"Testing seats I won't be sitting on"
But when those volunteers also represent their company at the mayor's office--a company known to push hard for advantage--doesn't that get a little complicated?
"Grateful to be asked to support mayor @BilldeBlasio on this important day--congratulations and good luck!" tweeted Forest City Ratner's Ashley Cotton.
Cotton describes herself on Twitter as "brooklyn resident. recovering public servant. fcrc employee," but she's not just any employee. She's Senior VP, Director of External Affairs, and Chief of Staff, and oversees the developer's interaction with government.
Cozy ties to Forest City
de Blasio had already put Cotton's boss, CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin, on his transition team. So Cotton's stint reinforced the ties between the new mayor and Brooklyn's most powerful developer.
And that, I suspect, makes it more likely that de Blasio will be asked for favors or other special treatment--and less likely the mayor will try to hold Forest City accountable.
After all, despite stressing that the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) must be enforced, de Blasio failed to criticize Forest City's failure to hire a promised Independent Compliance Monitor.
So we should keep watch to see whether the mayor--who's pledged to get the Atlantic Yards housing built--offers carrots, not sticks.
The benefits of volunteerism
Cotton has experience in both the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Mayor's Office, so it's understandable how she might contribute. She volunteered at the Mayor's Office for most of November 2012 to help with the recovery after Hurricane Sandy.
Same with the inaugural. Just think: how would it look if mayoral events were staffed by people who do business with the city?
(I don't know how long Cotton was volunteering; she didn't respond to my queries. It's not clear to me whether she was "asked to support" de Blasio by his office or by her boss.)
Blurring the lines between company and government
No one elected her, but sometimes Cotton acts as if she still speaks for the government.
At a public meeting in June 2012, Brooklyn Community Board 2 Chairman John Dew asked about the police presence at the Barclays Center: "In this particular instance, is there an opportunity to bill back to Forest City Ratner?”
“The answer is no,” replied Cotton, taking the question, though there were city police and special projects officials in the room.
After all, her loyalty is to her employer, not the public interest. Asked last February, Cotton said she didn't have any information about hiring that Independent Compliance Monitor but claimed "the entire CBA monitors us on a regular basis."
Contributing to de Blasio
Cotton was a contributor to de Blasio's campaign. Oddly enough, the campaign finance report cited her as working at NYC EDC as of January 2013--an error that recalls that blurred line.
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