News & Politics

NYC Council votes to expand authority over mayoral appointments

The vote escalates a simmering power struggle between the council and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams addresses reporters ahead of Thursday’s council meeting.

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams addresses reporters ahead of Thursday’s council meeting. Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

The New York City Council voted Thursday to expand members’ authority to approve – or block – mayoral appointed commissioner positions, setting the stage for another battle amid the Adams administration’s heated opposition to relinquishing its authority. 

The measure, which has kicked off a fierce power struggle between New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Mayor Eric Adams, would add an additional 20 commissioner positions to the “advice and consent” list – which requires the mayor to seek City Council approval before he can make an appointment. Though the initial version of the legislation would have applied to 21 of the more than 80 commissioner-level positions, the chamber pivoted late last week, removing the Emergency Management and Veterans Affairs commissioners from the list and adding the City Planning Commission chair. 

The concept isn’t a new one. The City Council currently has the power to veto a handful of positions. 

Having amassed 32 sponsors from the City Council’s 51 members, the legislation passed in a 46 to 4 Thursday afternoon – roughly a week after a contentious hearing over the measure culminated in a representative of the Adams administration walking out of the chamber. While the Adams administration has blasted the proposed change as doing a disservice to New Yorkers by complicating a process that requires speed and efficiency, the City Council has framed it as a way to ensure the chamber and the public can vet who the mayor nominates to helm city agencies.The legislation stipulates the City Council has 30 days to act on filling vacancies or the mayor’s appointment is automatically approved. 

“If the mayor is nominating qualified professionals to head these 20 agencies then he or she should have no problem getting consent and approval,” City Council Member Lincoln Restler said Thursday morning at a committee hearing preceding the full council vote. 

It is currently unclear whether Mayor Adams plans to veto the legislation. In a statement, Deputy Mayor for Communications Fabien Levy said "While the council continues to focus on rehashing a 140-year-old political battle that’s already been debated, our administration will continue to focus on the working-people of this city who want us to focus on how we can protect public safety, rebuild our economy, and make this city more livable."

Adams has laid the groundwork to counteract the measure. The advice-and-consent legislation would need to next be approved by voters in a referendum before it could take effect, and the mayor announced a new Charter Revision Commission populated by some of his close allies to consider changes to the city’s rules days after the council introduced the measure. Any proposals from the 13-member panel would also be subject to voter approval and would take precedent over the City Council’s measure. Only one is currently allowed on the November ballot under city charter rules, meaning any panel initiatives secured by Aug. 5 would effectively usurp the City Council’s measure. The delay wouldn’t necessarily be indefinite. A contingency plan baked into the bill notes that a referendum would be scheduled for a special election if it ends up being knocked off the November ballot. 

The panel’s first public hearing Wednesday was reportedly sparsely attended and peppered with random complaints not covered by the city charter, according to The City. 

Speaker Adams, the chief sponsor of the bill, took aim at the mayor’s opposition Thursday, telling reporters that the purpose isn’t to target the mayor nor would it “usurp” his power to appoint commissioners and top city officials, rather it would  “add transparency and democratic accountability.”

“This isn’t about a short-term game. This is about long-term improvement of city government,” Speaker Adams said.

If vetoed, she said the City Council will proceed with the veto override process. 

Billing the Charter Revision Commission as a way to determine how to make city government more “responsive and transparent,” the Adams administration has ardently denied any connection between the panel and the City Council’s legislation. Many City Council members doubt the mayor’s claim. 

“The legislation is going to remain whether the commission does anything on their part, which quite frankly was not what the public has been told this commission was set up to do anyway,” Speaker Adams said. “We’ve all been told it has something to do with public safety and other things, so we’ll see how this plays out.”

The battle between the City Council and the Adams administration over the advice and consent legislation is the latest in a string of clashes over policy and budgetary matters. Mayor Adams' plan to nominate attorney Randy Mastro as corporation counsel is one recent fight that’s divided city government. Many City Council members have vowed to vote down his likely appointment, arguing he’s not qualified for the job given his record of fighting for conservative legal causes. (Corporation counsel is one of a few top government leader positions that the City Council currently has advice and consent approval for. The power also includes the commissioners of the Department of Investigation and the Taxi and Limousine Commission).

“The way most wrote off Randy Mastro before he was even nominated or had the opportunity to state his case is evidence the council won’t take this power seriously,” Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli told City & State in a text after voting against the measure to expand council authority.

Speaker Adams stressed the City Council would continue to work in collaboration with the Adams administration amid disagreements. 

“We separate that from the work that we do and the way that we lead which are two totally different things. Where we agree on some things, which have been a lot of things, but our disagreements as you all see, they’re significant,” she said. “We are going to continue to work as we do on both sides of this beautiful building.”

The measure would apply to the departments of Buildings, Cultural Affairs, Citywide Administrative Services, Consumer and Worker Protection, Finance, Homeless Services, Parks and Recreation, Environmental Protection, Sanitation, Transportation, Technology and Innovation, Health and Mental Hygiene, Housing Preservation and Development, Design and Construction, Social Services, Youth and Community Development, Aging, City Planning, Small Business Services, and the Administration for Children’s Services.