As she looks out from the podium, she may see some familiar faces: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who served in Bill Clinton’s administration as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and whose late father, Mario, nominated Bill Clinton for president in 1992.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also has known Hillary Clinton for many years. He managed her personal debut to political office: a successful bid for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2000. (This before he was sidelined in the campaign’s later moments).
Cuomo and de Blasio’s expected exuberance when she speaks Thursday will no doubt cheer Clinton during one of her most important moments. But when “dishonest,” “liar,” “don’t trust her” and “poor character” are the most common words attached to her, Democrats may want to reconsider some camera angles. After all, the woman her rival gleefully calls “Crooked Hillary” could be beamed in the same prime-time frame as not only two old friends, but two men deeply linked to federal (and other law enforcement) criminal investigations.
Outside of New York, the story hasn’t much seeped into national news. Cuomo and de Blasio are not personally accused of crimes—and have vociferously defended themselves. But as a cascade of reports and subpoenas have made clear, investigators are looking at a lamentable New York tradition: the slimy intersection of public service and cash.
There is no movement to limit either’s exposure at the convention; in fact, both are expected to speak, although it’s not clear when. Clinton’s campaign declined to comment.
“This has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton,” said one well-known Democratic consultant in New York. “It is a reflection of New York politics,” adding, “there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be invited.”
There are more probes into de Blasio-related issues than Cuomo. The investigations into each man’s administration are also unrelated to the other. (As an aside, Cuomo and de Blasio can’t stand each other, and barely talk. That unfortunately leaves unresolved numerous knotty issues in our state—and also makes me wonder how much cocktail party face-time the pair will have in Philadelphia. But those are stories for another day.)
For a primer on the cases, let’s start first with the man the tabloids call Hizzoner. You could divide the de Blasio probes into two baskets: fundraising and real estate.
In the latter, authorities have been looking at the deed transfer of a hospice home for HIV/AIDS patients in a trendy part of Manhattan. A recent internal probe concluded “a complete lack of accountability” within the de Blasio administration led to the Lower East Side health facility morphing into something with arguably less social benefit: a $116 million condo development at a considerable profit to the seller.
Rounding out this smelly scene, a lobbyist who has generously donated to de Blasio shepherded the deal.
De Blasio says he didn’t know about the deed restriction change, although it has emerged that he was sent an email about it. Equally troubling to many, the city’s Law Department denied its investigators access to City Hall documents, according to the report.
Turning to de Blasio’s fundraising, numerous probes are diving into how the mayor raised money both for his own political campaign and to advance his policy agenda, like pre-kindergarten and affordable housing (of course, politics and policy often overlap).
In a quirk of alliances and gerrymandering, the State Senate in Albany is largely controlled by Republicans. De Blasio wanted to shift control solely to fellow Democrats. Authorities are looking into whether any of his allies broke election law by directing campaign money to upstate county committees, and not the Democratic candidates themselves.
In June, federal agents also arrested police commanders and a Brooklyn businessman as part of the probes into the mayor’s fundraising. Another businessman who was also a prolific de Blasio donor has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is said to be cooperating. The charges center on how the businessmen showered gifts upon police officials (including, allegedly, a private jet to Las Vegas with a prostitute on board). In return, the businessmen, Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg, allegedly had police on call to help them navigate traffic, fix tickets, and handle private disputes.
De Blasio honored both Rechnitz and Reichberg with a place on his inaugural committee. He added that he met them around New York’s 2013 general election, when the front-runner suddenly found himself with more would-be friends.
“I hold myself and my administration to the highest standard of integrity,” he added.
As I’ve noted here, de Blasio’s unquenchable (but so far fruitless) desire to ban horse carriages epitomizes to many the unseemliness, no matter what you think about the ethics of carriages. During the 2013 Democratic primaries, the anti-carriage folks, led by a deep-pocketed parking garage magnet, took advantage of campaign finance law loosened by the Citizens United decision to bankroll a PAC that knocked off the Democratic front-runner.
That group, New Yorkers for Clean Livable and Safe Streets, is now subpoenaed, as are reportedly de Blasio’s top fundraiser, top political aide, and favored political consulting firm.
Big-picture, many New Yorkers are jarred by what they see as a depressing disconnect: After espousing such high-mindedness of civic life, the mayor is sure willing to dial for dollars. (Then again, we are still adjusting to life after a dozen Michael Bloomberg years, when it was the reverse: the billionaire just wrote checks and never had to worry about his account balance.)
Cuomo’s problem is somewhat easier to describe: Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in New York whose name seems to always be preceded by “hard-charging,” is looking into the “Buffalo Billion” project Cuomo prioritized to resuscitate New York’s second-largest city.
Amid that probe, Bharara apparently uncovered evidence that a top Cuomo associate had received thousands of dollars from firms that had state business. But to call Joe Percoco a top aide doesn’t measure the depth of their decades-long tightness. At Mario Cuomo’s funeral, the governor called Percoco “my father’s third son who sometimes I think he loved the most.” For his part, Percoco has jokingly called Cuomo “the older brother that I never had and never wanted.”
The burly and ever-loyal Percoco, who began working for Cuomo’s father at the age of 19, has doubled as companion and enforcer for the governor. Cuomo has distanced himself from him, and another former top aide enmeshed in the federal investigation. Former lobbyist Todd R. Howe also worked for the governor and his father. He’s now under scrutiny for possible bid rigging involving state contracts. And Cuomo’s tapped a former federal prosecutor to review the Buffalo Billion.
“If anyone does anything improper, they will be punished to the full extent of the law. Period,” Cuomo said last month. “I was the attorney general of the state of New York. I put people in jail. Public integrity is job one.”
How does this relate to Clinton? She’s not directly wrapped up in any of this. But of course with the suspicion already swirling around her (though, to be sure, no legal charges), it would arguably be far better if she kept away from anyone with outstanding ethical clouds, although that may be a tall order.
What’s more, Bernie Sanders’s supporters are already suspicious. With Cuomo and de Blasio’s help, Clinton arguably put away her primary opponent for good with her double-digit New York primary win April 19, amid reports by WNYC's Brigid Bergin of widespread voting irregularities in which more than a hundred thousand voters were mysteriously purged from rolls.
Longtime Democratic consultant George Arzt dismissed voters seeing any connection between Clinton and the scandals in New York.
“Hillary has been investigated from Whitewater on—TravelGate, Whitewater—and it’s come to naught. The investigations of the governor and the mayor, while hanging out there—so far—there’s nothing more than just an investigation.”
Still, at the very least, all of this could remind people of the ickiness of the state she represented for eight years.
Of course, Donald Trump has lived in New York his whole life.