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August 26, 2019

De Blasio echoes Trump as he calls news media ‘pitiful’ in emails with political firm advisers

May 25, 2018
The emails begin in January 2014 shortly after Mayor de Blasio arrived at City Hall and continue all the way into 2017. (Susan Watts/New York Daily News)

Who said it: President Trump or Mayor de Blasio?

“First of all, the news media is pitiful and it’s sad for our city and nation.”

They might have wildly different politics, but Hizzoner and the President share a rabid distaste for the media — and a desire to shape it, new emails released by City Hall show.

The emails, between de Blasio and top outside advisers who work for political consulting BerlinRosen, were released Thursday after the city spent months trying to keep them secret, arguing the consultants served as “agents of the city.”

He finally reversed course after a Manhattan appeals court recently ordered their release after NY1 sued.

The 4,245 pages of emails make clear that from the early days of his arrival at City Hall, the de Blasio team was constantly seeking ways to manipulate the press and massage the mayor’s image.

In a Jan. 16, 2014, email to press office staff, de Blasio press spokeswoman Marti Adams reveals a plan to sneak the self-proclaimed progressive mayor into an event with the Real Estate Board of New York.

Under the subject line “Let’s minimize press activity at REBNY,” Adams writes, “He has private entrance and will skip reporters on the way in and REBNY has said they’re going to limit access to the VIP reception.”

City Hall staffers while on city time discussed arranging a feature story on a web app called The Infatuation about the mayor’s favorite eating venues to make him appear “real.”

In an Aug. 5, 2015, email, Rob Bennett, a staffer in the mayor’s office, wrote to other staffers seeking “off-the-top-of-your-head Bdb favorite dining drinking spot intel.”

“We’re cooking up a post for the mayor/Fam on The Infatuation, a food app with a sizable audience. All part of our quest to make Mayor ‘real’ in the digital realm,” Bennett wrote.

Bennett referenced Bar Toto, Di Fara’s, Colson’s and noted that he was reaching out to members of the mayor’s neighborhood — referred to as the “Park Slope mafia” — for suggestions.

He noted categories “to trigger ideas” such as “authentic ethnic eats” and “Date Nights.” In response, John del Cecato, another de Blasio political consultant, jumped in: “One thing – his first or second date with Chirlane was at Café Mogodor in the East Village.”

In another effort to show how “authentic” he was, the mayor and his aides meticulously planned to attend three Mets vs. Red Sox games in a row, complete with de Blasio scolding his staff for not realizing that if he visited the Sox’s batting practice, he’d have to do the same for the Mets.

In the spring of 2015, de Blasio was already expressing his contempt for the Daily News. In a May 23, 2015, email he discuussed reports that The News was about to end its print edition and go on-line only.

“And that would be good for us, right?” he wrote of potential cuts to the paper. “Or would that make the Post more dominant? Or, conversely, would it hasten the demise of the Post — prob just wishful thinking”.

Front pages of the Daily News from March 10, 2018 and April 7, 2018.
Front pages of the Daily News from March 10, 2018 and April 7, 2018. (New York Daily News)

“Would rather a liberal News to no News but given that’s probably wishful thinking I think it’s good if it cuts back,” BerlinRosen’s Jonathan Rosen responded. “Don’t think it strengthens Post that much if at all and maybe raises questions about its continued viability.”

But in addition to rooting for the demise of the papers, de Blasio also seemed to be sensitive to how he’d be covered by them.

In a May 25, 2015, email discussing his upcoming family vacation overseas, he wrote, “That would mean one trip including Israel and the Vatican – I wonder if the tabloids would be able to criticize THAT :).

Predictably he heaped praise on authors of articles he felt were positive, particularly if they involved his ongoing feud with Gov. Cuomo.

That included a June 30, 2015, Ross Barkan article in the New York Observer entitled, “What Does Bill de Blasio Gain by Openly Blasting Andrew Cuomo?”

