By Sabina Mollot
With multiple well-publicized probes into the de Blasio administration currently underway, investigating, among other things, the mayor’s attempt to help Democrats control the State Senate in 2014, it’s still too soon to say if Senate Democrats will be harmed in the upcoming elections.
This was the view of Mike McKee, the treasurer and spokesperson for TenantsPAC, despite some admittedly “stupid” behavior on the part of the mayor, who actually got TenantsPAC’s endorsement in 2013. Flipping the Republican-controlled Senate is a major goal of TenantsPAC.
But McKee agreed with the argument that’s been made by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which is that the sudden interest in his fundraising activity was politically motivated — no doubt orchestrated by the mayor’s longtime adversary in Albany, Governor Cuomo.
“Everyone knows this is how he operates — he’s vindictive,” said McKee of Cuomo. As for the mayor, McKee said he deserves some blame for not realizing he was bound to come under some scrutiny for his personal nonprofit aimed at pushing his progressive agenda, The Campaign for One New York.
“He stupidly set himself up for this kind of thing,” said McKee, “with the Campaign for One New York and donors who have business before the city. It just looks bad. Perception is part of the problem here. He could have avoided this.”
That said, he still doesn’t believe the mayor’s actions will ultimately add up to anything criminal.
“It’s one of the worst loopholes of the campaign finance system,” said McKee, with regards to allegations over cash being improperly funneled through committees in an effort to skirt campaign contribution limits to individual Democrat candidates.
Published reports, meanwhile, have quoted de Blasio’s attorney defending the mayor’s fundraising as being lawful.
While McKee said that he thought the loophole “should be closed,” he also noted that in Albany that’s just business as usual. He then referred to a recent column in the New York Times that pointed out that in 2008, money from Mayor Bloomberg moved similarly through committees, before getting steered to Republican State Senate candidates.
“Not that the ‘everybody does it’ defense is an adequate defense — look at how well that worked out for Dean Skelos and Shelly Silver — but it’s unfortunately legal,” argued McKee. “I do not believe Risa Sugarman (the chief enforcement counsel for the Board of Elections, who issued a report alleging improper fundraising) is acting independently.”
(Sugarman has reportedly insisted that she is acting fairly and just doing her job.)
But while investigations have been opened, no criminal charges have been filed against the mayor, so McKee said it’s too soon to tell if it will hurt Democrats’ odds of flipping the Senate. However, he conceded, “It’s obviously not helpful.” Meanwhile, he believes that is one of two possible motivations behind the probe. “Why is no one talking about Republican money moving around?” he asked. The other reason, he added, would be to hurt de Blasio’s chances of winning a second term.
As for the Democrats’ effort to take control of the Senate in November, McKee pointed out Cuomo’s inactivity on the push. While the governor endorsed Todd Kaminsky, the Nassau County Democrat Assembly member who recently won the special election for the Senate seat previously occupied by disgraced former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Cuomo didn’t campaign for him.
Not for the first time, McKee commented, “Andrew Cuomo does not want a Democrat controlled Senate; he just gives lip service.”
In the Nassau election, TenantsPAC had actively backed Kaminsky, door knocking in the district. In the other recent special election race to fill the Lower East Side Assembly seat formerly occupied by another convicted felon, Sheldon Silver, the organization backed Yuh-Line Niou.
Niou ended up losing to Democrat Alice Cancel. However, this race was less of a game changer as far as tenant advocates are concerned, since the Assembly is already overwhelmingly Democratic. Should Cancel also win the September primary in what is expected to be a cluttered race, McKee said he figured she would be pro-tenant.
“Would she vote against tenants? I seriously doubt it.”