re-posted from NYC Public Voice:
|Mayor Eric Adams and Phil Banks, his deputy mayor for public safety, nestled their offices within 375 Pearl St., commonly known as the Verizon Building (center). | Spencer Platt/Getty Images|
Are New Yorkers getting the joke made by Eric Adams when he plays "Mayor"? I guess some do because we see it every day on TV, social media, and in the newspapers. Eric Adams is not serious about his position as the chief politician of the City of New York and certainly does not belong as the CEO of the NYC Department of Education (NYC has Mayoral control of the NYC DOE).See my Who Are You Kidding Award.
Get Adams a spot on SNL, or give him a comedy show to star in. Anything but a position in political office, where he has access to public funds and may represent people who are serious about helping NYC be a better place to live and work.
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The DOE said it expects to pay about $50,000 to cover “travel and other expenses,” but the final price tag to taxpayers won’t be clear until the staffers file for reimbursement.
Conference organizers said New York City and other school districts purchased $2,750 memberships in the Global STEM Leadership Alliance. That covered participation in the summit Sunday to Thursday, an “extremely discounted” rate of $259-a-night at the 4-star Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, breakfast and lunch, as well as webinars and professional development year-round.
That cost would total a maximum $151,250 for all 55 city attendees. Some expenses were covered by a grant, according to the DOE, which would not specify how much.
“So while the plebes subsist on bread and water, our DOE colleagues enjoy the best the Loews has to offer,” a school administrator in New York griped.
Kelli List Wells, executive director of the STEM Leadership Alliance, said Orlando has been the site of the conference, which attracts educators in other states and around the world, since 2004. “It’s the most cost-efficient place to do it,” she said.
The 55 DOE employees, most from schools in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, were among 175 attendees at the summit, List Wells said.
Banks, four district superintendents, and more than a dozen administrators and teachers spoke at the event, which focused on teaching science, technology, engineering and math.
The Loews Portofino Bay resort, a 15-minute stroll to the Universal Studios theme park, boasts a spa for massages, body treatments, and facials; three outdoor swimming pools, including a poolside bar and water slide; a sauna; and four restaurants and two lounges.
On Sunday night, Banks headlined a pre-conference “Member Only Reception” hosted by DOE vendor Sussman Education, a group of New York publishers and EdTech providers, with a musical performance by Joya Bravo, the agenda shows.
List Wells said the educators spent long days and evenings collaborating on ways to integrate science in all grade levels and subjects. The conference, which featured speakers from NASA, focused on teaching about the construction of habitat on the moon, among other topics, she said.
The jaunt came as turmoil over hundreds of millions of dollars slashed from school budgets reached a fever pitch. Advocates heckled Mayor Eric Adams at a public safety event on Monday, leaving him without his chancellor to answer for the cuts that the City Council adopted, then denounced. Adams blamed a city funding formula on Albany.
The $259-a-night hotel rate exceeds the $129-per-day limit that the city places on lodging on trips, following federal guidelines for Orlando. DOE officials had no comment on the discrepancy.
“We will not apologize for educators attending professional development sessions their principals, and school leaders deem valuable,” said DOE spokeswoman Jenna Lyle.
“We want our teachers to develop a tool belt of best practices from innovative educators across the country and bring those skills back to our schools,” she said.
Other DOE staffers felt differently.
“Stay at a Motel 6 or something,” said a Manhattan middle school teacher who last month was “excessed,” or let go from the former school due to fewer students enrolled.
“At a time where we’re cutting resources for students to get STEM education, to do science experiments and take field trips, this money is going toward adults,” she added. “Money should always be going toward student experiences in the classroom and outside of the classroom — not toward adults off on vacation.”
The DOE said that principals, who control how they spend their own school budgets, can send their staffers to training conferences. Officials would not say if staffers were on salary for the conference.
Free airfare to Orlando was provided by Southwest Airlines, officials said.
Some costs were covered by a grant from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for schools in Upper Manhattan’s District 6, which has a multi-year partnership with the NAACP focused on STEM education, the DOE added, without specifying the sum. NAACP President Hazel Dukes attended the event.
