Albany reformers called Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake’s new side gig as a campaign consultant “brazen” and “disturbing,” ripping the freshman Democrat for serving private and public interests simultaneously.
Hilltop Public Solutions, a campaign consulting firm with close ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced today it had brought on Mr. Blake as a partner in its New York office. The release highlighted every aspect of the lawmaker’s impressive career, from his work on President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, to his time as a White House staffer, to his activism in the black community through the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, to his notices in African-American publications like Jet and The Root—every aspect except his election to the Assembly last year.
The news didn’t sit well with good government groups, especially coinciding with the corruption conviction of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
“It’s particularly brazen and disturbing that Assemblyman Blake today announced that he will now serve private interests as a political consultant as well as attempting to serve the public interest,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the good government group Common Cause NY.
Hilltop’s founder and managing partner is Nicholas Baldick, and the New York office Mr. Blake will work for includes Bill Hyers and Rebecca Katz—all close de Blasio consultants and confidantes, and veterans of his successful 2013 campaign. The mayor has aggressively pushed his progressive agenda in the state capitol in the past, and the potential overlap of interests concerned reformers.
“Bill Hyers shouldn’t hire him. It reflects badly on the firm,” said Bill Samuels, founder of the reform group EffectiveNY. “This whole thing bothers me as not showing the type of reform that we need.”
Mr. Blake stressed that the new job passed the scrutiny of the Assembly’s ethics committee, and vowed that he would not allow his work with the company to compromise his integrity in the State Legislature. He promised he would only work on national and international campaigns unrelated to New York State.
“That would have no bearing on how I would be making decisions on legislation or the needs of my constituents,” he said. “Nothing that I would be doing would have any impact on my legislative work.”
Mr. Blake said that the Hilltop release neglected to mention his elected position because he did not want clients to believe they could influence Albany through him.
“No one is able to try to utilize me as an assemblyman for their benefit,” he said.
The recent convictions of Mr. Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have led to renewed calls for a full-time State Legislature, with a cap or ban on outside income. Mr. Blake would not commit to supporting or opposing such a proposal, though he argued that limits on income could discourage poor people and minorities from participating in electoral politics.
State legislators have a base salary of $79,500 annually, plus reimbursements for expenses incurred traveling and lodging in the capitol and additional stipends for those who hold leadership positions.
Hilltop did not immediately return calls for comment. Mr. Blake has emerged as one of the mayor’s Democratic critics, having stood by e-hail app Uber and charter schools in the face of attacks from City Hall. He also objected to the NYPD’s handling of anti-police brutality protests in April.