Wager’s Warning

There were always two parts to the behavior of Bloomberg’s aides toward Tom Ognibene — the first fairly standard, the second a little thuggish.

First, on January 12, Bloomberg campaign chief Kevin Sheekey and City Hall aide Rich Wager meet the former Councilman in Starbucks and offer him a job on the campaign. Ognibene turns them down later that week, as he told us this morning. There’s been some suggestion that the offer might have broken a law. But it’s also politics as usual, and Ognibene told us he ends that day on good terms with the mayor’s men, and without any plans to talk to the press — much less his longtime tormentor at the Voice! — about his meeting.

Then, on Saturday, there’s another offer, and a threat. Ognibene wouldn’t go into detail about this, but we’ve learned elsewhere that, on Saturday, Wager spoke to Ognibene’s friend Dennis Gallagher, a Councilman from Queens. Wager told him that the title of Counsel to the Mayor was on offer. He also warned him with, Ognibene told us, “words to the effect that, ‘Are you sure that case in Manhattan is closed?’” in reference to a bribery scandal in which Ognibene was never charged.

Ognibene wouldn’t confirm that Wager was the one delivering what sounded to him, and to us, like an implicit threat. He only said that the conversation took place between his ally and “a very decent young man, who either made a gross mistake or was used” and who, Ognibene speculated, “is deeply pained.” We learned from another source that this was Wager.

Now Wager, who works near us in the basement of City Hall, certainly doesn’t have the authority to offer top city jobs. We also doubt that he would be in a position to threaten that an investigation be reopened. He hasn’t responded to our voicemail as to who asked him to deliver those messages to Gallagher.

In any case, a few days later, Ognibene gets a call from the Voice’s Tom Robbins, who had covered the bribery scandal. (Ognibene adamantly maintains his innocence.) Ognibene guesses that this is the consummation of Wager’s threat, and that Robbins has been tipped by City Hall. So he tells Robbins the whole story.

We’d just note that the real political miscalculation here wasn’t the one that has turned up in the papers and on certain sanctimonious blogs: the job offer. The miscalculation was the threat, which provoked Ognibene to go public with the whole thing. We’d love to know whose idea that was, but Wager doesn’t seem inclined to tell us.

Ognibene, in any case, told us that the threat had the opposite of its intended effect. Once he’d been threatened, he felt that he couldn’t let himself be intimidated. “You never threaten someone,” he said. “Then they’re locked in.”

He also noted with a chuckle that the mayor is spending today on the Staten Island Ferry, doing what he considers make-up work with Republican voters.

“I already consider myself an effective candidate,” he said.