Sunday, May 4, 2014

Council speaker puts connected lobbyist on payroll

Mark-Viverito: Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito hired a lobbyist from a campaign consulting and lobbying firm closely tied to her. Photo:


Melissa Mark-Viverito quietly handed a $130,000-a-year staff position to a lobbyist from the firm that helped propel her to the City Council speakership, payroll records show.
In late March, Carlos Beato, who was a lobbyist at the firm Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Giblin, joined the City Council payroll as a deputy general counsel. The move came not long after the lobbying shop—which has long served as Ms. Mark-Viverito’s campaign compliance consultant—quarterbacked her council speaker bid.
The firm’s Jon Del Giorno set up an “appointments committee” for Ms. Mark-Viverito to vet applicants for the council staff. The firm lobbied Ms. Mark-Viverito as her speaker bid was ongoing, and has continued to do so since her ascension to the city's second-most powerful post. The close ties have drawn scrutiny and a call from the Daily News for Ms. Mark-Viverito to sever ties with the firm and its clients.
But a spokesman for Pitta Bishop said that Mr. Beato had gotten the job simply by submitting an application to the council. Mr. Beato, who specialized in lobbying on labor issues while at Pitta Bishop, graduated from the St. John’s University School of Law in 2007. “He applied through the normal channels,” the spokesman said. “He’s always been interested in being in government.”
The council's general counsel serves as the body’s attorney in legal matters.
In an unprecedented and clever move, the Pitta Bishop set up a 2017 campaign account to facilitate Ms. Mark-Viverito’s speaker run. That allowed her to raise $100,000, with more than $20,000 coming from the lobbying firm’s clients. The good-government group Common Cause accused Ms. Mark-Viverito of exploiting loopholes in state election law. Pitta Bishop's clients also reportedly funded much of her $27,000 inauguration party.
The practice of campaign firms lobbying the lawmakers they help elect is frowned upon by watchdog organizations. Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, said that Mr. Beato's hiring should be judged on whether he is qualified for the position.
"This is further evidence of the close relationship between a lobbying firm and the speaker, and it will invite continued scrutiny," Mr. Dadey said. "It's common for elected officials to rely on close allies to make staffing and policy decisions. Those decisions should be based on substance and not on the connections."
A City Council spokesman did not immediately offer a comment.
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