Saturday, December 20, 2014

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NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt's daily look Inside City Hall.

NY1 ItCH: Closing the Door in City Hall's West Wing

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What's the big secret with Hizzoner?

Bill de Blasio – who trumpeted transparency and openness as the city's Public Advocate and as a mayoral candidate – is having a tough time being an open book now that's he's mayor.

Whether it's meeting with the Real Estate Board of New York or the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC or a top White House official, de Blasio is acting like he's still a candidate who's hiding valuable information from his opponents rather than being a public servant.

Both meetings (that we know about) with real estate executives have been fraught with secrecy; cameras were initially not allowed into a REBNY gala with the mayor last month but eventually were granted access. After hours of hemming and hawing, de Blasio's staff released a 12-minute audio tape of the mayor's presentation to the group yesterday. And in both cases, there wasn't really anything there that the mayor wouldn't want New Yorkers to hear beyond his regular defense of his plan for universal pre-K.

Closing a door and not allowing the public to hear what you're saying immediately raises eyebrows and draws suspicion: We know what the mayor has said on the campaign trail about real-estate development but what's he telling those guys privately? In the case of AIPAC, the mayor actually did talk more favorably about Israel to the organization than he has at any time since taking over in City Hall. And how do we know what the mayor told AIPAC? Someone secretly taped his remarks and provided them to a reporter.

It's also unclear why de Blasio's team didn't tell anyone yesterday that the mayor and his wife were meeting with powerful presidential aide Valerie Jarrett where – according to a mayoral spokesman – they discussed the mayor's push for pre-K and raising the minimum wage. It's understandable that the White House and the mayor would want most of the meeting to be private, but why not invite cameras in to take some picture beforehand and get more attention? Besides promoting openness, the fight for pre-K iwould have been the story of the day rather than de Blasio's duck and cover at the REBNY event.

Finally, City Hall is even having difficulty getting mourning right. The mayor yesterday attended a memorial service for a bus driver who was killed in a horrible accident last week. Again, the event wasn't on the mayor's public schedule but we know he was there because plenty of reporters were already at the event. Clearly, the mayor doesn't want to look like he's scoring political points at a wake but do what Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg did: put it on your schedule but tell the media that you won't be talking to reporters afterwards.

Being mayor of New York City – like being president – is a tradeoff. You're one of the most prominent and important elected officials in the nation but you've also agreed to live in a bubble where there's not a lot of private time. De Blasio's campaign organization justifiably prided itself on "message discipline" in which strategy and announcements didn't leak out until they were supposed to. But somewhere along the line, that discipline is being confused with secrecy. Reporters can be annoying, ask stupid questions, and be where you don't want them to be – but that's their job. Closing a door ensures that 99 percent of the city won't hear what the other 1 percent is up to.

Bob Hardt

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