Despite Repeated Denials, Bill de Blasio’s Chief of Staff Leaves City Hall

Laura Santucci. (Photo: NYC Mayor's Office)

Laura Santucci (Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office).

Of course, Laura Santucci was returning as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s chief of staff. Why even bother asking the question?

That was the message out of City Hall in November 2014 and January 2015. It was a message they had not backed away from as late as last Thursday, one day before Ms. Santucci, on leave to steer the city’s failed bid to bring the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Brooklyn, would tell the New York Times she was departing permanently for a new gig at the World Food Organization, one of the aid organizations of the United Nations.

“For me, it’s incredibly important work, and you don’t often get these opportunities,” Ms. Santucci told the Times. Ms. Santucci also told the newspaper “that, win or lose, she had anticipated staying on Mr. de Blasio’s team.”

Ms. Santucci’s sudden exit came as little surprise to City Hall reporters and those close to the de Blasio administration. For months, her future with Mr. de Blasio was in doubt, and the Observer reported on February 12 that Ms. Santucci was likely to leave the administration. Several people familiar with Mr. de Blasio’s plans told the Observer that her exit was a fait accompli, even as the administration denied, again and again, that she was going anywhere else.

The abrupt announcement on Friday, shared with the Times, left some rival reporters incredulous—not because the Times landed the story, but because the de Blasio administration appeared to be deceptive. Was it really possible, reporters wondered, for the administration to not know days, if not weeks, before the DNC announcement that Ms. Santucci was taking a job with the United Nations? How could Ms. Santucci tell a reporter she was staying on Thursday and sit for an interview about her exit on Friday?

On the day the Democratic National Committee selected Philadelphia to play host to their convention, Ms. Santucci told Capital New York she was returning to City Hall as Mr. de Blasio’s chief of staff. A spokeswoman, Marti Adams, said in a statement to several publications, including the Observer, that Ms. Santucci “is still in charge of our bid and will lead our wind-down operation, which begins today. The mayor feels she did a tremendous job and would of course welcome her back to City Hall.”

In November 2014 and again on January 20, Ms. Adams was more blunt to the Observer about Ms. Santucci’s future: “Laura is on a temporary leave to help New York City win the convention, and she will return to her position as Chief of Staff at the end of the selection process.”

The way Mr. de Blasio’s office handled the news of Ms. Santucci’s departure threatened to further strain relations between the media and Mr. de Blasio’s press shop. Unlike in the case of another recent administration departure, Peter Ragone, Mr. de Blasio’s office did not even send out a press release announcing Ms. Santucci was leaving.

Veteran reporters were irked.

“BDB press office told me she’s ‘still in charge of our bid and will lead wind down operation.’ Actually –> http://nyti.ms/176pKSt @PTWalzak,” tweeted Daily News political reporter Annie Karni at Mr. de Blasio’s soon-to-be senior adviser, Phil Walzak. Ms. Karni linked the Times story.

“So @BilldeBlasio’s chief of staff says Thur she’s staying … and Fri she’s leaving …)?” tweeted Jonathan Lemire, the City Hall reporter for the Associated Press.

Ms. Adams did not answer questions today about why she had told several news outlets that Ms. Santucci was staying at City Hall, or when the de Blasio administration knew exactly she was taking a job with the United Nations.

“It was the worst kept secret. Everyone knew,” said a Democratic source.

Despite Repeated Denials, Bill de Blasio’s Chief of Staff Leaves City Hall