Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is running for mayor, gave back $14,850 donated to him by homeless shelter landlord Alan Lapes and his wife, the New York Post reported today. It’s a big move because it indicates that Lapes — who is the landlord for multiple controversial shelters on the Upper West Side and elsewhere — has become politically toxic.
We reported earlier this week that de Blasio had taken money from Lapes and had not yet spoken out about whether Lapes should be allowed to run a controversial homeless shelter at 316 and 330 West 95th Street. Lapes was featured in an investigative story in the New York Times this past weekend that detailed troubling complaints from shelter residents and cushy city contracts.
De Blasio’s silence has concerned some Upper West Siders we’ve talked to. He came to a forum put on by community group Neighborhood in the Nineties in October and pledged to look into the proliferation of shelters and other social service accommodations in the 90’s and 100’s. But he never made a statement (as far as we’ve heard), and it’s not clear whether he’s fighting against for-profit shelter operators turning SRO buildings into homeless shelters. His name was not on recent letters signed by Gale Brewer, Linda Rosenthal, Scott Stringer and others opposing the shelters.
We asked de Blasio’s staff for his position on the shelters this week, but didn’t hear anything back. We also asked his campaign staff about the Posts’ report on the donations. No response to that yet.
“I just made the decision that it was smart to give it back and move on,” de Blasio told the Post.
He declined to elaborate whether he knew Lapes’ background before accepting the contributions.
“Again, I’ve just made the decision to return the money and that’s all I have to say,” de Blasio responded when that question was posed.
The shelters could become an issue in the mayoral race, where de Blasio is hoping to upset Christine Quinn’s momentum. Democrat-rich districts like the Upper West Side and Carroll Gardens have been fighting shelters. We argued last year that Upper West Siders have real clout this year because of the political stakes.
The return of the donations doesn’t mean that the shelter on West 95th Street, whose five-year contract extension has not yet been approved by Comptroller John Liu, is necessarily likely to be rejected. Neighborhood in the Nineties is urging continued action to convince Liu (who is also expected to run for mayor) not to approve the contract.
Below, check out our video of de Blasio listening to Neighborhood in the Nineties leader Aaron Biller list all of the shelters in the immediate area in October.