If you ever happen to be outside New York City at night and look skyward, you might understand why ancient civilizations came up with the constellations. How else to make sense of the vastness of the darkness and the multitude of the stars up there? It’s a basic human tendency, that desire to string things together into a line, a picture, a narrative, so we can draw meaning from them. It’s why the resignation of Mayor de Blasio’s counsel Maya Wiley, announced yesterday, is being linked to other recent departures from the administration and to the multiple investigations it’s facing.
It is true that Wiley’s resignation follows closely on the heels of those of Scott Kleinberg, the administration’s very recently hired social-media czar, and Karen Hinton, brought on a year ago to improve the mayor’s press operation. Wiley will leave City Hall to chair the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a move made possible by the departure of previous CCRB boss Richard Emery in April. Gilbert Taylor left the commissioner’s role at the Department of Homeless Services in December. Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli quit last summer, as did Office of Film and Media head Cynthia Lopez.
That’s a lot of business cards in the recycling bin, especially for an administration that was late in making appointments to most commissioner-level positions in the first place. But it’s not that unusual for a mayor to be rewriting his lineup card 30 months into office. Being a commissioner in New York City is taxing on a personal, physical and financial level in ways that most of us can’t truly understand. Doing the job for more than a couple years is more than many committed civil servants can manage.
By this point in the first term under Mayor Bloomberg, Department of Corrections Commissioner William Fraser, Department of Design and Construction Commissioner Kenneth Holden, Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Sayu Bhojwani, Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Jerilyn Perine, Office of Emergency Management Director John Odermatt and senior adviser Vincent LaPadula had departed from the service of the mayor.
Of course, the context was different then. The script on Bloomberg was that he was a great manager, a laurel he didn’t always deserve (see CityTime, Deutschebank, Cathie Black, 2010 snowstorm, et cetera), but managed to retain over 12 years in office. The book on de Blasio is that he is a poor manager, a sleight he has sometimes defied but also, more than once, ratified. And while Bloomberg was seen as politically vulnerable at this point in his first term, just as de Blasio is, the former mayor didn’t face the kind of sprawling investigation de Blasio confronts.
That’s why it’s tempting to find the forest amid all these trees: The story here seems to be one of people fleeing a mayor with a shaky operation and some serious Preet probing to deal with.
But sometimes, the story is in just one tree. Few people associated with the de Blasio administration better reflected the mayor’s ideological heart than Wiley, a woman of color, a Brooklyn resident and daughter of a civil rights activist, a holder of degrees in psychology and law from Ivy League institutions, with a resume of battling structural racism from posts at the NAACP, ACLU, Open Society Institute and the Center for Social Inclusion, which she founded.
That is the kind of hopeful, progressive politics New Yorkers hired when they elected de Blasio, and the only thing we can say for certain about Wiley leaving is that one of the mayor’s ideological soulmates has left the building. It doesn’t matter why she left, but that she left.