Mayor Bloomberg offered only lukewarm support on Tuesday for his embattled ally Borough President Markowitz, who’s come under intense ethical scrutiny since The Brooklyn Paper reported last month that his private charity has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Bruce Ratner, the Atlantic Yards developer who has enjoyed strong support from Markowitz.
Government watchdogs called the charitable donations a “payback” for Markowitz’s cheerleading of the $4-billion project, and the city comptroller howled after some of the money was doled out in no-bid contracts.
This week, it got hotter for Markowitz, with the New York Post reporting that Bloomberg himself also gave millions to the Beep’s charity. A Post editorial called Markowitz “reprehensible,” and demanded the elimination of the largely ceremonial borough presidents.
But Bloomberg, making a stop in Downtown Brooklyn on Tuesday, defended Markowitz and his fellow borough leaders — well, sort of.
“They [Markowitz and the four other borough presidents] are probably worth the money,” Hizzoner said.
Markowitz’s office runs on a yearly budget of $5 million, employs 84 people — including a $45,000 proclamations writer — and boasts a fleet of seven cars.
Even as Bloomberg was somewhat tentative about whether the city is getting enough borough presidential bang for its taxpayer bucks, he did say that Markowitz stood out from the crowd.
“Borough President Markowitz has been one of the most aggressive ones. … [He] calls all the time for the mayor to come cut a ribbon or something,” Bloomberg said, referring to himself in the third person.
Markowitz, a former state Senator from Flatbush who is nearing the end of his second term (his last, if term limits remain in place) intentionally ducked city oversight when he awarded four no-bid contracts from his Best of Brooklyn charity at just one dollar less than the threshold for an automatic review by Comptroller Bill Thompson, who frowned on the chicanery.
“The contracts … were clearly meant to circumvent the transparency [of] the contract registration process,” Thompson’s spokeswoman Laura Rivera said in a statement.
Other documents obtained by The Brooklyn Paper showed that Markowitz’s Best of Brooklyn reaped hefty contributions from Ratner; his company, Forest City Ratner; its executives; and subsidiaries. All told, the donations have been between $680,000 and $1 million since 2003 — the year Ratner unveiled Atlantic Yards, which has enjoyed unbending support from Markowitz.
The borough president told The Brooklyn Paper in a statement that he obeyed the letter of the law.
“Borough presidents have the absolute right to contract funds … in the manner of Best of Brooklyn, and these contracts, as per the [city’s] rules, are not required to be bid out,” the statement read.
On Tuesday, he went further.
“We want to accomplish things and to accomplish things, you need money,” he told The Brooklyn Paper, an hour before Bloomberg spoke about the Beep. “I guess no good deed goes unpunished by the media.”
He did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on Bloomberg’s lukewarm endorsement.