“New York City public schools are national leaders in innovative STEM education, and we are proud that Chancellor Banks had the opportunity to share our successes with educators from across the country,” said Lyle.
ERIC ADAMS HAS A SECRET OFFICE
The yet-unreported workspace is the latest example of the fledgling mayor fiercely guarding his privacy as he acclimates to one of the most public political jobs in America.
NEW YORK — Mayor Eric Adams and a top deputy have outfitted offices in a highly secure tower near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, availing themselves of a private hideout with sweeping skyline views that’s both minutes and worlds away from the bustle of City Hall.
The yet-unreported workspace is the latest example of the fledgling mayor fiercely guarding his privacy as he acclimates to one of the most public political jobs in America.
Adams and Phil Banks, his deputy mayor for public safety, nestled their offices within 375 Pearl St., a 32-story structure commonly known as the Verizon Building that declares itself “the most secure and resilient building in Manhattan,” according to interviews with 15 people who work in and around city government and are aware of the arrangement. The setup offers them what City Hall cannot: A covert space away from the prying eyes of City Council members, reporters and employees who work in the building and can spot much of the activity within.
The mayor already has a private office in City Hall, as do deputy mayors and a few top staffers. Most other employees either work in the “bullpen,” an open space that Mike Bloomberg instituted after becoming mayor 20 years ago, or offices in the basement.
And while City Hall is open to the public, visitors must enter through a metal detector at an exterior gate and are often asked by the NYPD to provide a rationale for their attendance.
The tower boasts panoramic views of Manhattan, the New York Harbor and the city’s East River bridges that put landlocked City Hall’s vista to shame.
“I love the water,” Adams said in January about the East River-adjacent mayoral home Gracie Mansion. “You take the water views away, I wouldn’t be in there.”
A spokesperson said he has only been to the site “less than a handful of times” and emphasized its proximity to 1 Police Plaza, given Adams’ focus on reducing crime. The aide did not answer questions about whether the space was renovated once Adams took office and which other staffers have shown up there, but said no one outside city government works from the building.
Those familiar with the arrangement, all of whom would only speak on the condition of anonymity, said the Pearl Street address is Banks’ primary workspace, while Adams occasionally seeks respite there — though his trips to the clandestine office have never appeared on his public schedule.
The secret sanctum also gives Adams and Banks closer access to the NYPD.
The building, which is owned by Sabey Data Center Properties, also has a parking garage, and its website boasts of “controlled street and loading dock access.” The arrangement allows the mayor to slip in unnoticed and head directly to his office, which has floor-to-ceiling windows providing expansive city views.
“It’s hidden away; cars can’t roll through here,” said one person who works in City Hall. Others remarked on his penchant for privacy, which became a flashpoint in the mayoral campaign last year as POLITICO and other outlets dug up details on his unconventional living situation.
Political activity, such as fundraising, is not allowed to take place in government offices, so it’s not uncommon for mayors to seek space away from City Hall to conduct that type of work. In his early days as mayor, Bill de Blasio occasionally carried out political affairs in the offices of his former consulting firm, BerlinRosen.
De Blasio was also known to call donors from his favorite haunt, Brooklyn’s Bar Toto, and often ordered staff to Gracie Mansion, the official residence offered to city mayors, for planning meetings. Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani at times conducted private government talks in a basement office of City Hall, according to one former administration official. And Bloomberg, a multibillionaire who maintained his own residence as mayor, had ample options for working elsewhere.
But mayors do not typically carve out off-site offices for official business, and Adams already has a stable of venues for politicking, including high-end bars and restaurants where he regularly meets with friends, donors and people who have business interests before his administration.
The Pearl Street edifice, which bears a red and black Verizon logo on its exterior, was built for the New York Telephone Company in 1975. It underwent a renovation in 2016, and its website now describes it as a posh, modern space with premium security.
“Flexible floor plate with endless potential. Unparalleled light and views in all directions. Power for any task,” the site reads. It ends the description inviting potential tenants to “step into the machine. Take control.”
