Adams Ally Moves Quickly From City Hall to Lucrative Real Estate Work
As a candidate for mayor and since being elected, Eric Adams has appeared closely allied with New York City’s influential real estate industry.
Major landlords have showered the mayor with donations. He has frequently met with real estate leaders and has used One Vanderbilt, one of the city’s newest skyscrapers, as a backdrop for photo ops and news conferences. And as a small-time landlord, Mr. Adams once declared, “I am real estate.”
Now his recently departed chief of staff, Frank Carone, who is expected to chair Mr. Adams’s re-election campaign, is strengthening real estate’s ties to the mayor’s inner circle.
Since Mr. Carone left his job at the end of December as Mr. Adams’s right-hand man, he has been busy building a consulting business whose clientele now includes two of the city’s biggest landlords, and he may soon add a Saudi-based firm.
The Durst Organization, which controls several of New York City’s marquee buildings, including One Bryant Park and Via 57 West, has hired Mr. Carone “to assist with business strategy,” a Durst spokeswoman confirmed.
SL Green Realty Corporation, which developed One Vanderbilt and describes itself as the city’s largest office landlord, has retained Mr. Carone to aid its bid to build a Caesars Palace casino in Times Square, an effort that is likely to require city support.
City law prohibits Mr. Carone from directly lobbying the mayor’s office for one year, yet both companies stand to benefit from Mr. Carone’s knowledge of the Adams administration’s inner workings.
Mr. Carone, a longtime friend of the mayor, says his new firm, Oaktree Solutions, is broadly focused on global consulting and public affairs. He said in a statement released on Tuesday that he and his firm’s employees would not lobby City Hall for one year, and that he would take the additional step, not required by law, of not lobbying any city agencies this year.
Even so, Mr. Carone’s activities raise concerns that he could influence the mayor on behalf of Mr. Carone’s new clients, underscoring fears that Mr. Adams is already too allied with real estate.
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The real estate industry has long been considered the most politically influential in New York City, where space is limited and power flows to those who control it. Real estate barons contribute lavishly to mayoral campaigns and mayors’ pet causes, hoping to gain access and consideration of their interests. Political leaders in New York have wavered on this relationship: Some on the left have refused to accept donations from real estate; Mr. Adams’s predecessor, Bill de Blasio, also took an outwardly antagonistic stance toward the industry, but he, too, cultivated ties to certain real estate leaders.
Mr. Adams’s close relationship to the industry is something of a reversion to the norm.
“This is all about public confidence,” said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School and the former chair of the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board. “He doesn’t actually have to do anything improper for people to have a reasonable concern that there’s something improper.”
Mr. Carone’s new career path, while potentially quite lucrative, is not particularly novel. A long line of city officials before him have left government and then cashed in on reputations newly burnished by proximity to power and the bureaucrats who operate the levers of government.
But the expectation that Mr. Carone will lead the mayor’s re-election campaign raises a new raft of concerns for watchdogs.
“He’s in a position to have private conversations with the mayor all the time about campaign contributions,” said John Kaehny, the executive director of Reinvent Albany. “The potential for conflicts of interest is baked into that.”
Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the mayor, said that outgoing senior officials are instructed about ethics rules in a process overseen by Brendan McGuire, the mayor’s chief counsel, who “ensures all of our employees understand their ethical obligations.”
After The New York Times began reporting this article, four separate public relations specialists reached out on behalf of Mr. Carone. But Mr. Carone declined an interview request and refused to answer specific questions.
“Frank worked for the city for one year, compared with decades as a successful lawyer and private sector leader,” said David Meadvin, one of those publicists. “If this was about trading on his government service, he would’ve put his own name on the door and become a lobbyist. Frank’s goals are much bigger than that.”
Mr. Carone’s appeal seems to extend beyond the real estate industry. Mr. Carone has told at least two associates that he is in talks with LIV Golf, a professional golf tour that has close ties to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, just a year after he held at least two meetings at City Hall to discuss the Saudi-supported Aramco golf tournament at the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point course in the Bronx. Mr. Carone has traveled to Saudi Arabia twice this year as part of his potential work there, according to a person who was familiar with the matter.
But the company would not confirm the talks.
“We are not aware of any discussions or relationship with Mr. Carone and LIV Golf,” Jane MacNeille, a spokeswoman for LIV Golf, said.
Mr. Carone’s yearlong stint as chief of staff granted the government neophyte unusual insight into both the workings of government and of industries that deal with City Hall.
