Last March, as COVID-19 began to spread across New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Executive Order 101, expanding his power and bypassing the city charter’s usual checks and balances in an effort to prepare hospitals, protect communities, and save lives.
Now, as the pandemic winds down and the city reopens, Comptroller Scott Stringer is calling on the mayor to relinquish those executive powers. Stringer filed a lawsuit against the mayor, demanding that he rescind Executive Order 101, turn over hundreds of contracts and restore procurement laws and regulations as mandated by the city charter.
“The action of this executive order is in flagrant violation of the charter, and an insult to the fundamentals of good governance,” Stringer said during a July 6 press conference announcing the lawsuit. “We must re-establish the checks and balances that protect taxpayers.”
At issue is Section 2 of EO 101, which suspended laws and regulations related to procurement, and allowed the city to buy and spend without transparency or oversight. At the time, the order was widely seen as necessary, as COVID-19 was spreading, hospitals were at capacity and regulations were in danger of slowing the city’s response. Freed up from onerous oversight, the city was able to spend some $6.9 billion in contracts for N-95 masks, ventilators and emergency AC units.
Now, 15 months later, this huge fee, and the executive order that allowed it, are under scrutiny.
“Millions of dollars have been spent on supplies that never materialized, ventilators that were never delivered,” said Stringer. “As we work toward a strong post-pandemic recovery, the mayor cannot continue to enable unfrugal spending, un-vetted vendors and misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Stringer is also demanding that the city hand over the 1,500 contracts it had issued during the pandemic, in the hopes of increasing transparency and finding out what, exactly, went wrong. Some of these contracts — including last spring’s contract with Global Medical Supply Group, which saw $8.2 million spent for 130 ventilators that were never delivered — resulted in millions spent for little gain.
The mayor’s response could not have been more emphatic with its response.
“Emergency procurements have saved lives — period,” said Press Secretary Bill Neidhardt.
The mayor’s office also attached the contract with the Global Medical Supply Group – a contract affirmed with the assistant comptroller’s signature.
“The comptroller is clearly trying to use this lawsuit to keep himself in the headlines after his failed mayoral bid,” said Neidhardt, while Stringer, when asked whether he believed de Blasio’s actions were a deliberate undermining of his own bid for mayor, answered with: “that would be outrageous.”
Yet, Stringer tried to position his lawsuit as one with repercussions that will outlast both his and DeBlasio’s terms.
“This is about the next comptroller and the next mayor, and the kind of government they’ll walk into on Jan. 1,” said Stringer. “We should not start off a new administration with such a steep imbalance of power.”