Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has long relied on the advice of outside advisers, has moved to classify his inner circle of private-sector consultants as agents of the city, shielding their emails from public disclosure.
The designation, which has sparked outrage from good-governments groups that say the network of outside voices acts as a shadow government, comes as his administration has been besieged by a joint federal and state probe and a swirling number of scandals that have driven down his ratings and raised the possibility he could face a primary challenger next year.
De Blasio revealed the agent of the city title when he defended the decision not to release the emails of close friend Jonathan Rosen under the state’s freedom-of-information law. Rosen, who advised de Blasio’s successful 2013 mayoral bid, heads a PR firm that represents some clients who have business with the city.
“Jonathan Rosen is someone who I consulted with for years and years, and we made a legal determination that that was a category that was different and appropriate,” de Blasio said this week. “It’s just as simple as that.”
De Blasio’s administration has since bestowed the title of agent of the city to other longtime advisers: John Del Cecato, a political consultant and ad-maker; Bill Hyers and Nicholas Baldick, consultants who steered the 2013 campaign; and Patrick Gaspard, a close friend who is U.S. ambassador to South Africa.
The agents were not paid by the city but, with the exception of Gaspard, represent firms that received payment from de Blasio’s political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York. That group, which de Blasio began to close earlier this year, is at the center of several state and federal inquiries.
Administration aides on Friday declined to specify the criteria for the agent of the city designation, which good-government groups say eliminates a conflict-of-interest safeguard.
“It’s disappointing to see the mayor rely on a novel legal definition to defend the creation of a shadow government that is nothing more than an outside political operation,” said Dick Dadey, head of Citizens Union. “It is unacceptable that New Yorkers are unaware of a group outside City Hall doing City Hall’s business.”