New York City Council

Speaker Adams and Mayor Adams clash over City Council oversight of City Hall

The Council speaker is advancing legislation to give the council veto power over some mayoral appointments, but the mayor's newly-announced Charter Revision Commission could delay that.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams leads the City Council’s stated meeting on May 23, 2024.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams leads the City Council’s stated meeting on May 23, 2024. John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams officially introduced legislation on Thursday that, if passed and approved by voters in a referendum, would make 21 additional commissioner positions subject to council approval.

Only a handful of positions are currently subject to council approval, including the city’s corporation counsel and the head of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Speaker Adams’ bill would make the heads of the Department of Buildings, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Department of Sanitation and Department of Social Services, among others, also subject to council approval. “It’s something that I’ve had interest in way before becoming the speaker,” Speaker Adams said at a press conference ahead of the council stated meeting where the legislation was introduced on Thursday. “It’s about good government and effective governing, period.”

The push from Speaker Adams was first reported by the Daily News last week. Mayor Adams said this week that he disagrees that his handpicked commissioners should be subject to council approval. “I have not had a conversation with the speaker about it yet to see what’s the whole depth of the bill,” Mayor Adams said at an unrelated press conference on Tuesday. “We have a strong executive system in New York, unlike others. I like that executive system because people should know who they blame.”

The speaker’s bid for expanded council oversight of mayoral appointments creates a new ripple in the ongoing power struggle between City Hall and the City Council – one that’s growing with the mayor’s surprise announcement of a new Charter Revision Commission to look at promoting more transparency in the city’s legislative process.

Proposals that come out of the Charter Revision Commission could go on the ballot for voter approval in the November general election, preventing the council from adding a referendum on their agency appointment oversight bill to the ballot in the same election, should the legislation pass the council. But Speaker Adams’ legislation accounts for this, specifying that if Charter Revision Commission proposals go on the ballot in November, then the referendum would be scheduled for a separate special election, potentially in January. (It’s not clear how many people would be motivated to vote in a special election where the only thing on the ballot was a proposal to increase the council’s oversight of agency appointments.)

Then there’s the fact that the Charter Revision Commission is poised to consider changes to the council’s legislative process. According to a press release, the commission is instructed to look at how the charter can promote more transparency and community input in legislation that affects public safety, as well evaluating the process for determining the costs of implementing legislation. 

Earlier this year, the council and City Hall clashed over legislation that requires more police reporting of low-level stops. City Hall vehemently opposed that legislation and vetoed it, but the council voted to override the veto. And last year, the council overrode the mayor’s veto of legislation expanding access to housing rental vouchers that City Hall opposed on several grounds, including that it was too expensive to implement.

The City Council is now suing the Adams administration for not implementing those laws.

The timing of the commission days after news broke of Speaker Adams’ intention to expand council oversight of agency appointments raised eyebrows, as the commission could delay that. But Deputy Mayor for Communications Fabien Levy told Politico that the seeds of the commission date back to more than a month ago, when some public safety advocates complained about not having enough community input on the How Many Stops Act.

In her first comments on the formation of the commission, Speaker Adams said that she hopes it will be a commission focused on good government, not retribution. “A charter revision commission should be focused on good government, and if that’s the intention of this commission, I wouldn’t want to stop it, I wouldn’t want the council to stop it.”