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Mayor Bill de Blasio must comply with a probe into the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, a judge ruled Thursday.
Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank said Comptroller and 2021 mayoral candidate Scott Stringer has broad authority under the law to request documents and compel testimony from City Hall and agencies to analyze the city’s handling of the pandemic.
Stringer filed the lawsuit after accusing City Hall of stonewalling over documents, including requests via subpoena, related to his investigation.
“This court takes judicial notice of the devastating impact this pandemic has had on the New York City economy. It is certainly appropriate for the comptroller to investigate the city’s response, and to make recommendations for the future,” Frank said in the four-page ruling.
The judge shot down City Hall’s request to exempt the city’s public hospital system — Health + Hospitals Corporation — from Stringer’s document request, claiming it is not a city agency. Lyle opined spending on the pandemic most certainly extends to government-funded public hospitals.
Health + Hospitals was criticized for being unprepared for such a pandemic Some of the city’s public hospitals — particularly Elmhurst — were overwhelmed with patients.
Lyle ordered the city to turn over documents to the comptroller’s office on a rolling monthly basis beginning on or before March 15 and finishing by July 15. He said the extended time given to the city to comply is fair given officials’ pressing obligations of addressing another surge of COVID-19 and managing the distribution of the vaccine to tame the killer bug.
“This decision is a victory for good government. Our city suffered unspeakable devastation and heartache in the first wave of the pandemic. We lost thousands of our loved ones and neighbors,” Stringer said in a statement hailing the ruling.
“We spent billions on the response as our City’s revenues cratered. As the City’s independent fiscal and oversight officer, I launched an investigation into the City’s COVID-19 planning, preparedness, and response because New Yorkers deserve a clear accounting of what we did right and what we can do better going forward,” added the comptroller.
City Hall did win on one of its pleadings. The judge ruled that correspondence between de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan and others is confidential and privileged information that does not have to be turned over to the comptroller.
Team de Blasio also said the ruling gives City Hall more time to comply with the documents request.
“We are pleased the court has agreed that right now, during the middle of a second COVID wave and our vaccination roll-out efforts, is a poor time to divert city resources to expedite a response. Even though this is a politically motivated fishing expedition, we have already provided the Comptroller with 30,000 documents and will continue to provide documents on the court’s much more sensible timeframe,” said City Hall spokeswoman Laura Feyer.
Meanwhile Stringer said he would appeal the judge’s decision to shield de Blasio and Fuleihan communications from scrutiny, complaining that it was “overly broad.”
“The mayor’s desire for secrecy as to how COVID-19 decisions were made does not trump the public interest in transparency,” the comptroller said.
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