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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

NYC watchdog went too far

DOI Commissioner Mark Peters presents a problem for Mayor de Blasio.

Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters in 2015.

Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters in 2015. Photo Credit: Bryan R. Smith

No issue better illustrates Mayor Bill de Blasio’s weakness as a leader than his dithering over Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters.

There’s no question what previous mayors would have done if their DOI commissioners issued blistering reports about their leadership, as Peters has about de Blasio. To say nothing of hinting, as Peters also has, that if de Blasio fires him, he might release another blistering report, this one suggesting the mayor intervened in a critical review of Yeshiva education in Brooklyn.

Also, an independent inquiry into Peters’ office criticized him for bullying some staff members and misrepresenting facts to the City Council. That report could threaten Peters’ relationship with supporters in government, including Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Says George Arzt, the former press secretary to Mayor Ed Koch, “Koch would have personally taken Peters by the scruff of his neck and thrown him out on the City Hall Plaza.”

DOI was founded in 1873 after the looting of city funds by Boss Tweed, and now serves as the city’s independent inspector general. The commissioner reports to the mayor and the council and is to operate independently of both. That’s the theory. In practice, for as long as anyone can remember, the DOI commissioner’s job has been to protect the mayor. So much so that in years past, City Hall reporters described the DOI commissioner as Commissioner Whitewash.

De Blasio appointed Peters, who served as the his campaign treasurer, in 2014. The appointment indicated that Peters was allied with the mayor’s agenda. Peters had ambitions of his own, including a possible run for Brooklyn district attorney.

Instead, Peters was soon issuing reports critical of the mayor, including one on lead paint in public housing.

At the same time, a report by an independent investigator accused Peters of overstepping his bounds in an attempt to take control of the school system’s investigative office. The report criticized him for violating the city’s whistleblower protection law. So why didn’t de Blasio fire Peters?

“Every government insider knows you have to get rid of this guy,” said a City Hall insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about the issue.

By not firing Peters earlier, the mayor has a problem: Does he legitimately fire someone who some of his own staff say has badly led the office at the risk of seeming to fire him because of reports he has issued? East of the rock, west of the hard place.

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