The afternoon of Aug. 6, 2015, Wendy Neu — co-founder of a group pushing City Hall to ban carriage horses — sent an impassioned message to the personal email of a politician she believed was her ally: Mayor de Blasio.
Neu and others with New Yorkers for Clean Livable & Safe Streets (NYCLASS) had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the mayor’s 2013 campaign and his nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York.
Now the donor was letting the mayor know that she expected something in return for all she and her group had done.
“We need to reconvene with you and have a productive meeting about what the future will be for the horses,” she wrote in emails obtained by the Daily News. “Mayor, you were there for us all along and we were there for you.”
Mayor de Blasio is all ears for big-money donors
Two months earlier NYCLASS co-founder Stephen Nislick had emailed de Blasio personally to complain that he wasn’t getting a bang for the bucks he was spending and City Hall’s anemic effort to push the City Council to enact a carriage ban. “To tell this now after we just spent 500K is totally ridiculous and puts us in an impossible situation,” he wrote in the June 24 email. “We are very very upset!”
In November 2015 de Blasio threw in the towel, announcing he was no longer pushing the horse carriage ban because he didn’t have the City Council votes.
The emails show Neu and Nislick, like other big donors, had remarkable access to the city’s highest office holder. They’d been given his personal email and were in frequent communication with him — a perk few ordinary New Yorkers could enjoy.
Often the mayor responded quickly and always he made sure a top aide was quickly assigned to help out.
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Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim announced in March — after a year-long probe — that he’d found that de Blasio had intervened on behalf of several donors seeking favors from City Hall.
But Kim declined to bring charges, noting “recent changes in the law” and “the particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is not evidence of personal profit.”
Attorney Norman Siegel, a longtime civil liberties advocate, noted the Supreme Court last year made prosecuting public corruption cases more difficult when it threw out charges against Virginia’s former governor.
The court ruled that actions the governor took on behalf of a businessman who’d plied him and his wife with gifts did not prove corruption.
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Nevertheless, Siegel dubbed the pattern of de Blasio helping out big donors portrayed in the emails as “sickening.”
“It’s a quid pro quo,” Siegel said. “You have to pay to get a favor when you need it. It’s part of the reasoning why people in New York and around the country see corruption in government.”
With NYCLASS, the mayor personally emailed Neu a first-name-basis response, “Thanks for your message, Wendy. I believe we have the same goal and that we will achieve it, even if not in one jump. But let’s definitely meet to think together.”
He ordered his scheduler to “set up the mtg for this coming week or next,” and copied another top City Hall aide, Elana Leopold, who’d worked on his 2013 campaign handling donors.
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In that campaign, Neu and NYCLASS had steered hundreds of thousands of dollars to a group attacking former Speaker Christine Quinn, then de Blasio’s top rival for City Hall.
Two de Blasio backers — including his cousin — used NYCLASS to steer $225,000 in donations to an anti-Quinn group without disclosing de Blasio’s fingerprints. Because the checks went through NYCLASS, they remained secret until after the primary.
Neu and Nislick also coughed up $150,000 to Campaign for One New York.
On Sunday de Blasio’s press secretary, Eric Phillips, again dubbed the emails with donors “boring” and said “I don’t know what she meant” when Neu wrote “we were there for you.”
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Christina Hansen, a spokeswoman for the New York carriage horse industry, saw the emails as proof that NYCLASS’ money tipped the scales against the drivers.
“We always thought that was going on but to see it in black and white?” she said. “They had his personal email address. It’s disappointing that millionaires and political donors get access to politicians that working people can’t get.”
Asked what Neu meant, a spokesman made no reference to all the money raised for de Blasio, stating, “NYCLASS endorsed the mayor in 2013 and strongly encouraged our thousands of supporters to vote and work hard for the mayor.”
Recent revelations have made it clear that several deep-pocket donors expected something from City Hall for their money.
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Developer Jona Rechnitz held a fund-raiser for the mayor in 2013, wrote a $50,000 check to CONY and a $102,300 check to help de Blasio’s failed attempt in 2014 to switch the state Senate to the Democrats.
Emails released Friday show Rechnitz frequently communicated with the mayor via personal email and de Blasio often quickly responded.
In 2014, city inspectors hit Rechnitz with multiple violations for running an illegal hotel and warned that the units lacked fire alarms, sprinklers and a second egress.
Rechnitz faced more than $40,000 in fines and a potential vacate order if the city declared the building a threat to public safety.
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A week after Rechnitz wrote his huge check to the mayor’s Senate cause, a top de Blasio aide reached out to set up a meeting about the citations.
Rechnitz paid the fine and the city declined to issue a vacate order. A City Hall spokesman said, “Inspectors at the time didn’t feel the conditions necessitated a vacate.”
Rechnitz was later arrested by the FBI, pleaded guilty to corruption charges and cooperated with the feds in the probe of de Blasio.
Donor Jeremy Reichberg, who co-sponsored a fund-raiser with Rechnitz, complained about $650,000 of what he felt were water bill overcharges. A top de Blasio aide quickly intervened.
The bill was cut to $125,000 after the city decided the building’s meter was defective. Reichberg was subsequently arrested on charges of bribing top NYPD brass for favors. He’s denied wrongdoing and faces trial.
Restaurateur Harendra Singh raised $24,000 for de Blasio in 2013 and gifted him two free fund-raisers at his restaurant, Water’s Edge, in Long Island City.
The restaurant sits on city land and by 2014 Singh had failed to pay more than $700,000 in back rent and penalties. He turned to City Hall for relief.
Ricardo Morales, a top deputy in the agency negotiating with Singh for payment, says the mayor’s office improperly intervened on Singh’s behalf, pressuring him to resolve the issues over what was owed.
In their first meeting to discuss payment, Morales says Singh immediately let him know he was a big donor to the mayor. When he complained to his boss that the mayor’s office was breaking conflict of interest rules, he was removed from dealing with Singh.
Soon after the mayor met with prosecutors, Morales was fired. He’s notified the city that he intends to sue for wrongful termination.
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