One of the few small pleasures of being the mayor of New York City is being able to take credit for the good things you do while you are mayor. For Bill de Blasio, that means universal pre-K, overseeing a continued reduction in crime, or presiding over a rent-freeze for rent-stabilized tenants. But until November 8, 2017, City Hall employees are not to use the mayor’s name or his picture in any “ordinary” communications to New Yorkers.
According to an email sent yesterday to staffers in the Mayor’s Office from the mayor’s deputy communications director, Dan Gross, de Blasio’s “name and likeness will not appear” on any “ordinary” communications. Instead, staffers are directed to use “the generic NYC bubble and ‘Office of the Mayor.’ ”
Chapter 49 of the City Charter prohibits public servants running for office from appearing in government-sponsored communications or using public funds and resources to transmit “an electioneering message,” but Section 1136.1 exempts “ordinary communications between public servants and members of the public,” from elections laws, as well as “ordinary communications between elected officials and their constituents.”
Gross acknowledges this in the email, but nevertheless, “The mayor has determined to limit the exceptions to the maximum extent possible and, specifically, on ‘ordinary’ communications, his name and likeness will not appear,” he writes.
The restrictions are in place from January 1, 2017, “through the day after Election Day, 2017,” and Gross states that the directive was created “in conjunction with the Office of the Counsel to the Mayor.”
A former City Hall official pointed to the ongoing federal and state investigations into the mayor’s fundraising activities as a possible reason why the administration “is going far above and beyond the rules here.”
“Thousands of parents are going to get mail accepting their kids into Pre-K programs in the next few weeks. Homeowners will get routine letters about reductions of property tax assessments,” said the former official, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardizing working relationships. “Since un-sequestered grand juries can watch or read news media, stories that question whether the mayor is playing fast-and-loose with mail and materials could catastrophically influence their views on his innocence on other possible crimes.”
Eric Phillips, a spokesperson for the mayor, said the email “has zero to do with anything other than the rules promulgated by the city.”
Asked if the rule included tweets and press releases, and if this 2009 press release from Mayor Bloomberg would run afoul of de Blasio’s initiative, Phillips replied, “We’re not in the business of interpreting prior mayors’ compliance with ethics rules.”
Austin Finan, another spokesman for de Blasio, acknowledged that “the Administration is going above and beyond restrictions imposed on the Mayor’s appearance in communications produced with government funds or resources during election years.” Finan said the restriction will apply to “certain ads, flyers, and PSAs.”
Last Friday, the mayor met with investigators from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office for four hours. The investigators are reportedly looking into whether the mayor and members of his administration traded favors for political donations.
“I’m a progressive. I’m a reformer. Everything I have been doing is to change the status quo in the city and we have followed the rules every step along the way,” de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis on Monday. “So, you know, people can look into it all they want and we will cooperate fully because we are very comfortable we have done things the right way – it’s as simple as that.”
You can read the text of the email sent to City Hall staffers below. Emphasis theirs.
With additional reporting from Max Rivlin-Nadler
Over the past several months, many of you have inquired about the use of the Mayor’s name in election year by your respective agencies. In conjunction with the Office of the Counsel to the Mayor we have devised guidance moving forward. This will be in effect starting January 1st 2017 through the day after Election Day, 2017. To be specific, the exact date you can resume use of the Mayor’s name is November 8th, 2017. It is expected you will disseminate this information to your internal teams.
In an election year the use of the Mayor’s name or likeness is limited in documents distributed to the public. The exceptions to the limitations permits the use of the Mayor’s name or likeness in “advertisements and other communications required by law,” “communications necessary to safeguard public health and safety,” “standard communications in response to inquiries or request,” and “ordinary communications between [the Mayor] and members of the public.”
The Mayor has determined to limit the exceptions to the maximum extent possible and, specifically, on “ordinary” communications, his name and likeness will not appear, using instead the generic NYC bubble and “Office of the Mayor.” If existing brochures or other public facing communications with his name or likeness have been previously used, they may continue to be used as “ordinary” communications. If the supply of these materials is exhausted or reprinted or if anything new is created or produced, they should use the generic “Office of the Mayor.” The goal is to minimize the use of materials with the Mayor’s name or likeness during the election year.
Any uncertainty about a particular item should be raised with me or the Office of the Counsel to the Mayor for resolution.
Thank you all for your incredible work!
Deputy Communications Director
Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio