NEW YORK — Shortly after Eric Adams won the Democratic mayoral primary with support from some of New York City’s poorest communities, he received a call from an unlikely source. Jamie Dimon, one of the most recognizable titans of Wall Street, phoned the nominee to congratulate him and express interest in working together, someone familiar with the conversation told POLITICO.
A few weeks later, Adams hobnobbed with another multi-billionaire when he visited the East Midtown headquarters of Bloomberg LP to chat with its founder and the city’s 108th mayor, Mike Bloomberg, according to two people aware of the meeting.
And earlier this month, Adams dined at the exclusive Italian eatery Rao’s alongside grocery chain magnate John Catsimatidis, a one-time Republican candidate for mayor who praised Adams in a call with POLITICO last week, while taking care to compliment long-shot GOP rival Curtis Sliwa.
The interactions are part of Adams’ post-primary outreach to New York’s civic players. He’s pitching a tent wide enough to include unionized hotel and building service workers, Orthodox Jewish leaders and politicians, from members of the City Council to President Joe Biden. At the same time, Adams is signaling that his door is not only open to Democratic Party standard bearers, but also members of the city’s business sector who have been in a cold war with Mayor Bill de Blasio since he took office eight years ago.
“I don’t join in the chorus that tells high-income earners, so what if you leave or not?” Adams said, when asked by WABC’s Bill Ritter Sunday how he would re-attract wealthy New Yorkers who decamped to Florida during the pandemic. “Sixty-five-thousand New Yorkers pay 51 percent of our income taxes and those income taxes go to the police, the firefighters, the teachers, [to] clean our streets.”
“And I am saying to them, we need you here,” he added.
His stance marks a departure from de Blasio, who vilified his predecessor and demanded the sitting mayor and his corporate cohorts pay more in taxes to fund pre-kindergarten for the masses, as he leapfrogged rivals in the mayor’s race eight years ago.
When asked about the exodus of the wealthy last summer, de Blasio replied, “I am not going to beg anybody to live in the greatest city in the world.”
The prospect of a warmer relationship with City Hall has left many at the top of the city’s business sector feeling optimistic, according to more than a dozen people interviewed for this story.
“It’s refreshing and pragmatic,” Jordan Barowitz, a vice president at The Durst Organization, a major real estate developer, said in an interview.
Barowitz described feeling dismissed by de Blasio as the administration grappled with massive challenges brought on by the pandemic. “The business world and the real estate industry desperately want to be part of the solution. We feel like we can help, and it’s infuriating to be described as being part of the problem,” Barowitz said.
De Blasio, whose “Tale of Two Cities” slogan made him New York City’s first Democratic mayor in two decades, took pains to show his anti-corporate messaging was not just campaign fodder. During his inauguration, a featured speaker likened Bloomberg’s New York to a plantation, as the outgoing mayor sat stone-faced in the front row during the ceremony. Business executives still reference that slight in explaining their uneasy relationship with de Blasio.
As the city’s chief executive, de Blasio has focused on improving the fortunes of struggling New Yorkers — expanding a law Bloomberg opposed to require paid sick days for private companies, providing taxpayer-funded attorneys for tenants facing eviction and in some years urging a rent freeze for about 1 million state-regulated apartments. In furthering his goals, he often took aim at those he blames for society’s ills.
De Blasio also distanced himself from the well-heeled social scene: He skipped a ceremony at the High Line, a green space built atop an abandoned rail in Western Manhattan, and opted to avoid the Met Gala, insisting he’s not “elite” enough for the annual ball. He often sneers at Manhattan’s Central Park, recently deriding its “elitism” in explaining his preference for the “egalitarian” Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
And, channeling his political views into public policy, he has repeatedly pushed the state to increase taxes on high earners.
Adams, who was raised alongside five siblings by a poor single mother, has found little use in antagonizing Wall Street as he champions the underdog. In April, he cautioned against a permanent tax on high-income earners. And two months earlier, he lamented the dearth of public-private partnerships in de Blasio’s City Hall.
“Why don’t we have prominent business leaders coming in and helping us with our curriculum?” he said during a wide-ranging interview with 92nd Street Y CEO Seth Pinsky in February. “Some of the best leadership training you see in this city comes from our corporate community. … Instead of bringing in our business community, we have alienated our business community.”
Though many of the city’s monied executives privately and financially supported seventh-place finisher Ray McGuire of Citigroup, they hedged their bets by pouring cash into a loosely-regulated ad campaign backing Adams’ candidacy.
Billionaire hedge-funders including Steven Cohen, owner of the New York Mets, Daniel Loeb and Kenneth Griffin gave to a group that spent $6.3 million boosting Adams.
And unlike mayoral candidates who swore off donations from real estate firms, Adams freely accepted developer money. Jed Walentas, a prominent Brooklyn builder, solicited donations for the campaign. At one point Adams even declared “I am real estate” on account of the Brooklyn multifamily building he owns.
The financiers were attracted to his support for charter schools, his near-singular focus on public safety and his moderate political stances that stand in contrast to a growing left-wing movement intent on curtailing concentrated wealth. Real estate executives rely much more on City Hall, for everything from approvals for large land-use changes to issuing construction permits.
Now the city’s high earners are hoping for a friend in the upper echelons of a government they have felt ostracized from.
Stephen Ross, CEO of mega-developer Related Companies, applauded Adams’ victory in a letter to those who supported his effort to increase voter registration among moderate Democrats.
“The results of this election validate our work,” Ross wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO.
Vote for NYC’s Future did not explicitly back any candidate but tailored its $3.8 million push to moderate Democrats, sending more than 1 million mailers with information about absentee voting and another 1.5 million postcards in mid-June reminding recipients of the upcoming primary, Ross wrote.
The effort, he wrote, “yielded a Democratic candidate for mayor who was clearly the most moderate in the field, one who emphasized his commitment to public safety, economic growth and equality for all New Yorkers.”
Adams’ team said the Brooklyn borough president’s friendly posture toward business is part of a larger recovery strategy geared toward the working class and unemployed. Private-sector firms can not only provide jobs, training and internships — they can sometimes deliver services more efficiently than City Hall.
“There are some things government can do well, and there are things that outside entities do far better,” Adams said during Sunday’s interview with Ritter. “Let’s partner with the Robin Hood Foundation. Let’s partner with Kathy Wylde and the partnership that she runs with business leaders.”
Wylde, head of the Partnership for New York City that counts some of the world’s largest finance and real estate corporations as members, called Adams’ stance “both refreshing and encouraging.”
Even de Blasio has called upon the business sector in times of need, seeking assistance negotiating with Republican politicians on thorny issues like mayoral control of schools and securing protective gear for first responders during the pandemic.
Just this week, he requested corporations in the city to begin requiring their employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine days before he ramped up his own plans for the municipal workforce.
“De Blasio’s rhetoric and his demonization of the private sector managed to alienate businesses,” Wylde said. “So even when he reached out for help, it was difficult to mobilize support because people really felt on the defensive.”
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