NYC mayor affirms right to influence City Council

July 1, 2013
Jon Gerberg
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — New York's billionaire mayor said Monday he has the right to use some of his personal fortune to garner support from City Council members on police reform bills he plans to veto.

The two bills passed by the City Council last week create an inspector general for the New York Police Department and make it easier for people who believe they have been racially profiled to sue the city. Bloomberg spent weeks first trying to prevent the passage of the bills, and is now trying to veto the legislation.

But both bills passed with at least 34 votes, the minimum number needed to override a veto. On Monday, Bloomberg responded to a New York Post article reporting that he could use his wealth to influence City Council members up for re-election, saying he was willing to support candidates with whom he agrees, financially or otherwise.

The mayor noted that it was standard practice for outside groups to attempt to influence their representatives, and said he would similarly push candidates to vote in his favor.

Bloomberg did not detail how he could do so, but he could potentially give to council candidates or make what are known as independent expenditures — such as ads advocating for or against them — on their behalf, subject to certain contribution limits and rules that would also apply to any other New Yorker.

Or he and his aides could also simply call and lobby City Council members to their cause.

"I'm going to encourage other people to vote for those things," the mayor said Monday at an unrelated news conference. "Some of these things are life and death issues, like these two horrendous bills in the City Council."

The legislation grew out of increased scrutiny of the NYPD tactic known as stop and frisk, as well as a series of Associated Press stories that exposed extensive surveillance of Muslims.

Bloomberg says the techniques are necessary to make New York safe and along with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly touts historic lows in murders and other violent crimes as a measure of how the tactics have worked.

Police have made about 5 million stops in the past decade, mostly of black and Hispanic men. Only about 10 percent are arrested.

Advocates of the measures denounced the mayor's attempt to sway the bills' passage. The group Communities United for Police Reform reiterated in a statement Monday that the bills would protect New Yorkers' civil rights and safety. Bloomberg is "now seeking to sow fear and spread around his billions of dollars to threaten council members and buy their votes," said spokeswoman Joo-Hyun Kang.

Also Monday, Bill de Blasio, the New York City public advocate and a mayoral candidate, held a news conference in which he blasted the mayor on his policies and tactics.

"Mayor Bloomberg is wrong on the substance of the racial profiling bill. He's wrong in his approach to stop and frisk," he said. "But now what's even worse is he's going to use his wealth and his power to once again try and undermine the democratic process."

Other mayoral candidates have also criticized Bloomberg's response to the legislation.

Bloomberg has long channeled some of his fortune into political donations, and he stepped up his efforts last fall by forming a super PAC, Independence USA, to help candidates around the country who share his opinions — and oppose some who don't — on such issues as gun control and same-sex marriage. It has spent about $12 million, Federal Election Commission records show.

He is not the first opponent of the legislation to pledge to influence the outcome. The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the city's largest police union, last week promised to dedicate resources toward challenging candidates who supported the bills.

The mayor has 30 days from the bills' passage to issue a veto, at which point the City Council would have another 30 days to override.