De Blasio aides pressured council members to withdraw objections to city budget
Mayor Bill de Blasio likes outspoken Democrats — until they criticize him.
Top mayoral aides pressured nearly a dozen City Council members who signed a letter critical of de Blasio’s fiscal 2019 executive budget this week, in an attempt to get them to withdraw their opposition, sources said.
The mayor’s chief of staff, Emma Wolfe, and legislative affairs director, Jeff Lynch, put the squeeze on legislators both by phone and in person — even threatening to pull the mayor’s political support down the road if they persisted, council sources said.
“When you’re forced to start using pressure tactics to protect your $89 billion boondoggle, you’ve clearly abandoned the high road,” said Reginald Johnson, a spokesman for Bronx Councilman Mark Gjonaj, who crafted the anti-budget letter signed by 27 members.
“It’s a budget built on the backs of struggling homeowners, renters and business owners by raising property taxes by $1.6 billion, neglecting the city’s reserves, doing little to help the neediest with access to affordable mass transit — and it comes complete with [drug] injection sites and neighborhood prisons,” he added.
“Good luck selling that to New Yorkers.”
Ironically, it was only last month that the mayor criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo for engaging in a similar pressure tactic, when he allegedly twisted the arms of elected officials in a bid to have them skip an anti-Cuomo rally.
“You shouldn’t threaten organizations that are doing good work at the community level because they have different political views,” the mayor said in mid-April. “That’s the kind of things that happened in dictatorships, not in democracies.”
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Council members, who have been on an independent streak since electing Corey Johnson as their speaker in January, said that same logic should apply to the mayor’s strong-arm tactics against them.
“An administration that professes to be progressive should have greater respect for the free conscience of council members,” said Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres, chair of the new Oversight and Investigation Committee.
“The role of council members is to advocate for what’s best for the public, not to do the bidding of our mayor,” added Torres. “Bill de Blasio is the mayor, not the messiah. We are independent council members, not his disciples.”
With a majority of members having signed the letter, this year’s budget battle is shaping up to be more acrimonious than usual.
City Hall officials said any phone calls made to council members are part of normal budget talks.
“It’s our job to lobby other elected officials for the benefit of New Yorkers,” City Hall spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said.
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