Paul Massey (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)
Republican mayoral candidate Paul Massey took his campaign to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s home turf Tuesday, hosting a news conference at the steps of City Hall to criticize the mayor’s record and the ongoing legal investigations into de Blasio’s campaign and government behavior.
Massey, a millionaire real estate executive, has centered his early campaign on attacking de Blasio as corrupt and incompetent. In what was his first official news conference as a mayoral candidate, Massey was short on policy pronouncements but focused on the federal and state investigations into de Blasio’s administration and fundraising practices.
“Bill de Blasio is so distracted with corruption charges that he has no time to actually run this city,” Massey said. The mayor himself does not face any charges stemming from the investigations and none of his associates have been officially accused of wrongdoing. However, de Blasio has met with Manhattan District Attorney’s office and is set to meet with federal prosecutors soon as grand juries are reportedly hearing evidence in two separate cases.
Massey also claimed, as have many of the mayor’s critics, that quality of life in the city is getting worse, though statistics show crime at historically low levels and the city economy flourishing.
The news conference was an unofficial kickoff for Massey’s fledgling campaign that has quickly ramped up fundraising and expenditure in the last few months, setting him up as the likely frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Multiple potentially-formidable Republican candidates have yet to declare a run, including City Council Member Eric Ulrich and businessman John Catsimatidis. In the effort to beat de Blasio, some Republican leaders are looking to avoid a contentious primary and rally behind one mayoral candidate early.
While he has made numerous speaking appearances in recent weeks, Massey has not held press briefings or outlined any elements of a policy agenda. Massey has raised $1.6 million, personally loaned his campaign another $1.2 million, and spent about $1.96 million in total, leaving him a balance of about $937,000.
Standing in front of large charts listing details of the six agency probes into the mayor and his associates, and the more than $11 million dedicated to the administration’s legal defense, Massey called for a seventh investigation, claiming that the mayor’s agreement with a law firm for his personal defense is unethical and illegal. De Blasio has retained the firm Kramer Levin to defend himself and has said he will pay the firm with funds raised through outside sources, which he will disclose. Other government employees involved in the probes have received government-funded legal defense, which de Blasio said he is not taking advantage of himself.
The mayor has yet to provide details of the fund or the legal agreement, saying again on Tuesday at his own unrelated news conference that he and his team are in the process of figuring out the model they will use.
“Somehow this mayor has reached a point where he’s embracing corruption just to defend himself from corruption,” Massey said, revealing that he wrote to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York calling for scrutiny of the agreement.
Insisting that the mayor is beholden to special interests, Massey compared him to infamous former Mayor Jimmy Walker, who served between 1926 and 1932 during the Tammany Hall era. In contrast, Massey sought to set himself up as a Republican in the Michael Bloomberg model, who would be able to make independent decisions in office. He pledged that, if elected, he would not award city contracts to campaign donors or use taxpayer money for possible legal defense against corruption in City Hall. He then called on the mayor to make the same promise.
De Blasio’s administration is being investigated for whether donors to the mayor’s political nonprofit, The Campaign for One New York, received government favors. He and his team are also being investigated for fundraising practices used in a 2014 effort to flip the state Senate into Democratic hands. De Blasio has insisted that he and his associates carefully followed legal guidance and broke no laws.
Massey’s criticism didn’t stop at the mayor’s legal troubles as he took swipes at everything from the mayor’s habit of showing up to City Hall late in the work day after the gym to his handling of the homelessness crisis, which has become a major challenge for de Blasio.
But Massey seemed unprepared to offer any substantive policy solutions or his vision for the city. He did not propose a plan to tackle homelessness, simply saying he would “put a team in place” prior to taking office that would “make a difference almost immediately.”
When asked, Massey also refused to say whether he supports or opposes President Donald Trump’s proposed policies on health care and criminal justice. “I think the mayor would like it if we made this a referendum about the president and I’m not gonna do that,” Massey said. On the issue of expanding stop-and-frisk policing, he told a reporter, “I haven’t established an answer.”
Mayor de Blasio responded to a few of Massey’s critiques, relayed by reporters in real time as he held a news conference across town to announce his new commissioner of the Administration for Children Services. Remarking on Massey’s lack of an answer on stop-and-frisk, de Blasio said sarcastically, “The issue really hasn’t been in the news the last few years, so who could blame him.”
He added, “Yeah, I would suggest you need to have an answer on that one. This was one of the dominant issues of the 2013...campaign. I was sitting at Hofstra University when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton personally debated it on national television. We’ve made announcement after announcement, first with Commissioner Bratton then Commissioner O’Neill about the reduction in stop-and-frisk over the last three years...constant reduction in crime simultaneously. Those are the facts someone who wants to be mayor of New York City really should know.”