Campaign finance intermediaries or “bundlers” are typically well-connected, wealthy and powerful people who collect a lot of money for a candidate in order to demonstrate their influence.
So how is one of Mayor de Blasio’s significant bundlers a 31-year old underemployed aspiring taxi driver who lives with her parents in Bay Ridge?
Look at the list of de Blasio’s bundlers…right between Harold Ickes and Suri Kasirer—two of the biggest players in city lobbying—you will find Ahlam Jaoui, who raised $18,800 for the mayor in January of 2016.
A graduate of the College of Staten Island, Ms. Jaoui was on the swimming team, and later worked as a swimming instructor for autistic children. She lists her employer as “Two Dots Marketing” of Torrance, California. Two Dots is an agency that books people to work at trade shows or marketing events as “brand ambassadors.”
Ms. Jaoui was in the news in 2014 when a new woman-operated ride-share app was introduced. “SheRides,”also known as “SheTaxis” or “SheHails,” was advertised as a safe way to connect women livery drivers with women passengers. The service’s publicity campaign focused on Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women—both drivers and riders—who only wanted to deal with other women.
Ahlam Jaoui featured prominently in several articles about SheRides. In the Daily News she was pictured wearing a hijab, explaining that she wants badly to become a taxi driver. “I’m so excited to be part of this movement … This gives us the opportunity to feel empowered while keeping our traditional values ... We as women can overcome this male-dominated industry.”
Elsewhere, Jaoui was quoted saying, “This is an opportunity to make money and also have my religious beliefs." She added, "I have a lot of family members that are (male) drivers, but (they) wouldn’t feel comfortable with me driving other men."
Ahlam Jaoui may be very religious, or have her own standards of religiosity of which it is not our place to judge. However, her Facebook profile contains a number of revealing bikini shots that would seem to belie her stated need for cloistered modesty.
Additionally, Ms. Jaoui appears to have been arrested for drunk driving in September, 2015. She filed a motion to dismiss the charges of “driving while intoxicated” and “driving while ability impaired” on the grounds that the court violated her right to a speedy trial; the motion was denied on May 16. Naturally the presumption of innocence obtains in this unresolved case, though if Ms. Jaoui is guilty, then it might be hard for her to get a TLC license, and her strict religious practice might be brought into question as well—although only God is the true judge of that case.
SheRides, or SheHails as it is now called, was founded by Stella Mateo, the wife of Fernando Mateo, the prominent and controversial founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers. Fernando Mateo, a native of the Dominican Republic who now lives in tony Irvington in Westchester, made a fortune in carpets before organizing mostly Latino livery drivers uptown.
Mateo, a noted Republican fundraiser who brought Texas governor Rick Perry to Inwood in 2012, makes the news frequently. A few years ago he raised eyebrows when he called on taxi drivers to racially profile their hails. More recently, as an investor in the well-known Dyckman Street waterside club La Marina, Mateo offered to have a boxing match with his partners in order to settle a contentious business dispute.
SheRides/SheHails was launched in 2014, but questions regarding the legality of hiring only women as drivers forced the service to go on hiatus. Reconfigured to allow for both men and women drivers, the company is attempting to get around New York City’s Human Rights Law by letting the passenger choose the driver. Supposedly the company will re-launch this summer with its new business model.
The donors whom Ahlam Jaoui bundled on behalf of Mayor de Blasio seem to travel in orbits that she would be unlikely to enter or influence on her own. Two of the largest donors, Antonio Cabrera and Damian Rodriguez, are Dominican-American owners of major car service companies in Upper Manhattan who contributed $3500 and $2500 respectively to the 2017 de Blasio campaign.
Jaoui also raised $2500 from Jeannette Castillo, an unemployed Yonkers woman; $1000 from Wendy Estevez, a “consultant” to Washington Heights nightclub Arka Lounge; $3000 from Bronx daycare operator Luis Ducasse; and $2500 from New Jersey attorney Oscar Herasme, a former assistant DA in the New York County District Attorney’s office who specializes in anti-money laundering and immigrant affinity fraud matters.
Now it may be the case that Ahlam Jaoui of her parents’ house in Bay Ridge, who is signed up to find work as a trade show brand ambassador, who is willing to pose wearing a hijab and say that she wants to drive a taxi, and whose LinkedIn profile lists her as still working for an out-of-business investment company, is also a well-positioned power broker who can convince lawyers and business owners in Westchester and New Jersey to contribute thousands of dollars to Mayor de Blasio’s re-election campaign.
But it seems more likely that millionaire power couple Stella and Fernando Mateo are trying to get their woman-oriented rideshare business going after two years, and are still working out the regulatory kinks. It seems more plausible that the Mateos raised money from livery and nightclub industry associates, and from neighbors and other business connections who have interests in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, perhaps in order to get leverage in the de Blasio administration when it comes to smoothing over the rougher edges in their business model, which at the end of the day still demands that either the rider or the driver discriminate on the basis of sex, and thus runs afoul of the law. And more likely that they, for some reason, decided to suborn Ahlam Jaoui to serve as the straw intermediary in this weird scheme.
This is circumstantial. But something is definitely going on. Look at the list of de Blasio’s bundlers. Virtually every single one of them is a well-connected, boldface name, or is an executive at a major real estate company or the equivalent. Except for Ahlam Jaoui, whose only apparent connection to the world of city politics and money-power-influence is via the Mateos. If there is a better explanation, make it fit.