Mayor Eric Adams is eager to communicate directly with New Yorkers about all that the administration is accomplishing, without the pesky interference of the press. Now leading that strategy is a man who has spent the past 19 months going toe to toe with the press corps.
On Monday, Adams appointed City Hall press secretary Fabien Levy to the role of deputy mayor for communications. Adams called it a newly created role, though reporter Nick Garber pointed out that Howard Wolfson served as deputy mayor for government affairs and communications under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“The antiquated method of communicating with your constituency just through the daily tabloids is just not acceptable anymore,” Adams said at the press conference on Monday. “We have to communicate directly to our consumers.”
Levy’s appointment comes as City Hall has launched a suite of direct-to-constituent messaging vehicles: a newsletter, a podcast, a call-in radio show and more. It also comes amid several crises for the administration – and accompanying critical press coverage – including the influx of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers and a growing number of calls to put city jails under federal receivership.
During his first year in office, Adams said, his team discovered a “disjointedness” in the messages coming from the city’s many different agencies and began trying to bring those agencies together to deliver a more clear and concise message. “We continue to evolve to hone the product,” he said. “And we realized that we needed a deputy mayor to hold this position, to communicate and bring the entire family under one umbrella.”
Levy previously served as communications director to then-U.S. Rep. Kathy Hochul, and as press secretary and senior adviser to Attorney General Letitia James, who was in attendance on Monday.
All communications staff in City Hall – including communications director and press secretary – will report to Levy, who in turn will report directly to Adams. What’s still unclear is whether communications staff in other city agencies will report to Levy. “I'm going to be having a lot more close contact with all the agencies and then we can determine how we can move forward,” Levy said. “I'm going to sit down with all the different commissioners and figure out the best way to get out their message to New Yorkers as much as possible.”
Several key City Hall communications positions are now unfilled, including communications director, which Max Young recently left, and now press secretary. “I’m conducting a sprint to fill the role,” Levy wrote in a text when asked about whether anyone will serve in the latter role on an interim basis. “Meanwhile the team is stepping up.”
The relationship between press secretary and reporters can often be heated, and everyone from Adams to Levy to James cracked jokes about that relationship on Monday. “I think the reason why the press corps does not like Fabien is because he has the best hair in the business,” James quipped.