NYC mayor Bill de Blasio demonstrates his priorities
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y.––A $3 million sale of supposedly rat-proof garbage bags has the FBI “sniffing around in New York,” reported Jim Dwyer of The New York Times on June 23, 2016.
The FBI probe of rat-proof garbage bag dealings results from a series of investigations that have also turned up substantial horse manure––horse-drawn carriage horse manure, to be specific––associated with fundraising to influence the election campaign that put New York City mayor Bill de Blasio in office in 2013.
Pledged to end horse-drawn carriage trade on “day one”
Contributions from opponents of the horse drawn carriage industry to a campaign run against de Blasio’s major rival, Christine Quinn, indirectly boosted de Blasio, who pledged to have the carriages off the city streets on “day one” of his term of office, if elected.
But far from ending the New York City horse-drawn carriage industry, politically contentious almost continuously since the 1866 formation of the New York City-based American SPCA, the de Blasio administration in May 2016 authorized a pay raise for horse-drawn carriage operators and drivers––their first increase in chargeable fares since 2010.
Garbage bag deal takes the spotlight
Under formal investigation since April 2016, the wheeling and dealing pertaining to horse-drawn carriages has occupied New York City political pundits for months, but the political bag men behind the rat-proof garbage bag deal have the spotlight for the moment, in a city whose 5.3 million subway passengers per day leave behind enough food waste to feed an estimated 331,250 rats plus two or three times as many mice. And that is not even beginning to count the rats and mice who live above ground, including in City Hall.
Summarized New York Times reporter Dwyer, “For years, Joseph Dussich, the owner of a company in Queens that makes anti-rat garbage bags, could not get city officials to consider buying them. Last year, though, that changed after Dussich made the second of two donations of $50,000 apiece to a political advocacy group run by allies of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Animal advocates left holding the bag
“Within a month,” Dwyer reported, “Dussich’s company, JAD Corporation of America, was given a $15,000 contract that allowed parks officials to try out his product.
“Later, the city sought bids for a five-year supply of bags registered with the Environmental Protection Agency as rodent repellent,” Dwyer narrated.
Dussich “was not the low bidder,” Dwyer continued, “but the company that did get the city contract is buying about $3 million in bags from him.”
While Dussich was apparently not left holding the bag, animal advocates have significantly different feelings.
Carriage drivers get a raise
Wrote New York Daily News city hall bureau chief Jennifer Fermino on May 18, 2015, “The city Department of Consumer Affairs quietly hiked the price of a carriage ride, part of a Michael Bloomberg administration deal that had been on hold. Drivers can now charge $54.08 for the first 20 minutes of a ride, and $21.63 for every 10 minutes after. Before the rate hike, the drivers were allowed to charge $50 for the first 20 minutes, and $20 for every 10 minutes after.”
“The mayor failed spectacularly,” Friends of Animals campaign director Edita Birnkrant told Fermino.
Said activist Donny Moss, “Mayor de Blasio made a public promise on multiple occasions to take these horses out of harm’s way in Midtown Manhattan. Giving the drivers another pay raise is only going to keep them on the dangerous streets and off of the pastures, where they belong, even longer.”
Mayor “stands for nothing”
Moss, recalled Fermino, “helped start the Anybody But Quinn group crucial to toppling de Blasio’s 2013 Democratic primary rival Christine Quinn.”
Added New Yorkers for Clean, Livable And Safe Streets (NYCLASS) executive director Allie Taylor, “Mayor de Blasio’s failure to protect these animals is now complete. He rewards an industry that abuses animals and sends horses to slaughter, while claiming he is a champion of animal rights. It’s pathetic, but expected at this point from a mayor who stands for nothing.”
Taylor’s statement was of particular political interest because, Greg B. Smith of the New York Daily News reported on April 22, 2016, “The Manhattan U.S. attorney and the Manhattan district attorney [have] both demanded documents from an anti-horse carriage group that has steered hundreds of thousands of dollars to de Blasio in its effort to ban buggies from Central Park, according to a source familiar with the probe.
Follow the money
“Supporters of that group, NYCLASS,” Smith explained, “have written checks totaling $125,000 to Campaign for One New York, a so-called ‘independent spending’ organization de Blasio formed to support his pet causes.
“Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. [have] demanded documents dating as far back as 2013 from the group, which steered $100,000 to Campaign for One New York in March 2015 and hundreds of thousands more to the mayor’s 2013 campaign.”
Responded NYCLASS spokesperson John Collins to ANIMALS 24-7 on June 27, 2016, “NYCLASS did not contribute to the Campaign for One New York or to the Mayor’s campaign; [NYCLASS founder] Steve Nislick and [NYCLASS director] Wendy Neu did so personally.”
“In 2014,” New York Daily News reporter Smith added in his April 2016 report, “the Daily News reported the FBI was looking at NYCLASS donations to the mayor, who championed the group’s cause during his run for City Hall. At the time, the FBI was examining how two de Blasio supporters appeared to have used NYCLASS to secretly attack his then-chief rival, Christine Quinn.
