De Blasio: Correction Commissioner Didn’t Know He Was Doing Anything Wrong When He Misused Car

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday offered a stunning defense of his correction commissioner and the official’s use of a city car to take more than 18,000 miles of out-of-state trips.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, de Blasio offered his correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, what amounted to a get-out-of-jail-free card. The mayor said he was unperturbed by Ponte’s use of a city car to make 100 out-of-city trips because Ponte does a good job.

“I believe fundamentally that commissioner Ponte has done an extraordinary job,” de Blasio said.

The mayor brushed off a scathing Department of Investigation report offering the same defense for Ponte that he used to dodge his own ethical pickles successfully. De Blasio said Ponte relied on the advice of counsel.

WEB EXTRA: Read The DOI Report

“He thought he was doing what his staff guided him to do,” the mayor said. “He thought he was doing the right thing.”

The mayor said Ponte, who has worked with several municipalities, thought it was OK to use his city car to travel 18,500 miles to Maine and other places and have the city pay for the gas and tolls.

Kramer: “You have to sort of live under a rock not to know it’s not proper to take a city car and use it for personal benefit. No matter what your guidance is, something should say to you, ‘Hey, that’s not the thing to do.’”

De Blasio: “The bottom line is he’s not from New York City. He’s not from New York City government. He’s used to other jurisdictions, and each jurisdiction has a different approach.

The mayor also shrugged off the concerns of good government groups that his defense of Ponte set a double standard – a tale of two city justice systems. Earlier this week, a low-level housing official was docked 10 days’ pay and fined $2,222 for using a city car for one hour to buy his mother a chair.

“This is a persistent problem we’ve seen in New York, where executives get waivers and are excused,” said Susan Lerner of the good government group Common Cause, “and the everyday rank-and-file member gets slammed.”

The mayor did say the Conflicts of Interest Board is expected to review the correction commissioner’s case and the ability to impose penalties.

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