By Michael Howard Saul

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio regularly doesn't pay for subway rides when he is conducting government business--contrary to what his office said earlier this week--and he takes personal out-of-state trips at the expense of taxpayers, aides said.

Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat who previously served as the city's top government watchdog, allows the taxpayers to pay for nongovernment trips outside the five boroughs, a practice other elected officials with police protection decided is improper.

The mayor's aides said Mr. de Blasio wouldn't reimburse the city for taxpayer-funded costs such as fuel, though other politicians do.

Marti Adams, the mayor's first deputy press secretary, said she erred this week when she told The Wall Street Journal that Mr. de Blasio pays for his subway rides and that it was an "exceptional case" on Tuesday when the Journal observed the mayor entering the subway without paying.

When the mayor is traveling on business--from City Hall to a meeting, for example--"the city pays for his travel, and the security detail will swipe him through the turnstile or take him through the security gate as they deem appropriate," she said.

On Tuesday, when the mayor was ushered by security into the subway without paying, Mr. de Blasio was promoting the city's bid for the Democratic Party's 2016 national convention. That, aides said, was business travel the mayor shouldn't pay for.

In general, when Mr. de Blasio is traveling on the subway for personal reasons--including commuting to City Hall from Gracie Mansion, which he has done nearly a dozen times since he moved to Manhattan last month--he pays with his own subway card, Ms. Adamssaid. The NYPD has discretion to swipe him through or take him through the emergency gate for security reasons, she said.

Since Mr. de Blasio took office in January, he has taken a number of personal trips on weekends out of state, including this past weekend when he traveled to Massachusetts for a family funeral. He also traveled to Atlantic City in May for a nongovernment event.

The NYPD picked up the costs for all of those trips, aides said. The mayor's office declined to provide an accounting of the specific costs paid for by the government.

"The mayor is mayor everywhere he goes," Ms. Adams said. "NYPD security detail is mandated; therefore, when he travels by car, the mayor is driven by his security detail and the NYPD picks up those costs."

The mayor's staff told the public that Mr. de Blasio paid for his trip to Italy, but Ms. Adams confirmed that a chauffeured white Mercedes-Benz that transported the family allover Italy was paid for by the taxpayers. She declined to provide the cost of that car.

Ms. Adams signaled that Mr. de Blasio's stance on travel-payment issues is developing. She said the mayor "recently clarified" with his office's legal counsel whether he should be paying for his commute since moving to taxpayer-funded Gracie Mansion.

The City Charter prohibits public officials from using city resources for non-city purposes. The city Conflicts of Interest Board determined in a March 2009 advisory opinion that an elected official under law-enforcement protection may use a city-issued car for personal purposes without reimbursing the city. But according to the opinion, elected officials are "free to reimburse the city for non-city use of their city vehicles" if they so choose.

Betsy Gotbaum, who preceded Mr. de Blasio as public advocate, said she reimbursed the city for nongovernment use of her city vehicle. "The mayor shouldpay for anything that isn't work related," she said.

Ms. Gotbaum said she also paid for her subway rides, even when those trips were related to city business. She said she believes Mr. de Blasio should pay for all of his subway rides, no matter the purpose.

"He is an example, and I think he makes enough to pay," she said, referring to Mr. de Blasio, who is paid $225,000 annually. "It's better for his image and the city's image if he pays. People watching, seeing the cops swipe him through--it's not a great image."

A number of elected officials--Ms. Gotbaum, Christine Quinn, a former City Council speaker, and Bill Thompson, a former city comptroller, for example--reimbursed the city for thousands of dollars for nonwork-related trips they took in their city vehicles. Ms. Quinn also usually paid for her subway rides, no matter their purpose, an aide said.

Mr. de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, paid for the full cost of his government-issued vehicle during campaign years. But it was unclear whether he reimbursed the city for personal travel in other years; a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg didn't respond to a request for comment. Mr. Bloomberg paid out of pocket for all of his subway rides.

A spokesman for Melissa Mark-Viverito, the council's current speaker, said she pays for her subway rides and reimburses the city for nongovernment travel.

An aide to Public Advocate Letitia James said she rarely takes the subway and reimburses the city for personal trips.

Aides to Comptroller Scott Stringer said he pays for his subway rides and plans to reimburse the city for personal trips at year's end.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a civics group, said it is fine for the city to pay for the mayor's government-related travel.

But, he said, "there needs to be judiciousness in ensuring that purely personal travel is not something that is borne by the taxpayers."

Write to Michael Howard Saul at Michael.Saul@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 14, 2014 22:21 ET (02:21 GMT)

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