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Fulfill the Promise of a Transparent Mayoral Transition

On Tuesday, Bill de Blasio was chosen the new mayor of New York City. But following months of campaigning, the real work of city governance began on Wednesday during the eight-week mayoral transition.
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On Tuesday, Bill de Blasio was chosen the new mayor of New York City. But following months of campaigning, the real work of city governance began on Wednesday during the eight-week mayoral transition.

During this time, Mayor de Blasio will organize his administration, make appointments to important city jobs, and formulate the key proposals that will form his policy agenda. He will be aided by the transition team he named Wednesday who will be bombarded with advice from friends, supporters, and donors.

How will the new mayor and his team approach the transition?

De Blasio faces a situation similar to newly-elected President Bill Clinton in 1992. Having lost the previous three elections, national Democrats hadn't run a presidential transition since 1976. Lacking institutional knowledge and expertise, the Clinton transition initially struggled finds it direction. It was very slow to name a White House chief of staff and Clinton had to withdraw his first two nominees to run the Justice Department because of personnel issues.

New York City hasn't had a cross-party mayoral transition since 1994, meaning de Blasio has looked outside the city for guidance. Speculation already suggests that former White House advisers such as Harold Ickes will aid his transition, and the Clintons themselves are likely on-call as well.

De Blasio will rely most on the latest presidential transition. One of de Blasio's closest advisers, Patrick Gaspard (now the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa), was a personnel adviser for the 2008 Obama transition, and de Blasio met last week with Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Gaspard and Emanuel won't formally join the transition team, but close associates, such as Laura Santucci will draw from what most agree was a well-organized presidential transition in 2008 will dominate planning.

Perhaps most important will be how the de Blasio transition approaches transparency. Newly-elected President Obama believed this so critical that he issued a sweeping "Seat at the Table" policy that required any individual or organization interested in meeting with the transition team to post their advice on a public website. That website also allowed the public to track with whom the transition team was meeting on a daily basis. The president's approach was far from perfect, and exceptions were given, particularly to his ban on lobbyists, but it addressed transparency in a more comprehensive way than any president had during the transition period.

As a candidate, de Blasio vocally supported campaign finance regulations. He also featured transparency on his website, including the name and date of those who'd hosted fundraisers. Unfortunately, his website quickly fell out-of-date, and the latest event, according to, was held by Jennifer Middlestadt on August 15, 2013.

How the mayoral transition team approaches transparency matters because it will demonstrate how influential donors and other special interests will be in the new mayoral administration. De Blasio has received the endorsements of dozens of unions, interest groups, and advocacy organizations. Will these endorsements lead to political and policy favors? Will key appointments be made to union leaders and paid lobbyists? Will the new mayor prioritize those issues supported by his biggest donors?

Failing to implement an open and transparent transition process will undermine public trust and the faith so many voters have placed in the new mayor. Mayor de Blasio should clearly explain how his transition team will make personnel and policy decisions, and how they will accept advice and recommendations, with particular attention to campaign donors and lobbyists. Just as in 2008, the public -- supporters and opponents alike -- should be given a seat at the table and the transparency they are owed.

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