Friday, October 10, 2008

Groups See Ethics Violation in Mayor’s Pledge to Lauder

Published: October 9, 2008

Two civic groups said on Thursday that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg violated the city’s ethics laws when he pledged to put Ronald S. Lauder on a charter revision commission in exchange for his support for the mayor’s third-term effort.

The groups, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause, made the charge in a complaint filed with the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.

Mr. Lauder, who underwrote the campaign in 1993 to create the city’s two-term limit for elected officials, had posed a serious threat to Mr. Bloomberg’s plans to legislatively allow a third term.

Mr. Lauder had vowed to oppose the mayor’s plan to make a three-term limit permanent, until Wednesday, when Mr. Bloomberg promised to appoint him to a charter revision commission that could return the law to its original limit of two terms.

The civic groups contend that the deal violates a provision of the City Charter, which says that a mayor cannot “use or attempt to use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant.”

In their complaint, the groups said that “we believe that Mayor Bloomberg has used his position in a prohibited manner to obtain personal advantage in a quid pro quo deal with Ronald Lauder.”

Mr. Lauder’s support, they said, represents a “a great gain, given Mr. Lauder’s track record of spending millions to defend the current two-term limit.”

Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor, said there was no conflict of interest. “This is purely a publicity stunt by people who are distorting the intent of the conflicts law because they disagree with the mayor on a matter of public policy.” He added: “It’s the first of what will likely be many headline-seeking activities to prevent the City Council from exercising its authority to change a local law.”

Gene Russianoff, a senior lawyer for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that “more and more, the mayor looks like just another politician desperate to do anything to save his government job.”

Two members of the City Council filed a separate complaint on Thursday with the Conflicts of Interest Board. The members, Bill de Blasio and Letitia James, contend that extending term limits would be self-dealing, since it would allow legislators to seek a third term in office.

Like the civic groups, the council members cited a city law that prohibits elected officials from using their positions for “private or personal advantage.”

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