Mayor de Blasio Defends His Record on Transparency as Pending Cases Argue Contrary

Bill de Blasio says he's not talking to lobbyists anymore.

Bill de Blasio says he’s not talking to lobbyists anymore.

As Mayor Bill de Blasio battles journalists, the governor and courts over disclosures of communications with outside advisers, his nonprofit and NYPD officer disciplinary records, he insists that he has been transparent throughout his term. 

Although the mayor campaigned on a promise of greater openness with the media and the public, he is currently fielding a number of cases seeking more transparency from the city. A state judge has ordered Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit de Blasio established to promote his policies, to release documents and communications between the mayor and the nonprofit—sought by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics as part of a probe into potential improper lobbying.

NY1 and the New York Post announced last week that they are suing the de Blasio administration for access to emails between the mayor and outside advisers the city has called “agents of the city” on the grounds that communications between the mayor and non-city employees must be released to the public.

And both the mayor and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton are battling Gov. Andrew Cuomo, elected officials and advocates over what state law says about whether to disclose officers’ disciplinary records. The mayor has appealed a court decision requiring him to release the records of the NYPD officer at the center of Eric Garner’s death, Daniel Pantaleo, event though he’s said he believes the law should be changed and the records should be public.

The mayor has said he will defend the city’s position—which is to be against releasing the information—in all three cases.

When New York Times’ J. David Goodman asked the mayor to define government transparency, he said that the city has “some of the best ethics and transparency laws in the entire country.”

“We believe in that approach, we believe in those laws,” de Blasio said. “Things like the Conflict of Interest Board and the ability to go to them and seek guidance on a whole host of levels, that doesn’t exist in many places in such a sophisticated manner.” 

When he was asked further to define transparency point blank, he said, “I think it simply means providing appropriate information to the public.”

De Blasio went on to tout that he discloses his meetings with lobbyists, a practice which he said he has done since he was public advocate and is not required by law. But Politico’s Laura Nahmias asked about a campaign promise he’d made in 2013— to disclose not only his own meetings with lobbyists, but those held by agency heads and commissioners as well. That hasn’t happened.

“As you know, we take all of our pledges from the platform very seriously,” he said. “I was just looking earlier at an update on how many of them are moving and it’s the overwhelming majority. Some pieces are still being put together, so I will come back with a timeline for you on that.”

He has maintained his position on the Campaign for One New York case, saying that the city disagrees with the judge’s decisions and is exploring its options, but that the judge indicated that politics should be taken out of the investigation. (At play here is the longstanding feud between the mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who oversees JCOPE.)

“The judge came to a ruling and the judge did recognize that the issues we were raising about JCOPE’s role were appropriate issues to raise and the judge did caution that JCOPE should not be undertaking partisan or political activities and certainly should not be leaking information illegally,” de Blasio said. 

Just before the yearly Labor Day Parade kicked off in midtown Manhattan, Cuomo accused de Blasio of scapegoating state law, noting that the city is contesting the July 2015 state court decision that called for the release of a summary of misconduct findings against Pantaleo—which elected officials and advocates are similarly arguing

But de Blasio rejected that assertion, insisting that the NYPD’s DCPI made a mistake in disclosing officer disciplinary records in the past and arguing that both the legal office of the Police Department and the city Law Department made it clear that those releases should not have been occurring.

He also referenced a court case involving the Civilian Complaint Review Board from a year earlier, “when the Law Department took a very clear position that the state law required us to keep this kind of information confidential.”

“I think we have two ways forward here, because I believe there should be disclosure, as does Commissioner Bratton, as does soon-to-be Commissioner O’Neill,” de Blasio said. “If an appellate judge allows it, some time this fall, we will disclose the records at that point or else we’ll work with our colleagues for a new state law that will allow that.”

He also backed Bratton’s recent question about whether state police have released officer disciplinary records

“But you know Commissioner Bratton raised an important issue, too. How is the state handling disclosure itself? If the state is making a certain approach to this law, we should look at that to see what consistency there is in terms of state police forces.”