In the Media
Mayor de Blasio is damaged goods heading into the 2017 campaign despite federal and state prosecutors closing corruption investigations, according to veteran observers of New York City politics.
But Michael Krasner, a political science professor at Queens College for more than four decades, and Brian Browne, assistant vice president for government relations and a political science professor at St. John’s University, also believe the mayor still is a prohibitive favorite for re-election in November.
“In political terms, this pretty much sets de Blasio up as a strong favorite for re-election,” Krasner told the Chronicle on Monday. “Even though he obviously has vulnerabilities, it’s hard to see how someone else is going to command the strength to knock him off, especially with the labor endorsements he has received and others that are likely to come.”
“He’s taken a few punches on this over the last year or so, but he wasn’t knocked out or knocked down,” Browne said. “He still will have a few bruises. But right now, I’d think as of now he is in a very good position.”
He added that it might have been a matter of wrapping up loose ends at the office with now-former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s recent dismissal by President Trump.
Browne also believes potential front-line Democratic challengers like Comptroller Scott Stringer now are very likely to sit tight, with anyone else being hampered by a lack of money and time. Krasner said any second-tier potential challengers in a Democratic primary would likely only split any opposition vote within the party.
“For all those reasons, he has the inside track,” Krasner said.
On March 16, both Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced that they had wrapped up their investigations of City Hall.
Under Kim’s predecessor, Bharara, the federal government was probing “pay-to-play” politics on the part of the mayor’s campaign and administration.
Vance’s office was examining allegations of de Blasio’s illegally funneling campaign money to upstate Democratic candidates in the 2014 state Senate elections.
Kim issued what he acknowledged is “a rare public statement” on the matter last Thursday morning.
“This office, along with the FBI, has been investigating fundraising by and on behalf of Mayor Bill de Blasio for his 2013 election campaign, the Campaign for One New York, and the 2014 State Senate effort,” Kim’s statement reads. “We have conducted a thorough investigation into several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the city, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies on behalf of those donors.
“In considering whether to charge individuals with serious public corruption crimes, we take into account, among other things, the high burden of proof, the clarity of existing law, any recent changes in the law, and the particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit. After careful deliberation, given the totality of the circumstances here and absent additional evidence, we do not intend to bring federal criminal charges against the Mayor or those acting on his behalf relating to the fundraising efforts in question.”
Kim said a statement in this case is appropriate “in order not to unduly influence the upcoming campaign and Mayoral election.”
Vance’s office did not release a statement last week. But in a letter to the state Board of Elections, the district attorney said while the actions did not rise to the level of prosecution they “appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws that impose candidate contribution limits.”
Mayor de Blasio’s office issued a statement.
“We have been confident from the moment these reviews began that the actions of the mayor and our administration have always been within the law,” the statement said. “The United States Attorney and Manhattan District Attorney have now put to rest any suggestion otherwise. We thank these prosecutors’ offices for conducting what were clearly diligent and exhaustive reviews — and for making public the conclusions of these probes. New Yorkers deserve honest, progressive government. With this mayor, they will always get it.”
Neither Vance’s nor Kim’s office commented on the simultaneous timing of their findings.
Browne believes de Blasio and his supporters should not take the findings to mean the mayor is invincible to potential scandal.
“Nothing is bulletproof in politics,” Browne said. “Politics is like the weather — a storm can blow in as quickly as one blows out.”
Krasner does not think the mayor has escaped unscathed.
“I think there is no question,” he said. “Whatever shine he had from his first campaign, and from the kind of uplifting family picture he painted that did him a lot of good in the first race, I think that is pretty much tarnished. ... I think the way he approached fundraising may not have been what people normally would consider to be on the up and up. ... For some, he’ll come off as just another politician.”
Conspicuously missing in Kim’s announcement was any mention of Gov. Cuomo, a frequent de Blasio sparring partner whose own inner circle has been the target of a federal probe for a year or more.
Eight people with ties to the governor or some of his signature development projects were indicted by a federal grand jury last fall.
Browne declined to speculate on the governor’s situation, and Krasner said one can read nothing into that case from the de Blasio matter. He said while the investigation does at least in theory make Cuomo vulnerable, there are not yet indications that anybody is willing to stand up against the governor.
“I’m not sure what to make of that,” he said.“
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has laid to rest any speculation about his plans for the future — for the moment, anyway.
Bharara, fired by President Trump on March 11 after he refused to resign along with more than 40 of his fellow Obama administration holdovers across the country, will join the New York University School of Law on April 1.
On his personal Twitter account, Bharara said Tuesday he is “proud to join NYU School of Law” and “This is one way I plan to keep working hard on important issues I care about.”
Or, perhaps, as the crusading corruption-busting former prosecutor is fond of saying: Stay tuned.
Brian Browne, assistant vice president for government relations and a political science professor at St. John’s University, and Michael Krasner, a political science professor at Queens College, said Bharara may answer the siren’s song of politics.
“He has the teaching gig, and I’ve heard about a possible TV gig,” Browne said. “He’s young, has pretty good name recognition, and there’s something to be said for a law-and-order background.”
Krasner in the past has cited former governor and two-time GOP presidential nominee Thomas Dewey and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani as high-profile New York prosecutors who then succeeded in politics.
“Bharara certainly has a good profile,” Krasner said last week, and is “someone I think would be a very viable candidate.”
Both he and Browne said even if Bharara has made up his mind to someday run for office, he almost certainly would wait, perhaps earning a higher salary for a few years while continuing to comment on politics and public affairs.
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