By John Celock
Federal and state prosecutors have announced that will not pursue criminal charges against New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio or his staff in a campaign finance inquiry.
The prosecutors announced Thursday that they would not seek the charges following an investigation into deBlasio’s fundraising practices during the 2013 campaign and since taking office, and dealings his office had with donors to his campaign. The investigations centered in on a non-profit deBlasio had created to help push his signature education initiatives.
“We have conducted a thorough investigation into several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors,” acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in a statement. “In considering whether to charge individuals with serious public corruption crimes, we take into account, among other things, the high burden of proof, the clarity of existing law, any recent changes in the law, and the particular difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit. After careful deliberation, given the totality of the circumstances here and absent additional evidence, we do not intend to bring federal criminal charges against the Mayor or those acting on his behalf relating to the fundraising efforts in question.”
In addition to the decision by Kim, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has decided not to pursue charges against deBlasio as part of a separate investigation. Kim said the decision to make the announcement came from the looming 2017 mayor’s race.
The investigation had consumed much of deBlasio’s term in office and involved the mayor meeting with federal prosecutors last month at his attorney’s office. The investigation was started by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who made public corruption issues a centerpiece of his tenure in office. Bharrara was fired by President Donald Trump last week after refusing a request to resign along with other U.S. attorneys around the country appointed by former President Barack Obama.
The decision by Kim and Vance will shake up this year’s mayoral race, where deBlasio is still awaiting word of more challengers. So far only former city Councilman Sal Albanese, who lost mayoral races in 1997 and 2013, charter school advocate Josh Thompson, a largely unknown protege of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), political aide Michael Basch and media personality Bo Dietl have entered the Democratic primary to challenge deBlasio. Councilman Dan Garodnick, who has previously considered bids for city comptroller and Manhattan borough president, has said he is considering entering the race.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz had been considered potential candidates, but are viewed as more likely to seek reelection than challenge deBlasio.
On the GOP side, businessman Paul Massey has entered the race and political observers are keeping their eyes on Councilman Eric Ulrich, who may run for mayor. Ulrich, one of the youngest elected officials in the city, is the only member of the three member GOP caucus to chair a Council committee, veterans affairs.
A deBlasio spokesman released a statement saying that Kim and Vance have confirmed that deBlasio and his inner circle did not violate any laws.
“We have been confident from the moment these reviews began that the actions of the mayor and our administration have always been within the law. The United States attorney and Manhattan district attorney have now put to rest any suggestion otherwise,” mayoral spokesman Eric Phillips said in the statement. “We thank these prosecutors’ offices for conducting what were clearly diligent and exhaustive reviews – and for making public the conclusions of these probes. New Yorkers deserve honest, progressive government. With this mayor, they will always get it.”