Mayor Bloomberg's role at the financial news company he founded is coming under increased scrutiny in the wake of a federal lawsuit against Bloomberg LP for discrimination against pregnant employees and new mothers.
Since taking over as mayor and stepping down as chief executive of the company, Mr. Bloomberg rarely, if ever, publicly talks about his precise role with the global news behemoth.
While he regularly mentions his company and that he still owns a big chunk of it, he's left the impression that the real decisions are made by those who took over for him when he left.
Now, with the three women at the center of the lawsuit against him alleging that he is actually more involved than he purports to be publicly, the question is becoming: How much of Bloomberg LP's decisions are made by the city's CEO or communicated over the BlackBerry that the mayor keeps tucked in his pocket?
As recently as Tuesday, he said: "I haven't had anything to do with running it or any discussions about their employment policies for a long time."
Yesterday, however, his description sharpened. "I am the majority owner and I'm absolutely entitled to talk to the senior people and know what's going on and I will continue to do that," the mayor, who still owns 68% of the company, told reporters.
"The Conflicts of Interest Board says I have a perfect right to have whatever rights a major stockholder would have," he said. "Nobody makes a major decision in terms of product changes or things of that nature. I certainly don't get involved in the day to day stuff of personnel or anything else like that."
Since the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit last week charging Bloomberg LP with gender discrimination, the mayor's every word about the case is coming under the microscope. In addition to his involvement with company management, new questions emerged yesterday about when he learned of the EEOC lawsuit.
When asked what he knew about it last Thursday, he said: "Nothing whatsoever," adding that he hasn't worked for the company in "an awful long time." Yesterday he said he learned about an allegation last week. He did not say exactly when.
While nobody is suggesting Mr. Bloomberg should be forced to sell off his stake in the company or recuse himself from major decisions if they don't conflict with city business, some are suggesting he should disclose more about how much time he devotes to it and what he does.
The director of investigative projects at the Center for Public Integrity, Bill Hogan, said yesterday "there's never harm in more disclosure."
"No public official is constrained to what a law requires or what an advisory body stipulates," he said. "I can't think of any instance where the public interest is injured by having an elected official disclose more than the law requires or to have his or her activities more transparent."
The 2002 Conflicts of Interest Board decision Mr. Bloomberg cited yesterday did clear him to stay involved in decisions that would affect the value of his company, which is where most of his personal wealth lies. Those decisions include activities such as the purchase of a major asset and a change in the employee compensation structure.
Mr. Bloomberg divested all of his stock holdings when he took office, agreed to recuse himself from city decisions that could lead to conflicts, such as negotiating cable contracts, and disclosed the company's major clients.
The board's decision also says that while Mr. Bloomberg could keep a hand in major company decisions, that it "cannot conclude that Mr. Bloomberg's participation in all such major decisions as majority owner of Bloomberg LP would raise no issues." It says the mayor should be "sensitive" in his business dealings and seek the board's guidance if need be.
A professor of public affairs at Baruch College, Douglas Muzzio, said the latest lawsuit "at least raises the question about how much should the public know about his involvement with Bloomberg LP?"
He said, however, he believes there is a strong argument that the mayor deserves executive privilege to keep his boardroom dealings private.
The executive director of the Citizens Union, Dick Dadey, said there is currently no reason for more disclosure.
"The public's need to know only would be triggered if his involvement distracted him from fulfilling those duties or a business matter arose in which he was involved that compromised his authority to act with integrity as Mayor," Mr. Dadey said in a statement. "It appears that neither has occurred."
The three women at the center of the case — Jill Patricot, Tanys Lancaster, and Janet Loures — are seeking nearly $482 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Mr. Bloomberg dismissed the charges yesterday, saying "there is no substance to it whatsoever."