“First of all when did Ross Barkan get smart and insightful?” the mayor wrote.

A mayoral aide, Thomas Snyder, chimed in, “That analysis is almost more than we could hope for. Positions mayor as voice of the dems and eviscerates the gov. Grand slam.”

De Blasio replied, “Timing is everything my friends. We half-planned half stumbled upon the perfect timing. Got the freeze it’s moment of glory then hurt with this.”

“Now brace for the counter-attack,” he added.

Snyder replied, “Digging foxholes now.”

The emails also reveal his top aides’ struggle to respond after the Dec. 20, 2014, assassination of two police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by a deranged man who made social media comments about killing cops.

In a Jan. 3, 2015, email, top aide Peter Ragone wrote to consultant Del Cecato and other mayoral aides about how to craft a proposed op-ed written by the mayor addressing the tragedy.

Del Cecato described his suggested changes: “I tried to ratchet back some of the Garner Liu Ramos comparisons a bit and refer to those matters more obliquely so as not to further antagonize the cops.”

He said he separated what he called “the deplorable actions” into three parts: “violent/hateful protestors, abusive/overly aggressive cops and a deranged individual who denigrated the peaceful protest movement.”

But he made clear he would go after the police union head Patrick Lynch, who’d criticized the mayor’s response to the fatal shooting of the two cops.

Mayor de Blasio attends a New York Mets game in April 2015. In an effort to show how "authentic" he was, the mayor and his aides planned to attend three Mets vs. Red Sox games in a row.
Mayor de Blasio attends a New York Mets game in April 2015. In an effort to show how “authentic” he was, the mayor and his aides planned to attend three Mets vs. Red Sox games in a row. (Robert Sabo/New York Daily News)

“I also called out Lynch and company but not by name or specific affront,” he wrote.

The mayor’s aide, Ragone, replied, “This is great.”

And de Blasio himself weighed in on his office’s media strategy after he was raked over the coals for working out at the gym while a firefighter was shot on Staten Island — in which he made the remark about the press being “pitiful.”

“Here’s what we know: the media wants to focus on death in all its forms and wants me to be present wherever death or grievous injury is involved,” he wrote. “Today’s controversy about when exactly I should be at the hospital or an active shooter situation and what I’m ‘allowed’ to do if I’m not there is a case in point.”

He said the administration could either “surrender” — and go to fires, crime scenes and memorials — “or we can govern.”

But eventually, he admitted he would’ve gotten less slack had he been at work and not the gym.

“Granted, this attack line today would have been harder to promote if I was at CH — but then the line could have been I took too long to go visit the hospital,” he said, with CH referring to City Hall.

After an August 2015 Wall Street Journal story the mayor thought made him look bad, his then-press secretary, Phil Walzak, suggested a tactic from the Watergate playbook known as “ratf—g” to fight back. The term was used by minions in Richard Nixon’s re-election committee to pull pranks to attack the Democratic opposition.

De Blasio political consultant Del Cecato, after whining about the story, embraced a tactic utilized by President Trump — go after people via vitriolic tweets.

“Maybe I’m channeling Louis CK here but I feel people on the outside (like me) should be assigned a duty like going after our opponents and just delivering that via Twitter,” Del Cecato wrote. “That way reporters don’t get to pick and choose how they use information.”

In response, Walzak replied, “Yeah I like that. You can be outside ratf…r on twitter.”

“Happy to do it,” Del CeCato replied. “Just let me know when I start.”

The emails released Thursday begin in January 2014 shortly after de Blasio arrived at City Hall and continue all the way into 2017.

De Blasio’s press secretary, Eric Phillips, announced the release in an email to members of the press but did not explain why the mayor changed his mind.

“We have chosen to forgo our right to seek a higher appellate court review of the previous decision,” Phillips wrote.

Internal communications between city employees are exempt from public release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. De Blasio had argued that he considered BerlinRosen and two other consultant firms to be the equivalent of city employees that he dubbed “agents of the city.”

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