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Council moves to rein in Mayor Adams in escalating feud

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City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams is pushing ahead with a plan to give her body more oversight over the mayor’s commissioner-level appointments, fueling a new clash between the branches of government at a moment when Mayor Eric Adams hardly needs it.

Confirming weeks of rumors, the speaker introduced a bill on Thursday that would give the council the power to vote on the mayor’s choices to lead 21 city agencies, including powerful departments like Buildings, Health and Mental Hygiene, Social Services, Sanitation and Transportation. Currently, the mayor only needs council approval for a handful of major appointments, including the Department of Investigation commissioner and corporation counsel — the city’s top lawyer.

“We think it’s an important conversation to have,” Speaker Adams said at a press conference on Thursday. “Commissioners serve the city and all New Yorkers, not a single official.”

Mayor Adams has already taken steps to fight the council’s plan, which comes as he prepares to appoint Randy Mastro, a lawyer with a long and controversial career, as corporation counsel in the face of staunch opposition from many council members.

The council’s bill to expand its so-called “advice and consent” powers would need to be approved by voters in a referendum, since it seeks to amend the City Charter. The mayor could stop that from happening by appointing his own Charter Revision Commission, which could knock the council’s measure off the November ballot — and Mayor Adams did just that on Tuesday, making a seemingly abrupt announcement that he had convened a new charter commission, which he quickly stacked with loyalists.

The mayor’s office has denied that the commission was created in response to the council bill, although it was announced just hours after City Hall received an inquiry from the New York Times about the speaker’s plan. Speaker Adams said with a smile on Thursday that the timing of the announcement appeared “convenient” for the mayor.

“I believe that advice and consent actually improves government by ensuring our commissioners are the most qualified, and they start their tenures by building confidence and support across the government,” she said.

The mayor’s latest dispute with the City Council may harm his standing among lawmakers when he can barely afford to lose more support. By the end of June, his administration needs to work out a deal with the council on a new city budget, and lawmakers have been largely unified in their desire to roll back Adams’ cuts to city agencies.

And the mayor also needs the council to approve the remaining two of his wide-ranging City of Yes zoning plans, especially the hotly contested housing package expected to face a vote this fall, which will likely require intense persuasion efforts. (The second of the three plans, focused on business growth, passed council committees this week and is expected to be approved by the full body in June).

“They don’t have much influence within the body,” a Council staffer told Crain’s of the administration this week. “Even the things that are his agenda items are things that we have to carry over the finish line.”

Fabien Levy, the deputy mayor for communications, disputed that claim in a statement.

“Working in unison to support working-class New Yorkers is how government is supposed to operate, and we know our neighbors on the Council will put people over politics by voting for the housing New Yorkers desperately need,” Levy said.

The Charter Revision Commission’s chair will be Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the New York Building Congress and a longtime ally of the mayor’s. The remaining dozen members, announced Wednesday, are largely longtime friends — and in some cases, campaign donors — of Adams’, including former SEIU 32BJ union leader Kyle Bragg, former Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and former deputy mayor Lorraine Grillo.

Three of the commission’s appointees are active lobbyists: Diaz, Bragg and Max Rose, the former congressman who now works for the firm started by Adams’ ex-chief of staff Frank Carone.

Adams’ office has asserted the commission has been in the works since before the council plan was publicized. His official marching orders for the group are to consider ways the charter could “better promote fiscal responsibility” and increase public input on laws that “would impact public safety” — both of which resemble the mayor’s objections to recent council bills that affected criminal justice and expanded costly housing vouchers.

The mayor’s office also shared a series of documents with Crain’s and other outlets this week which Levy said proves the charter revision effort began separately from the council bill. City Hall said a group of community advocates requested a meeting with the mayor in late April to discuss how to increase their input on those issues, and the topic of a charter revision was raised by one of the advocates during a May 2 meeting, according to minutes shared by the mayor’s office.

“Today marks a significant step forward towards enhancing transparency, responsiveness in city government, and further civic engagement,” Mayor Adams said in a statement announcing the commission members on Wednesday. “Their mission to explore innovative ways for the public to contribute to our city’s governance will be critical in moving our city forward.”

Speaker Adams said Thursday that she would “wait and see how things play out as it relates to the ballot.” In a similar fight under Rudy Giuliani in 1998, a state court sided with the mayor, ruling that a Charter Revision Commission he convened over campaign finance issues “must take precedence” over the council’s attempt to add a referendum about the new Yankee Stadium.

But Speaker Adams’ bill appears to anticipate the mayor’s potential delay tactic: It includes language that would allow the advice-and-consent powers to be approved in a subsequent special election if the measure is “prohibited from being voted on” in a regular November general election.

The bill would omit some key agency leaders, including Police, Fire and Education, from the new layer of review.

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Nick Garber , 2024-05-23 21:32:31

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