Opinion

Exit Strategy: Assemblyman Michael Blake stumbles as he makes a break for the DNC

Michael Blake

Michael Blake a katz / Shutterstock

Editor's Note: On Tuesday morning, a spokesperson for Michael Blake reached out to City & State to complain about what they perceived to be factual inaccuracies in this article. We gave Mr. Blake the opportunity to point out the inaccuracies in detail, and we would judge if they merited a correction. Instead, Mr. Blake released a statement on this article, which you can read here. The original post cited Mr. Blake's legislative website in concluding that he had not shepherded any bills into law, but in fact he was the prime sponsor of six bills signed into law. 

Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake, who served former President Barack Obama in the White House, is only just starting his second term in the state Legislature, but he already appears to be walking an ethical tightrope as he seemingly plans his exit from Albany.

In seeking his next job, Blake is exploiting a legal loophole to solicit unlimited contributions for his campaign for Democratic National Committee vice chairman. The DNC will vote for its new chairman and vice chairs at its winter meeting on Feb. 25 in Atlanta.

Contributions to his committee, Michael Blake for DNC; Leadership for Tomorrow, “are not subject to limitation, are accepted from individuals, corporations, labor unions and other organizations,” according to his campaign website.

The state Board of Elections limits contributions from an individual to Assembly candidates at $8,800. The Federal Election Commission caps contributions at $5,400 for an individual.

Contributions to Blake’s DNC campaign committee will not count toward the Assembly campaign contribution limit. Nor will they be disclosed to the state Board of Elections or the Federal Election Commission.

It’s troubling that a junior member of the state Legislature is piling up ethical blemishes faster than accomplishments, but not unexpected in Albany, where both the former Assembly speaker and state Senate majority leader were convicted of corruption last year.

But at a time when the DNC needs to make like Caesar’s wife in the actions it takes and the image it projects to win the support of the millions of Americans who have become politically active since November’s election, it is counterintuitive to think that the continued crossing of ethical lines will be acceptable in a reinvigorated national party.

“The DNC vice chair race is not a state or federal election,” a spokesperson for Blake’s DNC campaign emailed. “To maintain a clear accounting and separation of activity, a separate legal entity was established – a non-federal 527 account. This ensures full and effective transparency for funds related to that race and a clear delineation of DNC campaign-related activities from Assembly-related matters.”

Blake did not respond to a request for an interview.

New York’s good-government watchdogs were dismayed by Blake’s latest ethical blunder.

“Elected officials should be taking actions, including governing themselves, that minimizes, not maximizes, the impact of money in politics,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY.

Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey said, “This is just another pathway for how money influences our politics and needs to be addressed as part of the larger challenge of how to reform our campaign finance laws. While Michael Blake needs to raise money for his campaign for the DNC, he also needs to be mindful of not letting those with money have an outsized voice in that campaign.”

Blake’s campaign for DNC vice chairman is presumptuous for someone with few legislative accomplishments to date.

He represents an Assembly district within the poorest congressional district in the U.S. For seven consecutive years, it has been rated the unhealthiest district in New York, while just last week, it was announced that a rare disease carried by rats had killed one person and sickened two more very close to the western edge of Blake’s district.

Blake served in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and ran with the support of Obama, but it appears as if he was unable to get much mileage out of that relationship or gain enough experience to navigate Albany politics.

He signaled he was bored in Albany even before the end of his first year in office when he accepted a partnership with a Manhattan-based political consulting firm, while retaining his Assembly seat.

Good-government watchdogs Common Cause NY and EffectiveNY dumped all over him.

As a consequence of the media storm that followed, Blake declined the offer days later. Yet he still refused to concede he had done anything wrong.

“I regret the environment we are in right now,” he told The New York Times.

Now at the beginning of his second term, Blake is soliciting uncapped contributions for this committee not long after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was forced to shut down a nonprofit he created at the beginning of his administration. Its fundraising activities are the subject of city, state and federal criminal investigations.

What could Blake offer to the DNC in the current political environment?

According to his campaign website, Blake pledges to travel the country and serve as a national surrogate for state and local party fundraisers, trainings and meetings.

It sounds like a pretty good exit strategy if you’re bored in the state Legislature and the majority African-American district you represent is an island in the middle of the predominantly Puerto Rican and Dominican South Bronx, severely limiting any chance of Blake ever moving up to the state Senate, U.S. Congress or the borough president’s office.

 

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