Welcome to the latest edition of this NYC election-focused newsletter. I’m journalist Felipe De La Hoz, and today we should discuss a couple of distinct, but semi-related political happenings: Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ transition and first appointment announcements, and the rather confusing state of the City Council speaker election.
Let’s tackle the former first. The former cop, borough president, and future mayor of New York City is in full transition mode, using his trademark relentless networking and interminable energy to discuss the business of government with all manner of interested parties. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, as there are reasons to be both heartened and wary of this relationship-building.
On the one hand, it’s obviously expected and useful for the incoming mayor of the nation’s largest city and a global capital of business and culture to cast a wide net regarding with whom he engages and listens to, looking for ways to build partnerships and pragmatically address problems of public policy. On the other, everyone wants to be the mayor’s pal because they want something, and depending on who they are and what they want, chummy relationships can be for their benefit at the expense of ours.
One example: Adams has reportedly convened a “Corporate Council” made up of over 60 current and former CEOs and high-level executives from major corporations and banks, including Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, Alphabet (parent company of Google), ViacomCBS, Related Companies and American Express. Now, is this inherently a bad thing? Not necessarily. But for anyone who knows how the government sausage gets made, the existence of a formal advisory council formed by a who’s who of the world’s most powerful companies—giving counsel to a mayor who seems rather taken with dubious schemes like making New York a hub of the largely unregulated, scam-saturated, and environmentally ruinous cryptocurrency industry—sets off alarm bells. At the very least, there should be very clear and deliberate transparency to all of this.
Of course, Adams’ main entanglements with disparate interests are long-running and have a distinctly New York flavor. Most notable may be his closeness with Brooklyn lawyer Frank Carone, as close to an old-school political fixer with a hand in many pies as you can get these days. Carone represents varied companies with business before the city, as well as the Brooklyn Democratic Party and Adams personally. He is reportedly under consideration for a high-level post in the Adams administration, perhaps even chief of staff. Again, is this an innate problem? No, but it complicates the picture of oversight into the new mayor. Which isn’t to say that connections and likability are prerequisites to corruption; just look at Mayor Bill de Blasio, who despite being congenitally unlikable has managed to repeatedly cross ethical lines, even when specifically warned about his conduct. Still, it will be worth keeping an eye on Adams’ many friends as he takes the reins.
David Banks. Photo: @realdavidcbanks
Some of those friends are already taking government roles. One is David Banks, founder of the Eagle Academy network of public schools for boys and a longtime educator, who was unveiled as Adams’ incoming schools chancellor last week. (Read more on him from us here.) In his introduction, Banks made it clear that his intent is not merely to keep the school system—the largest in the nation with roughly one million public school students, or larger than the entire population of Austin—running stably, but completely revamp
its approach, calling it “fundamentally flawed.” Though he didn’t go into detail on his plans, he questioned the need for a top-heavy education administrative bureaucracy and suggested that the school system might benefit from replicating successful models at individual schools instead of having top-down policy.
Philip Banks III
Another Banks in the mix is Philip Banks III, brother of David, who formerly held the top uniformed role in the NYPD, chief of department, until a sudden resignation in late 2014 amid a cloud of federal investigations into alleged bribery, money laundering and tax evasion. As documented in a recent report by The City, Banks deposited an unexplained and undeclared $300,000 in his personal accounts over several years while receiving lavish gifts from two former de Blasio donors who were later convicted of bribery and appeared to invest in an illegal liquor business. He was ultimately never charged, and is now Adams’ point man on criminal justice reform, having known the mayor-elect during their time rising through the NYPD ranks together. He set up shop in NYPD headquarters and reportedly interviewed candidates for NYPD commissioner as well as others in the criminal justice bureaucracy, and is expected to be made Adams’ deputy mayor for public safety.
Keechant Sewell. Photo: @descendantsofhope
The NYPD commissioner candidate that won out is Nassau County Chief of Detectives Keechant Sewell, who will become the first woman to lead the department of 35,000 officers. She has never run a police department before, so her selection surprised some observers, but Adams is said to have been impressed by her determination and focus during a lengthy interview process that included, rather controversially, a mock press conference based on the scenario that an NYPD officer had shot an unarmed Black man. Enacting Adams’ public safety vision as New Yorkers fret about a rise in some violent crimes like homicide (though all crime indicators remain much lower than they were even 20 years ago), but the criminal justice reform movement has grown into a potent political force. He’s already presented a number of controversial ideas like reforming the notorious anti-crime unit—accused of defaulting to force and racial stereotyping—into an anti-gun unit and exploring other “proactive” measures, which to many sounds like an endorsement of a broken windows view.
Council Speaker race
Adams isn’t the only municipal leader taking the reins in January. Along with the replacement of the majority of the City Council, the body is getting a new speaker. As with the role of speaker in other legislatures, this person would have a major role in selecting committee appointments, decide which legislation to put for a vote, and generally set the direction of the deliberation and policymaking. The speaker is chosen by majority vote within the Council itself, which means that the election happens via a bacchanal of internal favor-trading, with speaker candidates making promises and concessions to their own colleagues in exchange for their support. This also means that it becomes clear who the next speaker is before the chamber formally votes, as they spend months shoring up support and trying to outmaneuver each other, with the victor being the person who can secure the 26 votes necessary ahead of time.
Francisco Moya. Photo: council.nyc.gov
Things are a little more complicated this time around. The race has come down to two candidates, who this week bizarrely both declared victory. So what’s happening here? Well, one of them, Francisco Moya who represents Queens’ district 21, which includes Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Corona, and other neighborhoods, was not-so-subtly backed by Adams as his pick for speaker. There’s a rather fraught history of mayors intervening in this decision; former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, for example, was selected with heavy backing from then-Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, a move that good government groups and other legislators tend to frown upon. After all, the Council is supposed to act partly as a check on the executive. While Adams has denied intervening directly in the race, everyone knows that he’s deployed surrogates to push Moya as a more moderate alternative to progressive candidates like Carlina Rivera.
Adrienne Adams. Photo: @AdrienneCD28
This rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and various members decided to consolidate support behind another Queens legislator, Adrienne Adams, who represents Jamaica, Richmond Hill, and other neighborhoods in district 28. Now, both of them are saying they’ve secured the votes necessary to win the speakership. Obviously, both cannot be right, but it’s looking like we might not actually know for sure who will be leading the Council until the policymakers formally vote in January after Adams takes office. Their platforms really aren’t wildly divergent, so the real issue here seems to be one of independence from the mayor. Either way, it’ll be someone from Queens, which incidentally is where the Banks brothers and Sewell are from. So much for estimates that the center of the New York political universe had shifted decisively to Brooklyn.
The new face of politics
In a few days, New York City will be entering a new, more diverse phase with a woman-majority in city council, a Black mayor and a Black woman as police commissioner. This is the kind of progress that many New Yorkers wanted to see in politics for so long. However, Sayu Bhojwani, founder of Woman’s Democracy Lab and the first Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs of New York City, tells Epicenter that the journey is not over. Being a woman of color in office will be just as difficult as running for office was, but the outcomes of having women of color represent us will be worth it, she tells us.
“When you come to the table with these experiences, you bring an intersectional approach that you have lived. [Being] a woman of color and immigrant women is an experience that can never really be taught. You know, you can learn about the issues. You can’t learn what it feels like to carry all of those experiences with you every day and having that proximity to the experience gives you proximity to the solutions,” says Bhojwani.
New Yorkers voted for this kind of change. Stay tuned for our upcoming podcast episode of my conversation with Sayu Bhojwani, who talks about the accomplishments of the women in the city council and the changes they hope to see in office.