NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a pledge to be the most transparent mayor ever.
But CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported the mayor was aggressively trying to control the message Wednesday – taking reporters’ questions only about once a week on topics he has not pre-approved.
Kramer went toe-to-toe with the mayor’s press secretary about it on Wednesday.
Kramer reported that the late Mayor Ed Koch answered reporters’ questions as many as six times a day, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg did it three or four times a week.
She said she did not recall a mayor who said he was only taking “on-topic” questions one day, and went on to say, “Tomorrow, we’ll talking about other types of topics.”
But press secretary Karen Hinton vehemently defended the practice.
Kramer: “He vowed to be the most transparent mayor in the history of life.”
Hinton: “He is being transparent.”
Kramer: “When he takes questions once a week.”
Hinton: “The definition of transparent is not when a reporter decides he or she wants to ask a question, the mayor must stop and answer that question. That does not equal transparency.”
Kramer went to City Hall Wednesday to ask Mayor de Blasio legitimate questions. She was curious about a homeless encampment in SoHo, and about his decision to limit questions to pre-approved topics at some of his news conferences.
At his news conference on Monday about fire safety, de Blasio said: “We’re going to be taking questions on the topics we discussed today. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking about other types of topics.”
Since the mayor had a public bill signing on his public schedule Wednesday, Kramer thought it was a legitimate place to ask a question.
But after entering the Blue Room where de Blasio conducts his events, Kramer was confronted by Hinton, who said talking to the mayor was verboten.
Kramer reported that Hinton made it a point to sit down beside her and wave her off.
“We’re not taking questions here today,” Hinton said.
Kramer tried anyway, waiting until Mayor de Blasio was done with his bills signings.
“Mr. Mayor, a question about the SoHo homeless encampment; Mr. Mayor, will you answer a question about transparency? Mr. Mayor?” Kramer asked.
De Blasio left the room as Kramer asked her question.
Frustration with the mayor’s desire to duck questions has boiled over in the City Hall reporters who cover him, Kramer reported. She said some would call it an attempt by the mayor to micromanage his message.
As Kramer was talking to Hinton, other reporters joined in – asking the same questions Kramer was asking.
“It’s the same issue,” another reporter said. “He doesn’t have to like the question. He can say: ‘That’s idiotic. You’re an idiot.’”
Iona College professor Jeanne Zaino said mayors have a public obligation to answer reporters’ questions.
“It’s, you know, beyond mind-blowing to imagine what they’re waiting for to realize that they can’t hide in City Hall,” Zaino said. “They have to be open and accessible to the people, and quite frankly, the people’s representatives in the press.”
Kramer continued confronting Hinton on the issue.
Kramer: “How many times did he have a general press conference where he took off-topic questions this week?”
Hinton:: “He is.”
Kramer: “How many times?”
Kramer: “You’re not answering the question.”
Hinton:: “We had a press conference on Tuesday.”
Kramer: “Is he doing any other availability where he’s taking general questions this week?”
Hinton: “He’s going to Puerto Rico tomorrow to do the health care rally. He’ll be having an avail in Puerto Rico tomorrow.”
While mayoral aides think the press tactic allows de Blasio to control his message, Zaino said what may be happening is his message is not getting out – which may be why his personal approval rating in a recent poll was just 38 percent, Kramer reported.
“You look at those polls, and you see that the people feel — for a variety of reasons — that the mayor’s focus is not on New York City,” Zaino said. “There is a sense that he is not present; that he is not doing the job they elected him to do.”
Hinton also insisted that de Blasio was modeling his news conferences after those of Mayor Bloomberg. She said Bloomberg took only four or five off-topic questions and limited his availabilities.
But Kramer went back and found Bloomberg’s aides said he had news conferences at least three times a week where he took numerous off-topic questions. And if a major event happened, Bloomberg added additional question-and-answer sessions.