Thursday, April 21, 2016

FBI Probing Horse Carriage Ban Effort - Again

Mayor de Blasio addressing the media on February 4th after his bill, which would have restricted carriage horses to Central Park as well as had tax payers foot the bill to relocate the horse carriage industry into a Parks Department owned building in the park, collapsed.  

For the second time in two years the Federal Bureau is investigating financial issues and its influence related to an effort to ban horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. Federal and state investigations are looking into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign fundraising operations and are examining the efforts of NYCLASS, a politically connected group that donated funds to a Mayoral controlled nonprofit Campaign for One New York, in its effort to ban carriage rides.

In 2014 the FBI questioned ex-Council Speaker Christine Quinn and others in its probe into Mayor de Blasio’s flip-flop on the carriage ban.

The Mayor’s horse trade deal quickly fell apart in February after a particularly embarrassing City Council hearing on the issue. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) 


Coordinated federal and state investigations into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraising operations are examining efforts by a politically connected group to ban horse carriages in New York City, people familiar with the matter said, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.  
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, has pushed for more than two years to ban the horse carriages, saying it is inhumane for them to traverse Manhattan’s busy streets. To date, Mr. de Blasio has been unable to muster support in the City Council to fulfill his 2013 campaign pledge to ban the carriages. 
The Mayor’s efforts to ban horse-drawn carriages quickly fell apart in February after the carriage license owners voted not to support Teamster's Local 553 deal with the Mayor and an embarrassing City Council hearing on the issue.

The offices of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. are considering, among other matters, whether fundraising efforts circumvented state election laws and whether donors were promised or given official benefits, people familiar with the matter said.
Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said, “Mayor de Blasio holds his administration to the highest standards of integrity. We will cooperate fully with the investigations.
The two donors behind the proposed horse-carriage ban, Wendy Neuand Steven Nislick, haven’t been accused of any wrongdoing. A spokesman for Ms. Neu and Mr. Nislick and their anti-horse-carriage organization, NYCLASS, said the group was focused on fighting for animal rights and would answer any questions investigators may have if contacted. 
“That’s their only agenda and one worth fighting for,” he said.
Ms. Neu and Mr. Nislick gave more than $100,000 to the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit that was run by the mayor’s allies and supported Mr. de Blasio’s policy and political agenda, records show. They also financed an independent campaign against former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a rival to Mr. de Blasio in the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary.
The Daily News reported in 2014 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into whether donations to the group behind the carriage ban were being directed to an organization attacking Ms. Quinn.
In an interview earlier this year, Ms. Neu and Mr. Nislick said they gave money to the Campaign for One New York because they supported Mr. de Blasio’s broader policy agenda, including universal prekindergarten. 
The probe of the mayor’s fundraising activities overlaps with separate federal and state probes into alleged corruption at the NYPD and the lifting of city deed restrictions on a Manhattan health-care facility. Those investigations also involve donors to Mr. de Blasio. 
The examination of the efforts to ban horse carriages is connected to the broader inquiry that has focused on mayoral fundraising and the Campaign for One New York, which was disbanded earlier this year. The organization accepted unlimited donations from people and groups, including real-estate developers and unions with business before the city.
Since becoming mayor, Mr. de Blasio has aggressively pursued his pledge to ban the horse carriages, despite polls showing New Yorkers oppose the ban. 
The privately owned stables on Manhattan’s West Side where the horses are currently kept are worth millions of dollars. Mr. Nislick, a real-estate developer, said he isn’t interested in purchasing the stables. In the interview earlier this year, he said he wouldn’t take them if they were given to him. 
Mr. Nislick and Ms. Neu have met with Mr. de Blasio at least four times since he took office and have enjoyed close access to top members of his staff, according to records and people familiar with the matter.

The mayor’s pursuit of the horse-carriage ban became a point of frustration among Mr. de Blasio’s aides, many of whom opposed the fight. At an annual political dinner earlier this month, the mayor poked fun at the controversy; in a video, a man in a horse mask chased Mr. de Blasio around City Hall.
Mr. de Blasio proposed a bill this year that would have moved the horses’ stables inside Central Park, a plan that would have cost $25 million in taxpayer funds to build new stables. The bill would have also limited the number of horses allowed to work in the park. 
The plan began falling apart as Mr. de Blasio traveled earlier this year in Iowa to campaign for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Two days after he returned, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito pulled the bill from the council’s agenda, saying it had lost support of the Teamsters union that represented the horse-carriage drivers.
Mr. de Blasio was privately furious, according to people close to him. He showed up to City Hall as horse-carriage drivers celebrated on the steps, sitting in his car for about 15 minutes as he decided what to say. Several weeks later, he participated in a phone call with the donors about this issue, according to city lobbying disclosures.
The investigation is also exploring the role real-estate donors played in the mayor’s 2014 efforts to bring the state Senate under Democratic control, according to people familiar with the matter. The authorities’ interest in the state campaigns was reported Tuesday by the New York Times.
Investigators are considering, among other matters, whether the Campaign for One New York asked real-estate interests and others to donate to campaigns outside the city in a way that deliberately eluded election laws, according to a person familiar with the matter. 
It is a felony in New York to solicit or coordinate expenditures in connection with a candidate’s nomination or election with the purpose of evading contribution limits.

Read More:

The Wall Street Journal  - April 21, 2016 - By Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Josh Dawsey

A Walk In The Park - February 4, 2016 - By Geoffrey Croft 

New York Daily News  - April 27, 2014, - By  Greg B. Smith, Corinne Lestch, Larry Mcshane

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