Connections Trump Justice in de Blasio's New York
Do you have the mayor’s personal cellphone number? If not, you’re kind of a loser in this city.
On key issues of public health and safety, you’re at a huge disadvantage compared to the folks who matter, as private e-mails between Mayor de Blasio and top lobbyists demonstrate.
The first issue concerns the quality-of-life disruption posed by the city’s tourist helicopters. For $239, you can take a 15-minute ride above the Hudson River and “dart your way across some of the world’s most famous landmarks,” says one tour company. “See the historical city of New York from a whole new perspective.”
Yes, but for the people who live, work or enjoy New York’s downtown waterfront, the “perspective” is like living in Iraq, with incessant chopper noise 10 hours a day. If you’re unlucky enough to live or work right by the downtown heliport, you’ll smell the fumes, too.
Constant noise is bad for people’s physical and mental health. The choppers will also contribute to the future flooding of New York’s waterfront. An efficient aircraft emits 43 times as much carbon dioxide as a car.
The city, through its Economic Development Corp., owns the downtown heliport from which the flights take off. It’s absurd for New York to enable a business that reduces the benefit of its taxpayers’ investment in waterfront parks.
For years, downtown, West Side and Brooklyn residents have tried to get the city to act on their behalf. They’ve achieved some successes, including eliminating flights over Central Park. In 2015, they were getting close to a bigger win, with City Council members threatening a ban.
Then in May of that year, James Capalino, a top lobbyist who represents the helicopter industry, stepped in.
“Dear Mayor,” he texted de Blasio directly, according to e-mails obtained by Politico New York. “We have been working with NYCEDC for six months to find an equitable solution . . . This week, NYCEDC informed us of significant cuts to the company’s flight operations which I’m told come at your direction. I would appreciate a brief phone conversation with you.”
Within a week, he had his call, personally confirmed by the mayor himself — and the next year, the city agreed to a compromise.
Instead of nearly 200 flights a day, on average, the city now allows 96 — nearly 10 an hour between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., though none on Sundays. What de Blasio once called a “nonstop din” is still mostly . . . a nonstop din.
Adrian Benepe, Bloomberg-era parks commissioner and now a board member of the Stop the Chop coalition, said last week members of his group “are actually not surprised to see the . . . direct contact from a lobbyist to the mayor . . . Attempts to remove the flights through City Council legislation were undermined by a backroom, midnight deal” that “shut out and ignored citizens.”
(City Council members ought not be too proud of their lack of independence, either.)
The problem here isn’t the helicopter industry: It’s responsible for 200 livelihoods, and has a right to advocate for its interests.
The problem is the mayor — who so casually accepted pleas from one side, right in the phone in the palm of his hand.
The mayor should have informed Capolino directly that this personal appeal was unacceptable, and directed the lobbyist back to the various formal processes the city has to handle such requests.
In this case, the mayor’s sloppy attitude toward lobbyists undermined public safety.
In another, it helped. Around the same time, Asphalt Green, a recreation center on the Upper East Side, was worried that the city was going to install a truck ramp near a playground as part of a new sanitation facility, endangering children.
Asphalt Green hired Capalino to resolve the problem. That, and $10,000 from Asphalt Green’s chairman to de Blasio’s fund-raising machine, got the job done.
But this is just as outrageous as the helicopter saga. If the ramp was a danger, the city should have moved it, regardless of Asphalt Green’s connections.
In de Blasio’s New York, if you’ve got a complaint about health or safety, it doesn’t hurt to bring cash. Maybe 311 should have an option for people who want to pay up front to solve their quality-of-life problems.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Post
This piece originally appeared in New York Post