2005-11-25 / Community

City Councilman James Sanders Under Fire For Having Wife On Payroll

By Howard Schwach

City Councilman James Sanders and his bride, Andrea, at the wedding ceremony in July.City Councilman James Sanders and his bride, Andrea, at the wedding ceremony in July. City officials have reportedly started an investigation of City Councilman James Sanders for having his wife, Andrea on his payroll as his $70,000-a-year Chief of Staff.

According to published reports, Council legal officials told Sanders just prior to his wedding last summer that having his wife on the payroll violated city law barring nepotism in government hiring.

“I am writing to you to remind you that the New York City Charter prohibits public servants from using or attempting to use their city position to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege, for themselves or for any person or firm with which they are associated,” counsel Jay Damashek reportedly told Sanders in a July 7 letter. “Associated means a spouse. Therefore, your future wife may not work in your office once you are married. Please take all required action to take her off the payroll.”

When Sanders ignored the warning, the case was reportedly turned over to the City Conflict of Interest Board, an agency that says that a decision in the case is pending.

Sanders retorted in August that there is no conflict of interest because his wife, the former Andrea Duncan, was his Chief of Staff prior to their marriage and that she is “grandfathered in to the position.”

I hired Andrea at the same time I hired my previous Chief of Staff,” Sanders told The Wave. “When she subsequently left, Andrea’s brains and commitment led me to give her the top job. She has three masters’ degrees from Columbia University. Her talent and her brains led me to promote her. Only later did I begin to fall in love with her.”

Sanders points out that there is precedent for her staying on the job. While he does not remember the name of the State Senator, he says that the Board of Estimate ruled that the women staffer he hired prior to their marriage could retain her job.

The City Councilman argues that the investigation has more to do with politics than the law.

“There are people who are after me because I ran against the party, because I supported Mike Bloomberg for mayor,” he told a Wave editor. “They have long memories.”

He said that his wife is actively looking for another job, but that he won’t be rushed in removing her from her position.

“Anybody who has served the people well should have time to find appropriate work,” he said.

Pointing out that he once served in the U.S. Marine Corps, he said, “Marines are very loyal. They do not throw their people to the wolves.”

Sanders says that he is eagerly awaiting the Conflict of Interest Board ruling.

“I think the reason that it is taking the board so long is that I am right,” he said. “I am certainly not going to divorce my wife from the job until the board rules against me.”

Wayne Hawley, a lawyer with the Conflicts of Interest Board told The Wave on Tuesday that he was not allowed to even comment on whether or not an investigation has been commenced.“There really is nothing I can tell you,” he said. “The law prohibits any comment at all.”

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