Mayor de Blasio says he’s galled by the misuse of city resources – but he’s continuing to defend and pay top Department of Correction staffers accused of doing so.
After a day of dodging questions from the press about the city’s jails, Hizzoner tripled down on defending Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who misused his city car for personal jaunts to Maine and whose agency was inappropriately listening in on investigators from the Department of Investigation, which uncovered the car controversy.
“I can understand anybody, any taxpayer any New Yorker who feels that these kinds of things really gall them – I don’t blame them, they gall me too,” de Blasio said on NY1.
But de Blasio didn’t seem like a galled man, nor has he since the news broke. The next words out of his mouth were a defense of Ponte: “But I don’t think anyone attempted to cheat here, and they will pay back anything, and again, if there’s further penalties or actions, those will be taken.”
De Blasio has also been forgiving of Gregory Kuczinski, the head of correction’s investigation division who DOI announced today was snooping on DOI’s calls with inmate informants – something that DOI says continued even after the independent agency told DOC to knock it off.
Kuczinski – who is on his third public run-in with ethics rules since he joined the department – isn’t monitoring calls anymore, but he’s still collecting his paycheck.
“He’s been removed from that work,” de Blasio said. “Our understanding based on the information received so far, it was not necessarily a situation to remove him entirely from the agency or from public employment, but remove him from work that involved that kind of judgement.”
In addition to the snooping, Kuczinski has run afoul of rules regarding his car twice. He was fined in 2013 by the Conflicts of Interest Board for having a subordinate drive him to the airport, and signed off on a ruling acknowledging he shouldn’t use city cars for his personal trips – only to be caught using his city car for trips to the airport and to play golf by DOI in the investigation into Correction brass unveiled last week.
A city spokeswoman said Monday Kuczinski has now surrendered his city car.
The mayor insisted “every single one of those people” caught by DOI and COIB misusing their cars would pay back the city, including Ponte, who the mayor said will do so this week. As for Ponte’s defense – that he was told it was OK to use his car, including by people who have denied telling him such – the mayor seemed unconcerned with the details.
“I don’t know who said exactly what to who,” de Blasio said. “I just believe fundamentally there was no effort to cheat anyone.”
Both people Ponte said advised him he could use his car no longer work for the department, and haven’t for years. And his boss, de Blasio, seemed to point the blame even further in the rearview mirror.
“This is consistent with what happened previously in the agency based on what we’re finding now,” de Blasio said, not offering names of which previous agency heads had misused cars. “My strong understanding was that this was the practice in some form or fashion previously that he inherited, and that’s where some of the confusion came in.”