New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Wall Street Journal Deputy Mayor Leaves Hearing and Bickering Begins by Josh Dawsey

Deputy Mayor Leaves Hearing and Bickering Begins

Aides to mayor and council trade barbs over deputy mayor’s availability

The fireworks at a New York City Council hearing—examining a decision by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to lift deed restrictions on a Manhattan health-care facility—began after the mayor’s top aide left the council chambers.

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris testified for 2½ hours, answering dozens of questions. But a spokesman for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito later said the administration had “misled” the council into believing Mr. Shorris’s availability would be limited to that time frame because of a conference of mayors in Oklahoma.

“This turned out to be false,” Eric Koch, the speaker’s spokesman, wrote in an email. “At a hearing which focused on government honesty and transparency this is particularly shocking and unacceptable.”

Eric Phillips, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, said the council was mistakenly under the impression that Mr. Shorris would be joining Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, in Oklahoma. The administration has “always been crystal clear” that Mr. Shorris’s time at the hearing was limited due to his role as acting mayor while Mr. de Blasio is traveling.

“The council owes Tony Shorris an apology,” Mr. Phillips said.

In an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Emma Wolfe, one of Mr. de Blasio’s top aides, told a senior council official Thursday morning that Mr. Shorris wouldn’t be going to Oklahoma. Ms. Wolfe joked she would be happy to arrange for Mr. Shorris to attend the conference so that he would miss the hearing.

Negotiations over the hearing between the speaker’s office and the mayor’s office had been contentious. Ms. Wolfe had tried to block some witnesses from testifying, including Mr. Shorris, the Journal reported this week.

Thursday’s hearing centered on the city’s decision to remove deed restrictions on a Lower East Side nursing home, leading a for-profit company to sell the property to developers who plan to build luxury housing. The company made what appears to be a $72 million profit on the sale.

At the hearing, Mr. Shorris frequently apologized for the events but declined to say who exactly was to blame. He said no one was fired or disciplined because the problems were “systemic” and it “takes a village.”

“I recognize what happened here was not the right outcome for the community, for the taxpayers, nor was it consistent with the goals and values of the de Blasio administration,” he said.

In an attempt to address community criticism, the mayor’s office said Thursday that the city would build a housing facility for senior citizens and those needing health care on the Lower East Side.

Mr. Shorris said he previously hadn’t told the mayor about the issue, even though records show Mr. Shorris forwarded the mayor an email that mentioned Rivington House. Mr. Shorris testified that he instructed staff members in 2014 to maintain the property as a health-care facility but couldn’t provide emails or other documentation of the meeting. He said he learned in early 2016 that the deed restrictions would be lifted and immediately called for a Department of Investigation probe and told Mr. de Blasio.

Councilman Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat and chairman of the hearing, pointed out that Mr. Shorris is responsible for about 30 different agencies, making it difficult for him to know exactly what each is doing. Mr. Shorris said he tried to meet with agency commissioners each month but sometimes skipped meetings.


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