“In May and June 2013,” Smith elaborated, a union run by de Blasio’s cousin, John Wilhelm, and a top de Blasio donor, attorney Jay Eisenhoffer, wrote two checks totaling $225,000 to NYCLASS. Within days, NYCLASS wrote duplicate checks to New York City Not for Sale, a rabidly anti-Quinn group. At the time, the anti-Quinn group had to disclose its contributions, but NYCLASS didn’t. The two donations weren’t revealed until days after de Blasio won the primary. These contributions well exceed the limits on individual donations, which are restricted to $4,950 per election. Owners of entities doing business with the city can’t give more than $400, and lobbyists aren’t allowed to give at all.”
NYCLASS spokesperson Collins told ANIMALS 24-7 on June 27, 2016 that, “FBI never contacted NYCLASS in 2014,” but the FBI does not necessarily contact the subjects of investigations at all, depending on the nature of the investigation and what is discovered.
Manhattan real estate
Recalled Daily Beast commentator Josh Robin in May 2016, de Blasio “in March 2010 wasn’t a sponsor of legislation banning carriages; less than a year later, he had fervently signed on. In the meantime, he got thousands of dollars from a real estate developer who co-founded the anti-carriage group NYCLASS. Well more than a million dollars would follow—to de Blasio or, more importantly, to a shadowy group dedicated to sinking his top rival, Christine Quinn.”
Objected NYCLASS spokesperson John Collins to ANIMALS 24-7 on June 27, 2016, “NYCLASS did not contribute to the mayor or any specific candidate. They ran an ‘Anyone but Quinn’ campaign,” which did, however, indirectly help de Blasio by “sinking his top rival, Christine Quinn,” as Robin of Daily Beast put it.
“Investigators including the crusading U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara,” Robin continued, “are declining to comment, but it appears what they are looking for a transgression older than Tammany Hall: pay-to-play politics for a pricey piece of Manhattan real estate. Real estate in the form of stables,” owned since 2001 by a consortium of 12 carriage owners.
“Like the carriages they house,” Robin continued, “the stables appear as relics: stout brick buildings, spilling hay next to glassy apartment towers and blocking other lucrative investments from rising above where they stand.
Developer redirected support
“Stephen Nislick, the press-shy developer who made his fortune in parking garages and co-founded NYCLASS, has long sworn that his concern is for animals only,” Robin said. “But documents I recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Request included a NYCLASS presentation to City Hall noting the city could get far more in taxes if the stables were redeveloped.”
Earlier, Robin alleged, “Nislick was showering Quinn with cash in the hope she would change her position supporting the carriages. When that didn’t work, a consultant then working for the group threatened a Quinn aide with an independent political campaign against her if she didn’t change sides, another Quinn aide tells me. (The Daily News, which champions the carriages, reported last year that the FBI is investigating the incident as possible extortion).
Horse advocates fined
“NYCLASS has since been fined more than $26,000 for campaign finance violations,” Robin added.
Robin’s report somewhat contradicted an April 22, 2016 report by Nathan Tempey of The Gothamist that while, “The sale of the site of the horse stables on the West Side could be a moneymaker for NYCLASS cofounder and developer Stephen Nislick, Nislick has said he wouldn’t take the property if it was given to him.”
Affirmed NYCLASS spokesperson John Collins to ANIMALS 24-7 on June 27, 2016, “Steve Nislick has said repeatedly that he neither wants the real estate nor would he accept or use it in any fashion.”
While de Blasio promised to end the horse-drawn carriage trade during his election campaign, the idea had little support except from animal advocates.
Horse-drawn carriage trade fought back
Recounted Jonathan LeMire and Verena Dobnik of Associated Press, “A media blitz, led in part by actor Liam Neeson and launched to counter the ones funded by the animal rights groups,” featuring spokespersons including Mary Tyler Moore, “portrayed the horse-drawn carriage industry as an essential part of New York that provides about 400 jobs. A series of city unions, usually de Blasio’s staunchest allies, broke with the Democratic mayor, urging him to reconsider his decision in order to save not only the jobs but a profitable source of tourism. The New York Daily News then launched a front-page campaign called ‘Save our Horses.’ And public polls consistently showed a majority of New Yorkers did not favor a ban.”
After 25 months of stalling, trying to build support for a deal that would at least substantially reduce the numbers of horses on the streets, de Blasio pushed a proposal which would have cut the number of working carriage horses from the present 220 to 95, with no more than 75 allowed to work in Central Park, the most popular venue for horse-drawn carriages, at any one time.
“The animals would have been restricted to the park and the city would have built a new stable in the iconic greenspace at the cost of $25 million,” summarized LeMire and Dobnik.
Clearly lacking any chance of passage, the de Blasio scheme was withdrawn one day before a scheduled city council vote.
The New York City Carriage Horse Protection Act, adopted in 1989, restricted horse-drawn carriages to operating in Central Park and prohibited them from operating during rush hours, but was repealed in 1992.