Ironically, when asked on Sunday what he would change about working in City Hall, Adams suggested even closer quarters with the dedicated press corps that operates out of the public building’s “Room 9.” He reasoned that more visibility into his administration might yield better coverage of his achievements on crime-fighting, summer jobs for teens and screening students for dyslexia.
“So I think that if there’s one thing I would change, I would move Room 9 closer to my office,” he said, “so they can see how we’re doing some good stuff.”
On Wednesday, Adams said he had the “brilliant smart idea” of outfitting the office with cubicles for city staffers. He told reporters he’d been there no more than four times and bristled at reporting on his use of the highly secure, private building.
“How can a city location be an undisclosed location?” he said. “That’s just not making any sense.”
Georgia Rosenberg and Julian Shen-Berro contributed to this report.
APR 20, 2022, 7:56PM EDT
Mayor Eric Adams has declared “there is nothing more important” to him than transparency, but when it comes to thorny issues like his personal taxes or potential conflicts of interest within his administration, his record to date is cloudy.
Last year THE CITY noted that tax forms he’d filed with the IRS in prior years raised questions about whether he’d improperly written off repairs to his personal apartment. In response, he promised to file amended forms and make them public to clear the air.
To date he’s provided no evidence that he did that.
Again he’s released no proof that he did what he promised to do.
On Tuesday, after initially saying he would not make his tax returns public — even though mayors have done so for decades — Adams promised to release “tax information.” He gave no date for doing so and declined to describe what “information” he planned to release.
Then there’s Adams’ refusal to make public advice the city Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) has given his top appointees on potential conflicts they face as city employees.
Incoming staff often request advice so they can avoid ethical pitfalls involving prior employers or other relationships. Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio, for the most part publicly disclosed conflict-of-interest advice letters sent to his top staff.
Adams, in contrast, refuses to do that, insisting that advice about potential conflicts among top staff is private.
De Blasio also routinely updated a published weekly schedule of his meetings with lobbyists, a protocol he implemented after criticism grew regarding his interactions with lobbyists who represented donors to a controversial nonprofit he once controlled, the Campaign for One New York.
As reported last month by PoliticoNY, Adams has said he has no intention of posting any such list. To date he has not explained why.
John Kaehny, director of the non-partisan government ethics group Reinvent Albany, said Tuesday Adams should release his tax forms and disclose any Conflicts of Interest Board letters of advice sent to his top appointees to assure the public that their interests are being properly represented by City Hall.
“I’ve never heard that a person running for mayor or governor doesn’t say they’ll be the most transparent ever,” he said. “Overall the top elected officials have to be way more transparent about their finances than the average person does because they have so much power. That’s part of the trade-off: you get a lot of power, you have to have a lot of disclosure.”
‘Free Speech and Transparency’ Order
Before he arrived at City Hall, Adams spelled out his promised commitment to public disclosure repeatedly. When he announced the appointment of Brendan McGuire in December as his counsel, for example, he tweeted, “There is nothing more important to me than accountability, transparency and effective governance.”
A month into his tenure, Adams signed Executive Order 6 entitled “Protecting and Facilitating Free Speech and Transparency.” Among other things, the order enshrined the concept of full public disclosure and stated, “A free society is best maintained when the public is aware of and has access to government actions and documents, and the more open a government is with its people, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government.”
Disclosure of personal tax forms is not required, but mayors dating back at least to Ed Koch have made them public, albeit to differing degrees. Mike Bloomberg, for instance, who was mayor but also a billionaire, heavily redacted the forms he released to the press. The point was to allow the public to get a clear picture of their mayor and his or her personal financial interests and pressures.
In Adams’ case, past history indicates he has filed forms that raise more questions than answers.
Adams’ tax-related questions center on the income he receives and the expenses he makes as the owner of two Brooklyn properties. He owns a townhouse on Lafayette Avenue and, in years past, co-owned a unit in a co-op on Prospect Place.
Last year, Adams promised to amend his filings over questions of whether he improperly wrote off repairs for his own residence he claimed in the Lafayette Avenue townhouse.
