the waiting game
Two weeks after taking office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to fill a
long list of top administration positions, leading to frustrations and
confusion in some corners about how long holdover staffers are supposed
to stay on.
Despite a flurry of hires in the days before he took office–which
seemed to quell public criticism–Mr. de Blasio hasn’t named a single new
appointment since last Tuesday, when he rolled out his press team,
leaving a long list of agencies without permanent leaders, including the
New York City Housing Authority, responsible for housing more than
400,000 residents, the Department of Buildings, which oversees building
inspections at nearly 1 million properties, and the Department of
Correction, which oversees the city’s jails–marking the slowest roll out
in modern mayoral history.
At many of those agencies, including the Department of Health, the
Fire Department, and the Office of Emergency Management, Mr. de Blasio
has asked Bloomberg appointees to remain on the job–at least until he
finds replacements. At others, including the Department of Investigation
and the Parks Department, former first deputy commissioners or other
high-ranking staffers are filling in on an interim basis, until the new
mayor settles on his picks.
But at least two agencies, the Department of Cultural Affairs and
the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, remain leaderless.
“We don’t have an acting commissioner at the moment,” said a Cultural
Affairs spokesman when asked who was leading the agency. He later added
that, “the agency continues to carry out its regular functions,
including its grant programs for the city’s nonprofit cultural
“There’s currently no acting commissioner,” said a spokeswoman for
the media office, who said that day-to-day operations, such as issuing
permits for TV and movie shoots, hadn’t been affected by the gaps.
And while the vast majority of current and recently departed staffers
interviewed by Politicker in the past week said operations are still
running smoothly, with no perceptible impacts on day-to-day services,
many acknowledged that staffers had been given scant information about
when replacements would be appointed, leaving deputy commissioners and
other hold-overs in a holding pattern that has angered some. One deputy
commissioner said many commissioners have been told they won’t be asked
to stay on but have been given little to no direction about how long
they’ll be needed.
“I cannot tell you how scary it is now. Senior staff at a variety of
agencies have no clue what is going on,” said the deputy commissioner
The deputy also complained about a larger lack of communication
between agencies and the new administration. “Emails are not being
returned and there is already a strong sense of being rudderless,” they
Though most visible slots in most agencies are now occupied by
interim staffers, some offices have begun to grow roomy as lower-ranking
staffers, including various deputies, head for the door.
At the Department of Finance, which collects city taxes, administers
parking tickets and oversees the city’s pension payments, three of five
deputy commissioners are gone, including the agency’s deputy
commissioner for operations, who oversaw everything from tax and parking
collections to payment operations; the deputy commissioner for
administration and planning, who oversaw the office’s press office,
budget and external affairs; and the general counsel, another
deputy-level post, according to an agency organizational chart. The
agency’s chief of staff is also leaving at the end of the end of week,
while the city’s sheriff is set to depart at the end of the month.
Still, Owen Stone, a spokesman for the department, said things were
humming on as usual with assistant commissioners taking on bigger roles.
“It’s not affecting our ability to do the work we do. And in many ways
we’re doing it as efficiently as ever,” said Mr. Stone, echoing agency
spokespeople across the city.
A spokesman for the mayor, Phil Walzak, also insisted lines of
communication were clear, with the city’s new deputy mayors stepping
into their leadership roles.
“Mayor de Blasio and senior staff have met with agency heads to
establish lines of communication and to ensure strong continuation of
government functions and coordination,” he said in a statement. “First
Deputy Mayor Shorris and Deputy Mayor Barrios-Paoli meet regularly with
the leadership at agencies under their purview. Deputy Mayor Glen will
do the same with her agencies after she officially begins on January 21,
and she continues to review weekly reports from her agencies.”
Still, there are other signs that the transition has been rocky. At
the Department of Buildings, according to a source familiar with the
matter, Mr. de Blasio’s team failed to reach out to then-former
Commissioner Robert LiMandri to inquire about whether he’d be willing to
stay on until a week before his scheduled departure. The source said
Mr. LiMandri declined and former First Deputy Commissioner Thomas
Fariello was forced to quickly step in as acting commissioner. Mr.
LiMandri did not return multiple requests for comment; a department
spokeswoman declined to comment.
Other holdovers, including Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, also
weren’t asked to stay on until right before Christmas, even though Mr.
de Blasio was elected the Democratic mayoral nominee in early September
and knew he was a shoo-in for months.
One now-departed Bloomberg-appointed commissioner also said he’d been
surprised the incoming de Blasio administration hadn’t taken him and
other agency staffers up on their offers of assistance during the
transition before they left.
“It’s pretty surprising,” said the ex-commissioner, disappointed that
Mr. de Blasio’s team had not sought his input. “I said, ‘I’ll do
whatever I need to be helpful.’ I have all our divisions laid out, a big
binder with everything … It’s really good. It’s colorful.”
And while he’s satisfied his agency is in good hands, he said the
waiting game nonetheless takes its toll, as a long list of agencies
await appointments, including: the Department of Parks and Recreation,
the Department for the Aging, Department of Consumer Affairs, Department
of Housing Preservation and Development, the Human Resources
Administration, the Department of Information Technology and
Telecommunications, the Department of Environmental Protection,
the Department of Design and Construction, the Department of Cultural
Affairs, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and the
Department of Small Business Services–as well as the Taxi and Limousine
Commission, the Health and Hospitals Corporation and numerous boards.
“There’s a lot of anxiety in a lot of different places,” he said. “People sort of looking at each other.”
Updated at 6:46 p.m. with additional comment from the spokesman for the Department of Cultural Affairs.