De Blasio Fires Investigations Chief After Housing, Donor Probes

(Bloomberg) -- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio fired investigations commissioner Mark Peters, once one of his closest political allies, after his work grew into federal probes of city public-housing management and de Blasio’s fundraising practices.

Peters’ appointment to lead the city Department of Investigations had been attacked by critics who questioned his independence from the mayor because of their close relationship, including his role as treasurer in de Blasio’s 2013 campaign. In the past two years that relationship turned frosty as Peters’ probes uncovered lead paint contamination in public housing and the administration’s permit for a mayoral political donor to convert a nursing home into luxury condominiums.

“DOI’s work over the past five years has exposed corruption and misconduct and forced serious systematic reforms in multiple agencies,” Peters said in a statement emailed by the Investigations Department. “The staff at DOI are among the most talented in law enforcement and it has been an honor to work with them. I expect that despite my departure they will continue the multiple investigations regarding misconduct now pending in the agency without fear or favor.”

Sworn Testimony

De Blasio had the authority to fire Peters for cause. Earlier this year, Peters tried to interfere with the work of an office within his department that investigates the school system. When the head of that office fought his moves, he fired her, and she filed a whistle-blower complaint. An independent review found he’d overstepped his authority and mistreated the official, and that he had misled the City Council in sworn testimony about the incident.

“This wasn’t a decision I took lightly,” de Blasio told reporters at a City Hall news conference. “The very top leadership at DOI repeatedly undermined the values critical to its mission. It’s my job as mayor to make a change so that DOI can do its important work going forward.”

The mayor named Margaret Garnett, the state’s executive deputy attorney general for criminal justice, to replace Peters. Her appointment must be approved by the City Council.

Ritchie Torres, who chairs the council investigations committee, denounced Peters’ dismissal, calling it unprecedented in the Department of Investigation’s 145-year history.

"Were it not for the independence of Commissioner Peters, neither the public nor the City Council would have ever known about the suspicious sale of Rivington or the chronic failure of lead compliance in public housing,” Torres said. Rivington is the nursing home that was protected from development by a deed restriction, until the city lifted it, allowing for its sale.

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