NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio has been grilled about the sudden firing of a city official involved in two of the matters being probed by federal prosecutors, as a new poll gives him low marks for handling political corruption.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, it might simply have been bad timing – or maybe not. But right after the mayor met with federal prosecutors investigating his campaign fundraising, the official from an agency whose actions are of particular interest to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was fired.
That official was Ricardo Morales, who was a manager at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. He was involved in the controversial decision that allowed the Rivington nursing home on the Lower East Side to be turned into luxury condos.
Kramer asked de Blasio why Morales was fired several hours after the mayor spoke with federal prosecutors this past Friday.
“That was a decision made by the relevant people in my administration. I didn’t have anything to do with the timing,” de Blasio said. “I had heard it was coming. I’m not getting into the details. I thought whatever the agency leaders wanted to do made sense.”
In addition to being involved with the Rivington nursing home decision, Morales also participated in negotiations with de Blasio donor Herendra Singh – who was seeking a favorable lease for his struggling Long Island City, Queens restaurant on the water’s edge.
Morales’ attorney, Guy Oskenhendler, told CBS2’s Kramer that his client’s firing “was suspicious, given the timing. He was fired within an hour of the mayor’s testimony.”
De Blasio repeated, “I’m not going to go into the specifics of that situation.”
An agency representative, Cathy Hanson, said Morales’ firing had “nothing to do with the mayor’s or City Hall’s cooperation with the U.S. Attorney.”
As WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported, de Blasio was asked about Morales at his first news conference since he met with the feds. He received a barrage of other questions about the meeting, but was not exactly forthcoming.
“I felt fine. It was a perfectly fine discussion, and as you know a voluntary one. And we will continue to cooperate. As simple as that,” he said.
The question came as voters gave the mayor low marks on political corruption. A total of 52 percent of respondents disapproved of how de Blasio has handled political corruption, compared with 28 percent who approved, according to Quinnipiac University pollsters.
A total of 57 percent of poll respondents think it is an ethical problem for de Blasio to seek donations to pay for his legal defense.
The mayor has not disclosed exactly how his legal defense fund will work.
“I don’t know how you can think it’s an ethical problem without having seen what it is,” de Blasio said.
Sources have suggested that Morales could be a prosecution witness if charges are brought in the federal probe.