Bill de Blasio’s top aides helped his longtime donor, the now-indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh, in Singh’s rent fight with the city because he “had valid concerns that never got resolved,” not because he was a top mayoral fundraiser.
Speaking Wednesday at an unrelated news conference, de Blasio said the aides got involved in the long-running dispute — the city had determined that Singh owed more than $1 million in rent and other fees, according to a report — “before we knew of any of his other problems and any of the things he had done wrong.”
“All we knew was, here is a business person in Queens with a big establishment that employed a lot of people and had valid concerns that never got resolved,” de Blasio said.
At issue was the restaurant Water’s Edge in Long Island City, Queens, which Singh operated but was on city-owned land. An audit had found that he’d been underpaying rent. Some of de Blasio’s most senior aides — including his political fixer, top lawyer, first deputy’s chief of staff and others — intervened in the dispute, which had until then been handled at lower levels.
Singh was arrested in 2015 by the FBI on charges that he bribed a now-former Oyster Bay deputy town attorney. He also is a central figure in a case involving Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who pleaded not guilty in October to federal charges that he got bribes and kickbacks from Singh in return for county work.
In March, the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office dropped a probe into de Blasio’s campaign-finance dealings, reportedly including those with Singh. But prosecutors leveled harsh criticism of de Blasio’s practices. The office said de Blasio and others sought donations from those seeking favors “after which the mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies on behalf of those donors.”
De Blasio has called his practices “normal for an elected official to receive concerns from people and pass them along for an agency to assess.”
On Wednesday, de Blasio declined to supply an example of another case where a nondonor got similar treatment to Singh’s.
“I don’t have one for you today,” de Blasio said. “I’ve experienced many.”
He added: “ This is everyday life in government.”