning that had become uncomfortable. When current mayor Bill de Blasio swept into office in the new year, he promised a new era of transparency and an open relationship with the press that had, in the election season, been so very kind to him. But according to an angry letter from the NY Press Club, that hasn't been the case.
"You have departed from a precedent set by at least eight mayors before you, which has been to take questions in open press conferences without restriction as to the subject matter," Larry Seary, president of the New York Press Club, which has represented NYC journalists since 1948, writes in the letter.
"You list a daily schedule for yourself in which some events are designated as 'open press' and others are described as 'closed press.' You list still other events with a condition, 'no q. and a.' Another condition that you set sometimes is taking questions only on a particular topic," Seary continues. "When reporters try to get answers on other matters deemed vital to their readers, viewers or listeners, you admonish them: 'On topic!' and refuse to take questions on a subject not set by you. That anti-press gimmick was invented by Michael Bloomberg."
Invoking the dreaded specter of Billionaire Bloomberg is a pretty harsh move, but the press club is fed up with de Blasio's unwillingness to engage with the press outside of the most mediated interactions. In fact, rumblings from the press began early in the administration. In February, Capital's Dana Rubinstein wrote a scathing piece that pounded the de Blasio press team:
Frequently, his press office doesn't bother to respond to requests for comment, and the mayor regularly shows up 40 minutes late to press conferences. More times than one might expect in just two months of governing, de Blasio has left important meetings off of his public schedule (AIPAC, Valerie Jarrett), or included them but then barred the press (the Real Estate Board of New York, Pussy Riot).
We're still waiting on a response from the mayor's office regarding the press club letter. We'll update if and when we get comment.