Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bloomberg gives a little help to his friends

City officials went into damage control yesterday after incidents surrounding a political operative gave a glimpse into the underbelly of patronage in local politics.

The operative, Maura Keaney, was announced as the director of external affairs for the Department of Education on Monday, the same day that the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board announced a fine against her for violating city ethics laws.

The ethics violation was made in 2007, during her tenure as deputy chief of staff to Council Speaker Christine Quinn. But, more recently, Keaney worked for Mayor Bloomberg’s re-election campaign, and was handed a healthy bonus of $150,000 after she helped him win a third term.

“It’s the age old question of political patronage in politics,” said Richard Flanagan, chair of the political science department at CUNY’s College of Staten Island.
“In one sense you have political favors to a campaign worker,” he argued, “but on the other hand the mayor should be able to appoint people who are smart and competent.”

Keaney is said to receive $143,000 a year from her new position. The DOE declined to comment yesterday but the chancellor of New York City schools, Joel Klein, praised Ms. Keaney in a press release.

“Maura is an innovative thinker and advocate with a record of serving the interest of New Yorkers from positions both in and outside of government,” Chancellor Klein said.

The mayor was also dogged by questions yesterday and tried to deflect the criticism while talking to reporters.

“She is as smart a woman and exactly the kind of woman we need at the Department of Ed," the mayor said of Keaney.

"She worked very hard for Chris Quinn. Somebody said to her, ‘You might have violated some of the rules.’ She said, ‘I don’t think so, but I’m going to go to the Conflict of Interest Board.’"

The mayor’s remarks did not exactly match the official version of events which has Keaney’s lawyers contacting the COIB only after an article ran in the New York Times highlighting her actions.

“This event was two and a half years ago, and I just don’t remember that much about it,” Keaney said when the issue was first raised in October of last year.

Keaney ran field operations for Bloomberg’s re-election bid and received a sum of $8,500 every two weeks, according to campaign records, in addition to her large bonus.

The ethics violation is unrelated to Bloomberg’s campaign but seemed to come at an unfortunate time for all parties involved.

The $2,500 fine was levied because of Keaney’s involvement in organizing a fundraiser for Speaker Quinn with a large union group called Unite Here.

New York City conflict of interest laws prohibit public servants with “substantial policy discretion” from soliciting campaign contributions.

Keaney had previously served as the political director of Unite Here, the organization she had solicited contributions from, and her ties to large labor helped garner support for Bloomberg during the 2009 campaign.

Keaney had been in talks for the DOE position for the past few weeks, according to dept. officials, and will begin working on Feb 3, just two days after the ethics violation was handed down from the COIB.

“I wouldn’t have exactly rushed to put her in a job,” said CUNY’s Richard Flanagan. “She got a pretty good bonus from the campaign. She could have lived off of that for a while.”

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