Mayor Bill de Blasio was personally involved in a deal with Orthodox Jewish leaders to delay a long-awaited report on shoddy yeshivas in exchange for an extension of mayoral control of city schools, emails obtained by The Post show.
Internal emails among de Blasio and his top aides at City Hall and the Department of Education reveal that the mayor made key phone calls to the powerful religious leaders to clinch the support of two state lawmakers voting on his power to run the nation’s largest school system.
“These internal communications reveal what we suspected all along: Mayor de Blasio abused his power by interfering with the yeshiva investigation,” said Nafuli Moster, founder and executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED). The group filed complaints against 39 Brooklyn yeshivas in July 2015 for allegedly shortchanging children on secular subjects such as math, English, science and history.
The DOE launched an investigation of the yeshivas, but as it dragged on, critics charged City Hall was delaying the probe to curry favor with the Orthodox Jewish voting bloc.
Even an investigation of the mayor’s suspected interference was stalled, whistle-blowers told The Post. In response to that complaint, the Department of Investigation and the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools finally issued a report last December confirming “political horsetrading” on the mayoral control issue.
The report did not air the emails, however, saying “the evidence uncovered” did not show the mayor had “personally authorized” a plan to delay the yeshiva report, but was “aware that the offer to delay had been made.”
The newly unearthed emails reveal that de Blasio was far more involved in efforts to stall and shape the yeshiva findings than the DOI/SCI investigation claimed, the Post found.
In an email on June 29, 2017, de Blasio’s chief of staff, Emma Wolfe, instructed the mayor to call Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice-president of Agudath Israel of America, a politically powerful Orthodox group, and Leon Goldenberg, a longtime friend and major donor.
Wolfe told the mayor it was “urgent” that he tell the two Jewish leaders to call State Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Borough Park), and then-Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Long Island) to “tell them to approve Mayoral control,” the email shows. At the time, Felder and Flanagan were blocking passage of the measure.
In her email, Wolfe told the mayor to warn of “consequences” if the school system reverted to being run by a multi-member Board of Education, reminding them, “I started $200 million in contracts for Pre-K in yeshivas and (Jewish) day schools,” in addition to giving yeshivas millions for busing and security.
“I will make these calls immediately,” de Blasio replied to Wolfe via his email address: [email protected]
But the mayor, who is “B” in the emails, added, “I’m flying too blind here.” He asked for more information on the yeshiva issue “and what Simcha is asking for.”
Minutes later, Karin Goldmark — then a City Hall senior education policy advisor, now a DOE deputy under Chancellor Richard Carranza — told de Blasio the city had promised the Orthodox leaders a delay in releasing a report on the 39 errant yeshivas, despite publicly promising to put it out earlier.
“We said we would not issue a report this summer (though we previously said we would),” Goldmark told de Blasio in the smoking-gun email.
The delay gave Felder more time to push an amendment to exempt yeshivas from a 1929 law requiring private schools to provide a “substantially equivalent” education to that of public schools. A watered-down version of Felder’s proposal ultimately was tucked into a budget bill in 2018.
In the same June 29 email, Goldmark also emphasized that the city would go easy on the yeshivas.
“We have made clear that when we do issue a report it will be gentle and will cite progress (assuming progress continues). We have not said that we won’t make findings, but we have gently hinted at that,” she wrote, adding “we have said we care more about high standards than about minutes on subjects.”
“Very helpful, Karin. Calling him now,” de Blasio replied at 9:11 am. referring to Zweibel or Goldenberg.
That day, state lawmakers gave final approval to a two-year extension of mayoral control.
The report by the DOI and SCI did not name Felder, Flanagan or the various aides who helped de Blasio get the Orthodox community’s blessing.
Besides Wolfe and Goldmark, the aides included Simcha Eichenstein, whom de Blasio hired in 2015 to oversee issues affecting the Orthodox community. Eichenstein is now a state assemblyman representing Borough Park and Midwood.
Other aides in the emails: Avi Fink, deputy director for intergovernmental affairs; Howard Friedman, DOE general counsel; and Ursulina Ramirez, chief of staff to then-schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, now Carranza’s chief operating officer.
Moster called the emails damning.
“While the mayor and DOE were saying ‘We’re taking this very seriously,’ they were worrying about upsetting powerful ultra-Orthodox leaders,” Moster said.
“The efforts to weaken and delay the scope and findings of the investigation make it clear that de Blasio threw tens of thousands of New York City’s yeshiva students under the bus.”
The DOE finally released a damning report on the yeshivas last December — nearly 4-1/2 years after the probe began — which found only two of 28 schools investigated provided adequate secular education to students. But the DOE did not publicly release the findings on individual schools, saying some were improving.
Zwiebel told The Post last week he recalled discussions in June 2017 about mayoral control.
“Certainly there was never any suggestion that ‘you give me support on this issue, and I’ll take care of you in this investigation.’ Whoever reached out to me was smart enough not to suggest a quid pro quo, because that would not be appropriate.”
Goldenberg, who called de Blasio “a friend of the entire Orthodox community,” also denied any deal.
“There was never any mention that ‘you help with mayoral control, we’ll help you with yeshivas.’ If he said that to me, I would have a serious problem.”
Sen. Flanagan’s office did not return a message. Sen. Felder said in a statement, “The only thing I demanded was that they place an armed guard in front of every NYC public school and I’m proud of it.”
De Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said, “The DOI reviewed the emails and made public their findings. They very clearly did not substantiate authorization on the part of the mayor.”
She would not say who authorized the discussions.
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