Bill de Blasio could well be the most mired mayor in New York City history. As the subject of multiple investigations at the state and federal level, he's not just tabloid fodder. The daily punch lines call "Crime Time for Blaz," and "deBacle." But the New York Post may not have to superimpose de Blasio's head on an image of a shackled prisoner in an orange jumpsuit much longer. He could very well be facing criminal charges while in office, which would make this one of the biggest controversies in New York City political history: the takedown of the Mayor.
The big question is, will he be charged and if so, when? The answer is simple. When the feds find a rat. Ironically, one of the potential rats could be the maker of mint-scented, rat-proof trash bags. Joseph Dussich struggled for a decade to get the approval of the city for his vermin-inspired invention. As it happens, after making a massive donation to Bill de Blasio's non-profit, the "Campaign for One New York," wham, bam, thank you ma'am, Mint-X bags won a multi-million dollar contract with the city. You may call it corruption because it reeks worse than Central Park's horse-drawn carriages. While law enforcement tries to subversively complete lengthy probes into multiple scandals, de Blasio is trying to peg his current quagmire on a vendetta-filled attack by "political frenemies," including Governor Cuomo. When the Beautiful Mind conspiracy theories get old, his press machine sends him around town to butcher Chick-Fil-A 's reputation as a distraction method.
But, truth be told, the FBI, Manhattan District Attorney and U.S. Attorney's Office would not be teaming up unless there was a there there. How can we be sure that de Blasio isn't going to be unjustly persecuted? After all, when it comes to the rumors that he turned county committees into slush funds by siphoning inordinate amounts of money to political candidates, several politicians rushed to his defense. "This happens all the time," was the general rebuttal. How can you prove it was to get around campaign finance laws, when surely politicians get money all the time from county committees for their campaigns? And, de Blasio's alleged scheme to try to get more democrats elected in 2014? Well, that's not really an illegal scheme at all. Most politicians advocate for their comrades to rule the chambers - it's called political expediency.
These arguments struck a chord with me. So, I endeavored to find out, why is this different? Is de Blasio attracting unwelcome attention because one of his frenemies is out to get him? Is the Mayor being set-up? It took me all of ten minutes to reach my conclusion. Sometimes the crux of the crime is its clumsiness. If you stuff a CVS candy bar in your bag, you'll probably successfully sneak it into a theater, but if you try to walk into a stadium waving the same Snickers you're asking for trouble. Thus, I realized, the de Blasio saga is a remake of Take the Money and Run. As you'll recall in the movie, bumbling crook Virgil Starkwell approaches a bank teller with an illegible note.
Bank Teller 1: Does this look like "gub" or "gun?"
Bank Teller 2: "Gun. See? But what's "abt" mean?"
Virgil Starkwell: It's "act." A-C-T. Act natural. Please put fifty thousand dollars into this bag and act natural."
Bank Teller 1: "Oh I see. This is a holdup?"
Now let's run through the "de Blasio remake" as hypothetically filmed in 2014 -- de Blasio replaces Woody Allen as Starkwell. Starkwell, one eyebrow raised, says to aide: "look up the chintzy, obscure Putnam County Democratic Committee. How many donations has it received in the past 3-5 years?"
Aide: "Oh, approximately $30,000 in small donations $200, $500, $1,000, pretty low-key."
Starkwell: "Perfect. I have a great idea. I'm going to personally call my closest allies: unions, real estate developers and others who are easily traced back to me, and request close to $700,000 in contributions to that tiny Putnam County Committee in the span of two weeks. Then we will waste no time in siphoning the money to my preferred State Senate Candidates. No one will ever suspect I am trying to skirt campaign finance laws."
Aide: "But Starkwell, a quick trip over to the NY State Board of Elections Contributions website and a quick search of the Putnam and Ulster County Democratic Committees will surely tip people off to a flood of donations then dumped to your friends faster than bozo the clown dunked at the carnival."
Starkwell: Good point. Start preparing a smoke and mirrors smear campaign of Chick-Fil-A."
But Take the Money and Run the sequel doesn't end there. Campaign finance violations are only a crime at the state level. Starkwell is too shrewd to get stuck in shallow waters. To reach his full bumbling criminal potential he needs to sink himself. Scene two. Starkwell, caressing his chin, pontificates to aides: call up the contributors! After they donate anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000, let's get those gems a traceable quid pro quo. Around six to seven months after the nurses union donates, give them a nine-year contract with the city worth more than $500 million dollars and built-in raises of 2% a year! Approve the building plans for that real-estate developer Don Peebles. Less than two months after the donations from the 32BJ union, let's approve a $211 million dollar, nine-year city contract that gives 18% in raises to cleaners and handymen; and a month after that stinky, rat trash bag manufacturer gives us 100k, give that man a Parks Department partnership he'll never forget!
Aide: But Starkwell, surely a Google search will reveal the close proximity of city favors to the donors. Starkwell: Good point. Prepare an even bigger smoke and mirrors smear campaign of Chick-Fil-A!
So if the facts are all there online, and it looks, smells and scurries like a rat, then what's the problem? As several of my law enforcement friends concur, the satire can't reach it's climax until the feds find the pizza-eating rat. For any indictment and any conviction, the evidence must first substantiate the charge. Jumping to conclusions or filling in the blanks simply won't suffice when it comes to accusing the Mayor of New York of a crime. So the feds are talking to everyone and anyone: donors, aides and likely subpoenaing as much material as they can, including internal emails and phone records to find a smoking gun. To prove a true quid pro quo, they need proof that the Mayor made calls, asked for favors AND (here's the clincher) promised something in return for those contributions. This means something must have either been put in writing or there needs to be a few good rats to corroborate the corruption and charge de Blasio with a federal offense. Another common strategy is to build evidence against those closest to de Blasio: his trusted aides or the candidates he allegedly supported, and use that information to get them to strike a plea deal and rat out the boss.
That's what's surely going on right now people. It's a hunt for the rats, which makes this sort of like a game of Clue. Will the whistleblower be a disgruntled union insider? A trusted aide? A political peer? The Greek owner of Gristedes? Or how about that real estate developer, Peebles, who already frantically confessed to the press that de Blasio "pressured" him? Or, will the rat be the apropos mint-scented trash bag titan? We shall see.
On the flip side, without written proof and/or a bunch of rats, there's a small chance one of the biggest scandals in NYC history could end uneventful, unseated in the headlines by a Chick-Fil-A boycott. But then again, this is New York! The investigations and headlines rarely culminate in anything short of drama. Just ask de Blasio! He'll tell you what it's all about - cuffs and campaigns circa July 10th, 2013.