Accused late night screamer Bill de Blasio (Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock)
The city’s investigations commissioner says he was regularly pressured to suppress reports critical of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, and claims he was fired last week in retaliation for refusing the mayor’s gag orders.
In a scathing letter sent to the City Council on Monday, Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters detailed de Blasio’s many attempts to hobble inquiries “that could implicate the mayor and/or senior appointees.” In one instance, Peters says he received a “late night screaming call from the Mayor” urging him to kill a probe into serious safety concerns at the Administration for Children’s Services.
“When I informed the Mayor that DOI was obligated to make its findings public he yelled at me, accused me of trying to bring his administration ‘down’ and then informed me he was ‘going to hang up now before I say something I shouldn’t,'” Peters wrote. The following day, several City Hall staff members allegedly told Peters that the report “would be embarrassing to the Mayor and asked…whether I was really prepared to do that.”
The missive comes three days after Peters was fired by Mayor Bill de Blasio, following months of increasingly public acrimony between the two former allies. In explaining his reasoning, de Blasio pointed to the conclusions of a recent special investigation, which found Peters had overstepped his authority and misled the City Council. But the mayor was reportedly itching to remove the ethics watchdog long before the report was released. According to Peters, that report contained numerous factual errors, and was merely a convenient justification for his ousting.
Peters says he encountered similar interference and “visible anger” in his investigations into lead paint hazards at NYCHA buildings, the quality of secular education at ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, and misuse of government vehicles at the Department of Correction.
At times, the alleged intimidation veered on violence. In 2016, the outgoing DOI commissioner says he was meeting with members of City Hall to obtain documents necessary for an investigation into police misconduct, when “a senior NYPD official conspicuously displayed his gun and later told a third party that he had done so to intimidate the DOI officials.” Several top aides to de Blasio were present but did not object, Peters said. Instead, then-Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris allegedly called Peters an “asshole” for his insistence that police release the materials.
“Taken as a whole, these incidents demonstrate a pattern in which the Mayor and his senior staff believe that I owe a duty of loyalty to the Mayor rather than to the City,” Peters said.
Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips disputed the contents of the letter. “The suggestion that anyone at City Hall—including the Mayor—tried to stop any DOI review is entirely false,” Phillips said. He added that de Blasio’s proposed replacement for Peters, former federal prosecutor Margaret Garnett, is “the most qualified, independent person to lead DOI and restore credibility in its important work.”
The City Council will have the opportunity to confirm Garnett. They may also elect to hold a hearing or meet privately with Peters to discuss ongoing probes—something that the DOI commissioner said he’s open to doing.
“The mayor’s decision to remove me from office will clearly have a chilling effect on my successor,” Peters noted, adding that he’d be willing to meet with the City Council so that the body “at least has a record of these investigations in the event that they are unreasonably delayed or discontinued by my successor.”
Neither City Council Speaker Corey Johnson nor Councilman Ritchie Torres, who chairs the investigations committee, immediately responded to Gothamist’s inquiries about whether a hearing or a private meeting had been arranged.
Statement concerning DOI Commissioner Peters’ letter regarding investigations and firing. pic.twitter.com/WK9QitcJUq
— Ritchie Torres (@RitchieTorres) November 19, 2018
You can read the full letter below:
STATEMENT FROM DOI COMMISSIONER MARK G. PETERS by Jake Offenhartz on Scribd