De Blasio’s Shadow Transition Team Advised Rahm Emanuel

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Above: Bill de Blasio in AP Photo by Carolyn Kaster

Doubts were rising about mayor-elect Bill de Blasio when he picked a police commissioner with a history of racially based stops and frisks when he was the police chief of Los Angeles as well as one who promised he would have removed the Occupy encampment more quickly.  Now doubts are being raised higher as it has come out that de Blasio has an unannounced, shadow transition team made up of traditional consultants with ties to big business interests.  The consultants, Civic Consulting USA, also advised right wing, neoliberal Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In Chicago the involvement of the firms working on the transition resulted in no-bid contracts that were questioned by many.  De Blasio is looking less like the change he promised every day.  We hope activists in New York are organizing and mobilizing to put significant pressure on the incoming mayor as it is evident he will not do the people’s bidding without substantial pressure from the people.  Thus far he has been allying his administration with the security state and big business interests.

Bill de Blasio has two transition teams.

There’s the public one, announced in late November. It’s a diverse, 60-person assortment of nonprofit leaders, political types, educators, rabbis, Cynthia Nixon. More than half of its members are de Blasio donors.

Then there’s another team, a nonprofit group whose participation in the process has never been announced, but which has been playing a substantial role in organizing the transition.

According to a source involved with the transition, this involved entity—Civic Consulting USA—has “embedded” into the process a team drawn from the “creme de la creme of the big New York consultants.” This group has shaped the process by organizing the original transition team into a number of topic-specific committees and then bringing in an even greater number of other people onto those committees to participate in the search for future administration members.

The involvement of those new people, like the role of the consultants, was never announced.

In response to an inquiry by Capital, de Blasio spokeswoman Lis Smith confirmed the group’s involvement, but described it in a strictly supporting role.

“Transition co-chairs Carl Weisbrod and Jennifer Jones Austin, along with Transition Executive Director Laura Santucci and Deputy Executive Director Ursulina Ramirez are running the transition,” she said. “The core committee is providing the transition with important advice and counsel. Civic Consulting USA is also helping the transition on a pro-bono basis. They are one piece of the great team we’ve put together to build the next administration and recruit great talent to serve the people of New York City.”

Smith declined to go into more specifics about the group’s participation, and declined to comment on the existence of the newly formed subcommittees.

The head of the consulting group also confirmed its participation in the process, and also stressed its supporting role.

“We’re very proud to be playing a supporting role to the transition chairs and staff for Mayor elect de Blasio,” said Alexander Shermansong, Civic Consulting USA’s C.E.O., in an email. “The leadership of the committee has been outstanding in their efforts and should be commended.”

According to the transition source, Civic Consulting USA was suggested to de Blasio’s aides during a November meeting between de Blasio and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel’s staff suggested that de Blasio’s transition team enlist the help of the group, whose mission is to pair government clients with partners in the private and nonprofit sector.

Civic Consulting USA president Michael Hickey told Capital the group was “inspired by the pioneering work done by the Civic Consulting Alliance in Chicago.”

For its part, the Civic Consulting Alliance in Chicago paired management consultants from companies like Deloitte, Bain & Company, Accenture and McKinsey & Company with Emanuel to help guide his own transition into office.

The transition cannot accept corporate contributions, so Civic Consulting is working for the transition team via an agreement with the city, according to Smith.

The consultant arrangement may come as a surprise to some supporters of de Blasio, who regularly, proudly champions the virtues of public-sector experience.

(“I think people who understand government run government best,” he told the Times recently.)

But the apparent embrace of private-sector expertise is nothing new in New York City.

Outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg has routinely talked of the benefits that non-bureaucrats can bring to city governance, and in fact Civic Consulting USA lists Bloomberg Philanthropies as one of its funders.

And, in Bloombergian fashion,  its website touts the benefits that non-governmental expertise can bring to “government clients”: “We bring together teams who are better coordinated, longer term, and more talented than they could afford, attract, or manage otherwise—at no cost to the taxpayer.”

What does the private partner get?

“Loaned professionals return energized with a renewed commitment to their companies” and they develop new skills. Also, “positive PR.”

Its board includes Neil Kleiman, the director of Innovation Labs at NYU Wagner, Sean Monahan, a partner at management consultant firm A.T. Kearney, and Michael Schmidtberger, a partner at the law firm Sidley Austin.

Emanuel’s relationship with the Civic Consulting Alliance generated significant attention in Chicago, not all of it positive.

“The alliance was a key player in Emanuel’s 2011 transition to office,” reported the Chicago Tribune last December. “As part of its role, the group brought in Accenture, one of the world’s largest financial consulting firms, to provide free advice to the new administration. The company subsequently received a no-bid contract from the Emanuel administration that pays it a percentage of every dollar saved on other City Hall contracts.”

A spokesman for Emanuel had no comment.