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Donors, Fund-Raisers, Friends: Gaining Access to De Blasio’s City Hall – New York Times


For Jona S. Rechnitz and Jeremiah Reichberg, giving money to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political campaigns offered a backstage pass to city government. They exchanged friendly emails with the mayor and got access to high-level officials to discuss business they had with the city.

The close relationship between the mayor and the two men — who became embroiled in a police corruption scandal and separate federal and state investigations into Mr. de Blasio’s fund-raising — is detailed in a series of emails released by City Hall on Friday in response to Freedom of Information requests.

The emails further the notion that Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, was eager to do favors for campaign donors.

Mr. de Blasio has repeatedly said that he did nothing wrong in his relations with campaign donors. In March, federal and state prosecutors said they would not charge Mr. de Blasio or his aides with any crimes in relation to his fund-raising activities.

Mr. Rechnitz, who owned real estate and aspired to be a developer, contributed the maximum amount to Mr. de Blasio’s mayoral campaign in 2013. He and his friend, Mr. Reichberg, were placed on the mayor’s inaugural committee, largely symbolic posts.

After Mr. de Blasio took office in January 2014, Mr. Rechnitz made a large donation to the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit group created by the mayor to support his political agenda. In May 2014, Mr. Reichberg hosted a fund-raiser for the group at his home in Brooklyn, attended by Mr. de Blasio, where he raised $35,000.

Later that year, Mr. Rechnitz gave $102,300 to back an effort by Mr. de Blasio to raise money for Democratic state senators in an unsuccessful effort to win control of that body.

The emails start shortly after the inauguration. In February, the mayor invited Mr. Rechnitz to an event, and he replied that he would bring Mr. Reichberg. In March, Mr. Reichberg invited the mayor to a Purim celebration. In June, Mr. Rechnitz invited the mayor to a bris for his newborn son.

On April 1, Mr. Rechnitz wrote to the mayor and said he wanted to recommend a candidate for buildings commissioner.

“I’m all ears, Jona,” Mr. de Blasio wrote back. He included his then chief of staff, Laura Santucci, in the email, and told Mr. Rechnitz to send details to both of them. Later emails included a letter and a résumé from the candidate suggested by Mr. Rechnitz, but the person’s name and other information were blacked out in the documents provided by City Hall.

Eric F. Phillips, a spokesman for the mayor, said that the candidate recommended by Mr. Rechnitz was not Rick D. Chandler, who was appointed buildings commissioner in July 2014. He did not identify the person referred to in the emails.

Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg also leveraged their access to Mr. de Blasio for their personal interests.

At one point, Mr. Rechnitz spoke with top officials with the city and the Police Department about the city buying a property he owned in Brooklyn to create a new precinct station house. It is not clear from the emails what happened with that negotiation.

At another point, Mr. Rechnitz asked for help with thousands of dollars in violations levied for using a building he owned on Madison Avenue as an illegal hotel — violations typically associated with improper use of apartments for online home sharing services.

After a series of email exchanges in December 2014, Mr. Rechnitz arranged to meet with Elan Parra, the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, the agency responsible for investigating illegal hotel violations. Mr. Rechnitz missed the meeting, and Mr. Parra offered multiple dates to reschedule, finally agreeing to meet two days before Christmas.

The emails do not reveal the outcome of that meeting.

“His property remained the subject of enforcement action by the city,” Mr. Phillips said. “The request did nothing to the city’s enforcement approach.”

In March 2014, Mr. Reichberg wrote to Dominic Williams, the chief of staff to First Deputy Mayor Anthony E. Shorris, to ask for help with about $650,000 in overdue water bills on a building in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn. Mr. Reichberg claimed the building had been overcharged.

It was not clear what relationship Mr. Reichberg had to the building or its owners, and the emails released by City Hall did not include a response from Mr. Williams.

Mr. Reichberg and Mr. Rechnitz were involved in an alleged scheme to buy influence with senior police officials, showering them with gifts, including jewelry and free travel. Mr. Rechnitz pleaded guilty and has been cooperating with investigators. Mr. Reichberg is awaiting trial.

Mr. de Blasio has played down his contacts with the two men, saying that he did not know them before the fall of 2013.

“I had some conversations with them over the course of 2014, but really haven’t had many conversations since the beginning of 2015,” he said at a news conference in April 2016.

And he insisted the men received no special benefit. “Someone who makes a donation, that’s their choice; they should expect nothing in return,” Mr. de Blasio said. “You’d like to believe people are making donations because they think someone would be a good leader.”

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