By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Conflicts of interest are not about motives. The charter prohibits a public servant from using "his city position for the private advantage of the public servant or of anyone associated with the public servant." It doesn't say that the city official taking the action does so with the intention of benefiting himself or his associate. If the result of the official action is to benefit his business associate—in this case, Merrill—a violation occurs. Presented with a series of written Voice questions about the mayor's knowledge of Merrill's role in Stuy Town and why he didn't see it as a reason for recusal, Loeser took a week and then declined to answer any of them, refusing as well to make available either of the city attorneys who have worked with LP's lawyer on these ethics questions.
As the Voice ran the question of Bloomberg's conflict past the public officials involved in the Stuy Town maneuvers—none of whom ever heard that he recused himself—most were unsure it was the driving force behind the posture he took. Some thought his ties with Speyer were more significant. Some attributed it to his presumed abhorrence of rent regulation, an issue he does everything to avoid discussing. While they conceded it might be some combination of these three, all of them agreed that the mayor's championing of the Speyer/BlackRock/Merrill combine did not end in 2006, when the deal closed.
In fact, when the Stuy Town tenants brought the Roberts v. Tishman Speyer case in January 2007, and when they won that unanimous Appellate Division decision this March, Bloomberg once again took a "neutral" nosedive, refusing to join other city officials on the side of the tenants. Since a city tax subsidy, J-51, is at the heart of the suit, the city's silence is deafening. The complaint alleges that Speyer et al. want to have their cake and eat it, too, seeking to retain millions in tax breaks linked by law to rent regulation, while, at the same time, deregulating thousands of apartments.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, hardly a Bloomberg critic, filed amicus briefs in support of the 3,000 tenants covered by the Roberts complaint twice already and is planning a third. Quinn joined an overwhelming majority of the Council in filing papers in support of the tenants last month, contending that Speyer and company "would unwork decades of commitment" by the Council and, by extension, the government that implements the laws it passes, "to require that J-51 units be rent-stabilized."
Instead of joining them, Michael Cardozo, the mayor's corporation counsel, issued a statement in March indicating that the city "takes no position on the merits" of the case. Stringer says that the mayor should "absolutely" have joined him in siding with the tenants in court, adding that "anytime someone of that stature" takes a position on an issue like this, "it matters." Quinn says, "We wish that the city had been able to get involved"—both before the sale and in the court case. Garodnick, a Democrat who, like Quinn, is neutral in the mayoral race, says Bloomberg "was wrong in his assessment" of the tenant bid and the sale, and wrong about the ongoing litigation.
It is nothing short of astonishing that, in an election year, Bloomberg can not only sidestep this case, but also refuse to issue a single memo of support for any of the 10 rent reform bills passed by the State Assembly and still awaiting a Senate vote this session. Even Giuliani, when he was running for re-election, pushed the legislature to back rent regulation, and tried to block vacancy decontrol (which allows landlords to exempt certain vacant apartments from rent laws), making Bloomberg the first mayor in modern times to abandon protections that affect a million New York homes.
His refusal to do so is a meshing—conscious or not—of his business and class interests.