Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bloomberg Willing To Violate City Charter To Get High School Interns

If I have to admit one thing about Michael Bloomberg, it is that he's a tough campaigner. In addition to the $80-$100 million he'll be spending on the campaign, the strategists he's hiring an the onslaught of advertising, he's using his pull as mayor to recruit high school interns via official NYC school system letterhead. It may be a conflict of interest, but Bloomberg is willing to go outside the legal ethical box for that extra push.

From The NY Daily News:

Gene Russianoff from the New York Public Interest Research Group said the practice appears to violate the city charter's ban on municipal employees using city letterhead or resources for nongovernmental purposes. "They're free to do a mailing or set up a table outside a school," he said. "You just can't use the parent newsletter."

The campaign defended its strategy.

"Younger voters are excited about Mayor Bloomberg's independent voice and record of getting things done for New Yorkers and we have reached out to dozens of colleges and high schools, public and private, to inform them of a great opportunity," campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said in an e-mail. "This kind of sophisticated outreach to younger voters is exactly the type of grassroots organizing that President Obama was celebrated for in the '08 campaign."

Not all of the schools that were contacted complied with the request. One principal, who did not want to be named, said it made her uncomfortable. "We didn't do it, but I wondered if it would get back to City Hall that we refused," she said.

Hazelbaker's response shouldn't be too surprising, especially with her experience with the McCain campaign last year. Having the Conflict of Interest Board and the Education Department behind her, their argument that this is not a conflict sounds official, but when you play it out, the whole thing stinks.

Russianoff said coercion was a concern.

"If the guy who appoints the head of the school system is asking for a favor, it's hard to say no," he said. "They shouldn't be put in that position."

Yet Mayor Bloomberg has no qualms about being coercive, all you need to do is replay the events surrounding the extension of term limits to understand his priorites on getting re-elected versus ethical concerns.