As New York State was greenlighting up to three new casinos for the New York City area, gambling companies, breathless with excitement, descended on the mayor’s chief of staff.
Las Vegas Sands’s chief executive, Robert Goldstein, hosted Mr. Carone at his Upper East Side pied-à-terre, as The New York Times reported last year. And city lobbying records show Mr. Carone held meetings with the New York Mets owner, Steven A. Cohen, who wants to put a Hard Rock casino next to Citi Field, and Jeff Blau, the chief executive for Related Companies, the Hudson Yards developer looking to build a casino on the Far West Side of Manhattan.
Now, Mr. Carone is working for their competitor, SL Green, a hire first reported by Politico. A spokesman for the SL Green Caesars bid released a statement from Mr. Carone indicating that he would be helping to “create a diversified community engagement hiring plan as part of the proposal for a Times Square gaming destination,” and would not be lobbying on its behalf.
The spokesman said the company was “very excited to be working with Frank to ensure that Caesars Palace Times Square maximizes job opportunities for underrepresented communities across all five boroughs of New York City.”
A former Brooklyn Democratic Party lawyer and apparatchik with offices in Downtown Brooklyn, Mr. Carone used his year at City Hall to gain significant cachet. He now serves as the mayor’s designee on the board of the Museum of Modern Art, alongside billionaires like Ronald S. Lauder and Leon Black.
He held meetings with the likes of the JPMorgan Chase chief executive, Jamie Dimon; the Goldman Sachs chief executive, David Solomon; and the chief executive of Northwell Health, Michael Dowling, according to Mr. Carone’s schedules, which were released via a Freedom of Information Law request. Mr. Carone is now consulting for Northwell Health, according to Politico.
He has his eyes on a loftier perch — metaphorically and practically. His firm is planning to sign a lease at 724 Fifth Avenue, a building across from Trump Tower that is home to Prada’s flagship store, according to a person familiar with his plans. Mr. Carone had told Politico that he planned to occupy an entire floor at another building at 745 Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park, but those plans fell through.
It is not clear how much money Mr. Carone stands to gain from his consulting work. But he has told at least two associates that his bills to clients will total about $25,000 a month. He also told those associates that his brother, Anthony Carone, will be joining the firm.
Mr. Carone’s moves come as support grows for legislation to rein in city officials’ post-government private-sector employment.
Lincoln Restler, a left-leaning City Council member in Brooklyn, introduced legislation this year aimed at ending the “revolving door” in city government by banning former high-ranking city officials from “appearing before” or lobbying any city agency for two years.
The bills could limit the activity of officials like Mr. Carone and Corey Johnson, the former City Council speaker, Mr. Restler said. Mr. Johnson works as a lobbyist for companies he once dealt with as speaker, including Vornado Realty Trust and Citi Bike. He declined to comment. Nineteen of the council’s 51 members support the bill, including many from the Council’s progressive caucus who have quarreled with Mr. Adams over school budget cuts and policing.
“When the most senior officials leave City Hall, they are permitted to lobby the people that reported to them the very next day, and it is insidious and wrong,” Mr. Restler said in an interview, adding: “It gives the distinct impression that folks are in government service for themselves and not for the public good.”
Lobbying is defined in New York City as attempting to influence specific activities, including the passage of a local law, procurements or zoning decisions, but many other consultants advise clients on strategy or communications.
Some of Mr. Carone’s business dealings have drawn scrutiny, including his investment in an unorthodox police tool that Mr. Adams promoted as Brooklyn borough president. Mr. Carone has other friends in politics, including Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the powerful Democratic House minority leader whom Mr. Carone has said he plans to work with to take back control from Republicans.
Mr. Carone declined to provide the names of any new clients, but his spokesman, Mr. Meadvin, did offer a statement about his firm’s vision, which is based on a 2020 book that listed Mr. Carone as a co-author: “Everyone Wins: How You Can Enhance and Optimize Business Relationships Just Like Ultra-Wealthy Entrepreneurs.”
“Frank and his colleagues aim to help their clients solve complex problems with joy, value and understanding,” he said.
Mr. Carone considers his year in government fruitful. He helped negotiate the New York City Football Club’s stadium development plans in Queens and spearheaded the city’s Democratic National Convention bid.
When Mr. Adams and Mr. Carone announced that D.N.C. bid last May, they avoided some of the city’s most famous landmarks, instead choosing to host it on the 91st floor of One Vanderbilt. Its developer, SL Green, is now Mr. Carone’s client.
Alan Blinder contributed reporting.
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