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New York State Assembly Member Micheal Blake thinks his opponents in the congressional race are getting desperate. How desperate? Desperate enough to plant stories that paint him in a nefarious light.

Last week, Crain’s New York Business published a story accusing Blake of using his per diems and travel vouchers to travel around New York State and the country to pal around with other Democrats. The piece stated that the Assembly member used taxpayer money to expense flights and attend Democratic fundraisers in other states.

Blake said that this story is a clear indication that he’s winning the race to replace retiring Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano in 2021.

“This is an obvious opposition hit piece from an opponent who’s afraid that I’m gonna win,” said Blake. “The facts at hand in the story were incorrect and the premise is false. When you are afraid that someone is gonna win, you resort to lies and innuendos.”

Blake went so far as to issue an 18-point rebuttal to Crain’s story, noting where he was date by date. Crain’s accused him of missing every vote in Albany on May 9, 2017. Information obtained by the AmNews showed that Blake was present. Blake sent a video that showed he’d spoken at the Albany Convention Center that day during a convening. Crain’s also accused Blake of attending a Democratic Party event in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 2017, stating that his travel voucher application showed he expensed a $175 flight from D.C. to Albany. Blake’s rebuttal said that wasn’t true either.

“I provided a photo that I took from my desk, from my camera that shows my American and Jamaican flags at my desk, with the Chamber vote board in the backdrop showing the date of session,” read part of the rebuttal. “But, for good measure, I am also providing a picture I took of then Assembly Majority Leader [Joseph] Morelle speaking at a press conference outside of the speaker’s office in the Capitol. Given the reporters present, it would be easy to have any of them provide a picture from the other angle to show my presence.”

Crain’s piece also stated that on Oct. 6, 2017, Blake “obtained $228 to cover flights from Detroit to Buffalo and Buffalo to New York City, as well as a $64 non-overnight per diem.” The purpose of Blake’s trips were to attend a Diversity in Medicine meeting at SUNY Buffalo, but Crain’s suggests that he doesn’t have any ties to the Diversity in Medicine initiative. The publication combed through Blake’s social media to imply that his real purpose for the trip was to attend a rally for the Erie County Democrats where one person in attendance donated to his campaign.

Blake sent the AmNews pictures of himself at SUNY Buffalo attending the Diversity in Medicine program and meeting with students at the university.

But the publication said it’s not disputing that Blake attended the SUNY Buffalo event, but that they couldn’t find any examples of Blake championing the program, like Buffalo-based Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes did, until that event.Crain’s wrote a follow-up to their story citing good government groups like Common Cause New York calling for an investigation into and audit of Blake’s per diems and Reinvent Albany stating that Albany needs an independent ethics overseer to investigate and curb per diem abuse.

The piece also noted that while documents showed Blake being present in the chamber during attendance on May 9, 2017, he still didn’t vote on any of the 16 bills that day including ones on minority- and women-owned business enterprise programs and domestic violence.

Crain’s has sent links to the AmNews on multiple articles criticizing New York City Council Members Mark Gjonaj, Kalman Yeger and David Greenfield and New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo demonstrating that there isn’t a specific issue with Black elected officials.

Despite that, Blake remains steadfast in his belief that race played an issue in the pieces.

The AmNews contacted some of Blake’s opponents in the election to comment on the Crain’s story. Most either didn’t respond by press time or refused to comment, except for one.

“We have an administration that has perfected the art of dividing and conquering us, so we can’t afford to build on narratives that don’t unite our communities,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, who’s running against Blake for the congressional seat. “I have personally experienced my fair share of negative narratives and while I can’t speak on these specific allegations, I understand the need for speculations to be clarified. But, we can’t lose focus on what’s important—in this instance the people of New York’s 15th Congressional District that we are competing to represent.”

Another person willing to go on record was Manhattan Democrats leader Keith Wright. He said that this is par for the course when it comes to Black elected officials.

“What they did to Michael Blake is horrible,” said Wright. “They tried the same thing with me when I was in the legislature. The same reporter, too. I find that they try to manufacture stories about Black elected officials.” Crain’s disputes Wright’s allegations as well.

Crain’s also wrote a piece about New York State Senator Brian Benjamin detailing how he canceled a fundraiser backed by the real estate community. The piece suggests that the fundraiser was tied to his opposition to the “good-cause eviction bill.” The bill in question stops landlords from removing tenants from apartments without a judge’s order, gives tenants the right to keep living in their homes regardless of lease status and gives them the power stand up to landlords and demand safe living conditions without fear of retaliation and retribution.

According to the organization Housing Justice For All, depending on certain conditions, rent increases over a certain threshold could be considered “unconscionable” by a judge. Benjamin has a background in real estate.

As for Blake, Wright said that paperwork can be an issue with reimbursements for travel, but that’s the nature of the beast at any job.

“I can assure you that Michael Blake is not misusing taxpayer funds,” said Wright. “It’s nothing malicious. I think it’s dirt that his opponents are trying to manufacture. This is a common refrain with the Albany press…especially with Black politicians.”

Blake is running against a long list of other elected officials for the 15th Congressional District seat including New York City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Ruben Diaz Sr., former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, former Bronx Assembly Member Eric Stevenson and local community activist Marlene Cintron.

When asked what set him apart from his opponents, Blake said that his track record as an elected official is longer than everyone else’s.

“I’m the most qualified in the race,” said Blake. “I’m the only one who has federal and state experience, especially with the work I did with President Obama. My entire assembly district is in this congressional district. It’s clear and obvious that I’m the one that’s ready.

“We have the plan, we have the path, we have the vision,” he concluded.