New York Times
October 3, 2014


New York City Said to Open Inquiry on Omission by First Lady’s Top Aide

By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM, WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM and NIKITA STEWART

City investigators have opened an inquiry into Rachel Noerdlinger, the chief of staff to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, over her failure to disclose during a background check that she shares a home with a boyfriend whose criminal record and statements against law enforcement have become the subject of controversy, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan, who resides with Ms. Noerdlinger in Edgewater, N.J., has written provocative online posts criticizing the police and has a long record of arrests, including a conviction for manslaughter when he was a teenager and an episode last fall when he nearly ran over a New Jersey state trooper while driving Ms. Noerdlinger’s car.

Officials in the de Blasio administration have said Ms. Noerdlinger previously informed them about her relationship with Mr. McFarlan.

But Ms. Noerdlinger did not include Mr. McFarlan as a cohabitant on a questionnaire required by the New York City Investigation Department, which performs formal background checks on senior City Hall appointees, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Providing false or incomplete information on the form can result in termination and, in rare cases, criminal prosecution, although it is unclear whether a possible omission by Ms. Noerdlinger could lead to that.

Asked about the inquiry, the mayor’s press secretary, Phil Walzak, said: “The administration knows of no action being taken against Rachel, but does know that she comes to work every day committed to serving the people of our city across the five boroughs on the critical issues that matter.”

Aides to Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, would not make Ms. Noerdlinger available for an interview about whether she omitted Mr. McFarlan’s name from the questionnaire, which was first reported late Thursday by DNAinfo New York. An Investigation Department spokeswoman said it did not comment on investigations.

Ms. Noerdlinger, 43, who is a former top aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton and is paid $170,000 a year, has been targeted by police unions and other critics of the mayor, who say she should be denied access to high-level police and administration meetings because of her boyfriend’s behavior.

The mayor and his aides have steadfastly defended her, saying she should not be judged by the actions of her companion.

The inquiry into Ms. Noerdlinger is the latest turn in a controversy that has caused consternation inside City Hall, even as advisers say that they are unconcerned about what they view as unfair and racially tinged attacks. (Both Ms. Noerdlinger and Ms. McCray are black, as is Mr. McFarlan.)

The mayor, who prides himself on ignoring tabloid-style news coverage, has taken pains to emphasize his friendship with Mr. Sharpton, a key political supporter.

“The more people criticize him, the more I want to hang out with him,” Mr. de Blasio said on Wednesday, with a touch of defiance, at a party for Mr. Sharpton’s 60th birthday.

But the attacks on Ms. Noerdlinger have threatened to distract from the mayor’s agenda as he juggles several political priorities, including his legislative strategy for next year.

Two people with knowledge of the matter said that earlier this year, after the Investigation Department concluded its background investigation into Ms. Noerdlinger, it forwarded a letter to Mr. de Blasio’s staff, outlining its findings.

One of the people said Mr. McFarlan’s name did not appear in that document, an indication that Ms. Noerdlinger had failed not only to disclose that Mr. McFarlan lived with her, but also that they had a relationship.

Though Ms. McCray is her prime responsibility, Ms. Noerdlinger acts as a senior adviser to the entire administration, with a focus on civil rights and housing issues. She was part of a team that shaped the city’s response to the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in police custody in July after apparently being placed in a chokehold.

It was the aftermath of that episode, when Mr. de Blasio invited Mr. Sharpton to a forum with William J. Bratton, the police commissioner, that angered police unions, who accused the mayor of giving Mr. Sharpton too much sway over his public safety policies.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said on Thursday that Ms. Noerdlinger “should be fired” if she was found to have omitted facts during her background check.

“The standards that apply to hiring police officers should apply equally to hiring high-ranking, influential staff members,” Mr. Lynch said in a statement.

Ms. Noerdlinger has extensive experience managing the crises of others: She built her reputation as a communications director to Mr. Sharpton, whom she helped transform from a New York City firebrand into a national figure with a talk show and ties to the White House.

Mr. Sharpton called the scrutiny into Ms. Noerdlinger’s personal life unfair, saying in a phone interview that it had been pushed by police unions. He said that, in fact, he and Mr. de Blasio might be to blame. “She’s associated with two of their favorite targets,” Mr. Sharpton said.