He won’t let this one die.
Fresh from last week’s slap for bringing his wife on three international junkets, Borough President Markowitz is demanding that the city relax its regulations so that he and other top elected officials can bring their spouses on the free trips.
“It’s not a law, just a set of regulations that the city has in place,” Markowitz said on Thursday after that most important of officials duties, MC’ing at a deli opening in Bay Ridge. “[The city] should seriously consider clarifiying it.”
He defiantly claimed that Jamie Markowitz’s travel perks were legitimate because she is “the First Lady of Brooklyn,” a position that exists in spirit, though not in law.
Under the Beep’s proposal, such borough “first ladies” would be allowed to take the same freebies that are lavished on their elected spouses, who are allowed to take free trips to promote the borough or the city — as Markowitz did on the trips to Turkey and the Netherlands in 2007 and 2009.
His wife tagged along and got free travel, earning the fine.
“[Markowitz] received the trips abroad because of his position as borough president of Brooklyn, and his wife went on all three trips because of her relationship with him,” Judge Kevin Casey ruled last week. “By accepting travel expenses for his wife, [Markowitz] used his position as a public servant for private or personal advantage.”
Markowitz disagreed, saying that the freebies were a gift from a foreign government, not an abuse of American taxpapers.
“I should be commended,” he said.
But watchdog groups say Markowitz — and his wife — crossed a clear line when they accepted free travel accommodations.
“The borough president is not the equivalent to the mayor or the president of the United States,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.
“At the least, it’s an unseemly appearance of influence. From the public’s point of view, we need our elected officials to say, ‘I don’t accept gifts, I don’t take favors, I put the public’s interest first.’ ”
Markowitz’s call for relaxed ethics law would stopped short of lower-level elected officials such as common city councilmembers.
“A legislator is only one out of 50, out of 60, out of 80,” he said. “A borough president is one out of one.” (There actually are five borough presidents.)
Still some councilmembers are backing Markowitz’s bid to increase his wife’s ability to join him on lavish international trips, saying that Jamie Markowitz is, indeed, our First Lady.
“Wives play an official part the lives of elected officials,” said Councilman Dominic Recchia (D–Coney Island). “People come up to our wives, ‘Oh I’m having a problem with this; I’m having a problem with that.’ And our wives come back to us. They’re involved in our professional lives.”
And Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Marine Park) said the council’s ruling was an unfair and harsh reading of the law.
“What they did to the borough president bordered on surreal,” said Fidler. “[Turkey and the Netherlands] weren’t buying any undue influence. What was the advantage to them? It’s not like they were going to get a discount on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
The first lady of Brooklyn may not share the prestige — or workload — of Michelle Obama, but she gets an A for attendance.
She also served as the public face in her husband’s annual “Take Your Man to the Doctor Week,” which pushes for wives to get their men to get regular checkups; and was the keynote speaker at Courier-Life’s “Women of Distinction” event earlier this summer, a tribute to great Brooklyn women created by our sister-publication.
This isn’t the first time Markowitz has gotten a slap on the wrist, but it is the most severe punishment to date — and the second this year alone.
In January, the city slapped him with a $2,000 fine after his chief of staff, Carlo Scissura, represented him pro-bono when he bought a house in 2009.
And it’s not the first time that Jamie Markowitz drawn flack for snagging swag. Two years ago, she made headlines for swiping eight placemats designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and intended as parting gifts at a Brooklyn Museum gala.