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.
Asked about Adams’ overtures Tuesday, the mayor defended him, saying it will not diminish his likely successor’s commitment to the working class.
“He ran a campaign that was all about working class values and his own experience as someone who came from humble origins. There is no question in my mind he’s going to be focused on working people,” de Blasio said. “Of course you’ve got to work with business leaders too, and we want the business community to thrive … I think you can do both.”
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.”