As THE CITY reported at the time, on forms he filed with the IRS from 2017 through 2019, Adams claimed he lived zero days at the address. To the public, he claimed he’d been living there the whole time.
The filings appear to show that he wrote off repairs to the entire building — including improperly writing off fix-ups of the apartment where he told the public he was living. He blamed his accountant, and promised to update the IRS. As of Wednesday, Adams had yet to produce documentation of such a filing.
THE CITY also raised questions about his co-ownership of a Brooklyn co-op that he wasn’t documenting on the annual financial disclosure forms he was required to file as a state senator and then as Brooklyn Borough President.
Confronted about this, he claimed he’d actually given away his shares of the co-op to the woman with whom he owned it. He provided a one-page letter dated Feb. 9, 2007, as documentation of this, but THE CITY found records indicating he was still listed as a co-owner well into 2021.
If he in fact gifted the property to his friend, he would be required to file a gift tax form — but he admitted that he did not. After THE CITY identified the omission, he promised to amend his prior forms, but as of Wednesday he had yet to produce documentation that he had done so.
On Friday, Adams said “no” when asked if he’d commit to releasing his most recent tax forms for 2021. On Tuesday he reversed course somewhat, saying he now planned to release unspecified “tax information” at a non-specific time in the future. He would not say if that would include his actual tax forms.
Mayoral spokesperson Fabian Levy did not respond to THE CITY’s request to see documentation of Adams’ promised amendment clarifying the apartment repair write-offs in prior years and a gift tax filing regarding the co-op. Levy told the New York Times that the mayor requested an extension on his 2021 filing last week as he was quarantining with COVID. That gives him months to release whatever “tax information” he plans to release.
Norman Siegel, a veteran civil rights attorney and longtime advisor to Adams, said the mayor should provide the requested documentation on prior year filings, stating, “If any elected official says they’re going to provide an amended complaint or form, you need to hold them accountable for that.”
Siegel was at Adams’ side when the mayor announced his free speech executive order.
He added that he was optimistic regarding the mayor’s promise to release “tax information” about his latest filing. “I’m in favor of transparency,” Siegel stated. “I’m hoping that Mayor Adams provides the tax information consistent with prior mayors. It does now appear that he’s moving in that direction. That’s positive.”
Refusal to Release Records
Another key issue is Adams’ refusal to disclose the advice letters the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB) has provided to members of his cabinet to guide them on how to avoid conflicts — a refusal that reverses the policy of his predecessor, de Blasio.
When de Blasio first arrived at City Hall in January 2014, he made public a COIB letter advising his newly appointed deputy mayor for housing, Alicia Glen, who had left a job at Goldman Sachs where she’d made investments in affordable housing projects. He also released a COIB letter for his new Housing Commissioner Vicki Been, who had previously run a real estate think tank at New York University called the Furman Center.
And de Blasio selectively released advice letters he himself received from COIB over two issues: His solicitation of money from entities doing business with City Hall for his non-profit, Campaign for One New York, and whether he had to reimburse the taxpayers for his use of an NYPD police detail during his brief and unsuccessful run for president.
When THE CITY requested the same kind of COIB advice letters for Adams’ top level appointees, the mayor refused to turn them over. The City Hall legal team argued that they were protected from disclosure under the lawyer-client privilege, and were exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Law as inter-agency communications.
Last week, THE CITY appealed that rejection and awaits City Hall’s response.
Recipients of these letters are free to release them if they choose. One of Adams’ top appointees, Department of Investigation Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber, provided THE CITY with a copy of her own without hesitation.
The letter advised that her membership on the board of a nonprofit called Publicolor, which has pending contracts with the city Department of Education, could present potential conflicts.
During a February City Council hearing on her confirmation, Strauber said she planned to resign from that position, stating, “I want to be very clear in my views on this. I have resigned from or committed to resign from the Publicolor...board in light of initial indications from the Conflicts of Interest Board that that’s a complicated situation to manage given the many touchpoints with the city.”
The COIB letter also made clear to her that she did not have to resign from the board of a private school, but in the interests of eliminating all appearance of potential conflict, she decided to step down from the position, too.