Team de Blasio: Mayor's inner circle has outside advisers

AP News
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Posted: May 18, 2015 1:05 AM
Team de Blasio: Mayor's inner circle has outside advisers

NEW YORK (AP) — Bill de Blasio's inner circle isn't contained by the walls of City Hall.

The New York City mayor's unofficial cabinet includes about a half-dozen outside political strategists, many of whom he has known for decades and frequently turns to for advice when formulating his agenda or managing a crisis, sometimes double- and triple-checking opinions.

He leans on outside advisers more than other recent mayors, and those relationships have reportedly gotten scrutiny from ethical watchdogs for potentially being unregistered lobbying.

"He likes to tap into the world beyond City Hall — some of the people have titles, some are consultants, and some are everyday people," said John Del Cecato, a political consultant who worked for President Barack Obama and created the ad featuring the mayor's son, Dante, that helped swing the 2013 election.

Del Cecato, who works for the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit run by de Blasio allies to promote the mayor's agenda, accompanied de Blasio on much of his recent travel to the Midwest, Washington and California. Del Cecato has — according to a series of interviews with administration officials and the mayor's outside advisers — become the mayor's "last call" on many political issues, particularly in his crusade against income inequality.

But Del Cecato, who met de Blasio only a few years ago, is an outlier for the mayor's inner circle, most of whom he has known for decades.

Patrick Gaspard, now the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, has been a close ally since he and de Blasio worked for ex-Mayor David Dinkins; Jonathan Rosen is head of the BerlinRosen public relations firm that represents many liberal causes; Nick Baldick, a veteran Democratic consultant, met de Blasio when they worked on the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign; and Peter Ragone has worked with de Blasio on a number of campaigns over the last 20 years and only recently returned to the private sector after a stint as senior adviser at City Hall.

Others in his orbit include Harold Ickes, a former Clinton White House deputy chief of staff whom de Blasio views as a mentor, and, of course, the mayor's wife, Chirlane McCray.

"The mayor has deep relationships with people who share his sense of mission about public service," Ragone said. "In this cynical age, that might sound like a load, but it's real and it binds us to him as a leader."

City Hall staffers, deputy mayors and commissioners guide most administration decisions. Though it is common for any New York City mayor to rely on a tight-knit circle of those who don't work for him, de Blasio's immediate predecessors had a much smaller coterie of outside advisers, longtime political operative George Arzt said.

"This is a mayor who likes to take the temperature of the people outside the administration he trusts," said Arzt, press secretary to former Mayor Ed Koch.

Those consultations come in many forms: late-night emails, Gracie Mansion meetings and, once the weather warms up, calls with the mayor as he paces City Hall Plaza, his old-fashioned flip phone connected to an earpiece as he seeks counsel from a consigliore.

Keeping such a robust outside team poses political risks. For one, it reinforces the belief that de Blasio is too deliberative and sluggish in his decision-making, a criticism that has dogged his administration. Also, the Campaign for One New York was asked this month by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics why it has not yet registered as a lobbying group. JCOPE would not comment on the issue; a spokesman for the nonprofit said only that the matter was resolved.

And BerlinRosen has come under recent media scrutiny for advising the mayor as well as private clients trying to curry favor with City Hall. Jonathan Rosen declined to comment for this story.

"It becomes problematic if a group with access to the mayor is representing clients who are trying to influence the actions of that mayor," said Dick Dadey, executive director of the good government group Citizens Union.

A de Blasio spokesman said the mayor would continue to turn to trusted friends to complement his senior City Hall staff.

"An inclusive approach where many different points of view are heard is a central part of the mayor's leadership style," Phil Walzak said.