The Mayor’s Bad Week Ends in Another Rivington House Grilling

daily news city hall white wash

Tabloid headlines concerning Rivington House have dogged de Blasio throughout the week.

It hasn’t been a great week for Mayor de Blasio. He was marginalized at the Democratic National Convention. There was a steady stream of negative stories about the Rivington House scandal on he Lower East Side. Today, once again, he was on the defensive during an appearance on WNYC Radio.

On Tuesday, under the threat of legal action, the city’s Law Department was forced to authorize the release of documents initially concealed during an inquiry by the Department of Investigation. The two agencies then began feuding publicly.

Today host Brian Lehrer honed in on revelations that high-ranking members of the de Blasio administration knew about efforts to lift deed restrictions on the former nursing home. Here’s part of the radio exchange

Lehrer: You’ve said the people involved (former property owner, the Allure Group) deceived the city into approving it. But your Department of Investigation now finds that your First Deputy Mayor, Anthony Shorris, was notified about the plan on multiple occasions, knew about it early in the process, and on one occasion sent you an email about it. Do you still have confidence in Anthony Shorris… as First Deputy Mayor after that report?

Mayor: Yes – total confidence in Tony Shorris. I think that, with all due respect to the way you framed that, I don’t think that’s what the report (from the Department of Investigation) says. The fact is — there was tremendous lack of communication internally about what the ramifications of the decision was. As I said, it never came to me. Let’s just be really clear – it should not have happened. It was a mistake. It does not reflect my values. I would never have approved a senior facility turned into luxury housing. It just does not make sense. This was a problem of lack of coordination – left hand, right hand – and a broken policy that goes back 25 years that we should have caught, but bluntly was a fairly obscure administrative policy… I think given the volume of activity in City Hall – and as First Deputy Mayor, Tony Shorris probably has the most on his plate of anyone who works for me… a deed restriction change – you can understand – might not be on the top of anyone’s list on a given day.

rivington house memo

A 2014 city memo explored in detail the perils and advantages of lifting Rivington House deed restrictions.

One of the previously redacted memos released this week included an analysis of the pros and cons of lifting the deed restrictions. It also made specific mention of briefing Shorris. Allure Group ultimately paid the city $16 million. Today, Lehrer asked the mayor how Shorris could have overlooked such a large transaction. De Blasio’s response:

Again, here’s the simple way of saying it – in the context of an $82 billion budget, in the context of all the issues we deal with every day – $16 million. I care deeply about $16 million, as do the taxpayers. But compared to everything else we deal with, it is on the smaller side of the equation. That’s not the point, though. I think when you have folks downstream at an agency saying all of this checks out, it’s by the normal process, it’s all been vetted legally, it’s appropriate – in the work we do in government – of course we lean on our colleagues up and down the line to help confirm that things are being done right. What was wrong here Brian – it’s the policy itself. So in other words, all the boxes were checked, all the legalities were there. But the policy itself was broken because the policy did not have a check and balance that would have stopped the developer from saying one thing and then doing another. (The mayor then referenced reforms he’s making to fix the process for evaluating deeds).

As for the notion that the Law Department was trying to hide documents from the city’s investigative agency, the mayor doubled down on a line of attack he began earlier in the week.

Lehrer: The Daily News is emphasizing that… (Corporation Counsel Zachary) Carter withheld a specific memo that, they say, stated, early in the process, that the nursing home owners were considering selling Rivington (House) to condo developers.

Mayor: That’s not true… Brian respectfully, I feel like people take one article and start assuming it’s true without looking at the facts that we have put out publicly. Zach Carter put out, publicly, that some of the very memos that were claimed to have been “withheld” had been provided to the Department of Investigation. He literally said, “here’s when we provided those memos in question, here’s the date.” That was months ago in this case. So this is becoming the telephone game. We’ve provided the information; it’s quite clear what happened here. We’ve explained it. It’s a mistake. It’s not acceptable, it won’t happen again. But, no, I’m sorry some reporters have just blatantly ignored the fact that we laid out exactly when we gave those memos and we had every reason to be transparent about those memos, because they portray how the mistakes in the decision process happened and we’ve been open with those mistakes.

This week, the mayor sarcastically said the Rivington House scandal is “probably bigger than Watergate.”