March 31, 2010; New York Times | As reported by nytimes.com yesterday afternoon, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has appointed his deputy mayor to run his multi-billion dollar charitable foundation. This, after signaling earlier in the day that he intends to expand his philanthropy into new territory when he announced his foundation’s first board of directors.
On the board are some well-known heavy hitters including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former U.S. Department of the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, artist Maya Lin and Bloomberg’s daughters, Emma and Georgina.
But let’s get back Deputy Mayor, Patricia E. Harris, the second-most powerful figure in New York City politics, and the woman tapped by her boss to be the chief executive and chairwoman of the mayor’s Bloomberg Family Foundation. Until now Harris has been president of the foundation already causing concern for some even before her expanded role was announced.
“This has been a persistent problem with the Bloomberg administration,” Susan Lerner the head of Common Cause NY, told the Times. “There does not seem to be a truly effective barrier between the work which people who are on the public payroll do for the city and what they do for the mayor’s business or his personal interest.”
What’s possibly most troubling about this arrangement is the foundation’s intent to direct some of its philanthropy within the U.S., potentially into New York City.
The city’s charter generally prohibits government officials from entering into business relationships with subordinates, or performing private work on city time. But Harris is not the only top aid to the mayor to have taken jobs with the foundation, most recently his communications director, James Anderson, took a post.
For her part Harris contends that her position with the foundation is unpaid and voluntary and consistent with her previous work with the foundation—for which Harris obtained a waiver from the city’s Conflicts of Interest board. It seems clear though that there is more than a strong appearance of a conflict of interest in this case.—Aaron Lester