A few weeks after City Hall transferred city-owned land in the Bronx to a developer and approved $12 million in financing for an affordable apartment complex, Mayor Bill de Blasio picked up the phone.
He called the developer, mentioned his then-active nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York — and told the builder from Douglaston Development to expect a follow-up phone chat, records show. Soon after, the group’s fundraiser rang up and asked for a check.
Douglaston Development then donated $25,000 to the mayor’s organization.
The account of the 2015 calls surfaced Tuesday when city Department of Investigation officials disclosed new portions of a heavily censored internal report obtained last month by THE CITY under a Freedom of Information Law request. Some redactions were lifted following THE CITY’s appeal, but others — including most of the report’s conclusions and recommendations — remain secret.
As previously reported, the Oct. 22 “closing memo” summing up a DOI probe of the mayor’s fundraising detailed de Blasio’s personal solicitation of donations from individuals seeking favors from his administration and found he violated city ethics rules. The city Conflicts of Interest Board has since changed its rules and pledged to impose fines on city workers soliciting donations from entities doing business with the city.
Developers’ Names Unveiled
The DOI on Tuesday unveiled the names of the four development firms cited in the report.
Three of the four donors, at the time of their chats with the mayor, were actively seeking help from City Hall for various projects. De Blasio’s dealings with Douglaston marks a case of him reaching out to someone who’d just received favorable treatment from his team.
According to a portion of the DOI report revealed Tuesday, the city transferred city-owned property in The Bronx to a limited liability corporation controlled by Douglaston in December 2014. That same month, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development agreed to provide Douglaston with $12,428,750 in taxpayer funding for the project, which involved building 425 units of affordable housing in Mott Haven.
The developer, whose name wasn’t revealed, told investigators his office received a call from the Mayor’s Office, asking if he would like to speak with de Blasio.
Around Feb. 15, 2015, the developer says, he got a call from the mayor.
The two talked for about 10 minutes, starting with general conversation about politics. “Near the end of the conversation, Mayor de Blasio mentioned CONY and informed (the developer) that he would receive a follow-up call from” Ross Offinger, Campaign for One New York’s fundraiser, the DOI report states.
The developer “could not recall whether Mayor de Blasio explicitly asked for a donation to CONY during the call.” But soon after, Offinger called and asked for a donation. On March 31, 2015, Douglaston wrote a $25,000 check to Campaign for One New York.
A spokesperson for Douglaston did not return calls Tuesday.
The mayor told DOI he did not recall the phone conversation with Douglaston Development. A spokesperson for de Blasio, who is running for president, didn’t immediately respond to THE CITY’s questions about the newly unredacted information.
The mayor has consistently refused to discuss the report, other than to say he did nothing wrong.
Donor Demanded Money Back
One newly revealed section of the DOI report also contends Offinger solicited a donation from the Peebles Corp. days before the firm bid to redevelop the former Long Island College Hospital site on state-owned land. Minutes later, de Blasio called and asked for a $25,000 donation to Campaign for One New York, according to the DOI memo.
While the city played no official role in the process, de Blasio spent part of his 2013 campaign rallying in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, to keep the hospital from closing. When that effort failed, the mayor continued to press for at least some medical services at the redeveloped site.
The report states the Peebles Corp. wrote a $20,000 check to Campaign for One New York on March 5, 2014. But shortly after, a letter distributed with CONY’s help surfaced in the neighborhood supporting another developer’s plans for the land.
Firm CEO Don Peebles told THE CITY he backed the Campaign for One New York because at the time of the donation the nonprofit was focused on promoting universal pre-K, a cause he believes in.
Peebles said when he later saw the money going toward “advocating” for a bidder in a development project — particularly one he was in competition with — he asked for a refund.
“I just think it’s inappropriate for the mayor of New York or the mayor of any city to be calling around to people doing business with the city, to ask them to give money to a political action committee,” Peebles said Tuesday. “It’s unusual for a leader like that to make calls directly.”
Calling for CONY
The newly revealed sections of the DOI report also confirmed THE CITY’s report in April that named two other developers, Toll Brothers and Park Towers, who received calls from de Blasio seeking support for CONY.
At the time, the city Buildings Department had shut down a Toll Brothers hotel project in Brooklyn due to neighborhood complaints. In February 2015, the project was allowed to proceed, and a month later de Blasio contacted a Toll Brothers executive and sought a donation for CONY.
Toll Brothers wrote a $25,000 check to CONY on Feb. 12, 2014, then another $25,000 check on April 1, 2015.
Park Towers was working with HPD to help finance affordable housing the developer had proposed in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In March 2015, the developer was negotiating with the School Construction Authority to build a school within the development.
That month one of the mayor’s longtime consultants, Jonathan Rosen, invited the developer to meet with the mayor. The 20-minute meeting took place in Rosen’s office with the mayor and Offinger, who suggested the developer support Campaign for One New York, the DOI report revealed Tuesday.
Park Tower wrote a $50,000 check to the Campaign for One New York on March 13, 2015.
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