Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio joined Assemblyman Micah Kellner in a concerted 18-month campaign to block Nissan from getting the contract for the Taxi of Tomorrow, while each accepted the maximum campaign contributions from the CEO of a rival company. The other company, Vehicle Production Group (VPG), was funded by a $50 million federal loan that soured earlier this year, resulting in VPG’s bankruptcy and the seizure of its assets by the government.
The Public Advocate made news last week when he expressed his displeasure with Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky, vowing to replace him should he win the general election. Yassky and de Blasio have a long history of butting heads, back to Yassky's opposition to de Blasio's campaign for Speaker in 2005. Micah Kellner, who has tangled with Yassky publically in the past, made a stir when he tweeted “Amen!” in response to de Blasio’s announcement regarding the commissioner last Thursday.
City Council Watch (followed by the New York Post) has already covered Micah Kellner’s constant efforts on behalf of VPG and its MV-1 van, including a spirited sales pitch before the TLC, and chipper quotes for VPG promotional literature. In return for his passionate support, Fred Drasner, the CEO of VPG, donated thousands of dollars to Kellner’s assembly and council campaigns.
Bill de Blasio is well-known for operating from the pocket of New York’s medallion fleet owners, who have, along with their lawyers and family members, et al, contributed more than a quarter-million dollars to his mayoral campaign. Unnoticed amidst all this cash is the quiet $4950 that Fred Drasner gave to the de Blasio campaign in July 2012, in the same week that VPG gave $5000 to Micah Kellner.
Micah Kellner and Bill de Blasio, incidentally, are the only two candidates to have received money from Fred Drasner in the current cycle. In fact, they are the only two candidates in the state of New York to have received money from Fred Drasner since 2001, when he gave to George Pataki.
The Public Advocate first teamed up with AM Kellner in May 2011 when they, along with Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz, wrote a letter to Comptroller John Liu asking him to investigate the Taxi of Tomorrow RFP process. De Blasio, Kellner and Markowitz claimed that Ricardo, Inc., a consultant hired by the TLC to vet the three submissions, was biased against one of the contenders, a Turkish car manufacturer called Karsan Automotive. Ricardo Inc. had prior dealings with the other two companies, a couple of little players named Ford and Nissan, and thus was not impartial in its consideration.
Micah Kellner was already on Fred Drasner’s payroll at this point, so we know why he was so eager to derail the Taxi of Tomorrow RFP process. Marty Markowitz and Bill de Blasio had apparently been told that Karsan would build an auto factory in Brooklyn, and were on board for that reason. Although, one must admit, it really does sound preposterous to imagine New York City contracting with a Turkish car manufacturer to supply its entire fleet of taxis. But perhaps I’m way off base: after all, Turkey falls right between the Czech Republic and Indonesia in world automobile production.
In any case, de Blasio and Kellner kept pushing, even after Markowitz had given up the fight to give Turkey the Taxi of Tomorrow contract. In September 2012, two months after Fred Drasner had maxed out to de Blasio and written his latest check to Kellner, the two elected officials co-signed a letter to David Yassky and the rest of the TLC. Having gotten nowhere with the conflict of interest argument, de Blasio and Kellner now asserted that Nissan’s proposed taxi was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it is a van, yet not accessible to wheelchairs. Commissioner Yassky and the City contend that the taxi is not technically a “van,” and thus is exempt from that stipulation…basically the courts will figure it out.
It definitely appears that Bill de Blasio, already very friendly with the multimillionaires who control the bulk of the city’s taxis, figured that it wouldn’t hurt to oppose the Mayor and the TLC on the Taxi of Tomorrow issue either. Then, when Vehicle Production Group and their paid representative Micah Kellner saw how amenable de Blasio was to work with on transit issues, they slipped him a large check and asked him to sign another letter: one that didn’t promote Brooklyn’s automotive industry, but which was draped in enough lofty self-righteousness about the disabled as to provide the mayoral candidate with enough cover, should any questions arise.
Vehicle Production Group wound up costing the taxpayer around $42 million. We have seen, between his wanton sexual behavior and flagrant willingness to play-for-pay, exactly at what a low level of ethical behavior Micah Kellner operates. It may be eye-opening to consider that Bill de Blasio, until now everybody’s Mr. Clean, is willing to get dirty with scoundrels such as Micah Kellner and his benefactor Fred Drasner.