New York City

Tensions between City Hall and the City Council spill into full view

Behind the scenes, both sides had their own explanations for whether an official invitation to testify was given to the Adams administration.

New York City Council Member Lincoln Restler and Speaker Adrienne Adams publicly criticized mayoral adviser Tiffany Raspberry for leaving without answering any questions.

New York City Council Member Lincoln Restler and Speaker Adrienne Adams publicly criticized mayoral adviser Tiffany Raspberry for leaving without answering any questions. Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

Long simmering friction between the New York City Council and Mayor Eric Adams’ administration boiled over at a council hearing on Wednesday that culminated in a representative of the Adams administration walking out of the council chamber as the leader of the City Council admonished the administration.

“This, to me, illustrates a contempt for this council which we have all witnessed with great clarity,” Speaker Adrienne Adams said at the hearing, as Mayor Eric Adams’ director of intergovernmental affairs Tiffany Raspberry stood up and left the dais after declining to answer questions from council members about a bill that would expand the council’s oversight of mayoral appointments. City Council Member Lincoln Restler, who chairs the committee that led Wednesday’s hearing, echoed the speaker’s criticism.

The specific dispute that raised the temperature in the chamber centered around a disagreement between the council and the Adams administration over whether the administration had been asked to testify at the hearing. After several council members complained during the course of the hearing that the administration declined to testify, Restler announced that Raspberry, who was watching the hearing in the chamber, would in fact testify. Raspberry read a statement from the mayor explaining his opposition to the bill, but declined to stay for questions from council members, as administration officials – and other people testifying at council hearings – typically do.

Raspberry said the administration had never been formally invited to testify and therefore she wasn’t prepared to answer questions from council members. Restler rebuffed that in real time, and representatives from the council later said that there had been multiple lines of communication between the council and administration in recent days over having someone testify, and besides that, said there didn’t need to be a formal invitation. City Hall maintained that a formal invitation was expected, providing one email sent by council staff to the Mayor’s Office of City Legislative Affairs requesting that Raspberry in particular testify at a separate hearing held by the same council committee, the Committee on Governmental Operations.

Mandela Jones, deputy chief of staff for communications at the council, said the administration’s explanation “lacks credibility.”

This dispute – which Restler later referred to as a “complete and total distraction” – stems from a larger and more substantive question: whether the City Council should have expanded authority to approve the mayor’s appointees to top-level agency positions.

The hearing in question was scheduled to review legislation that is the latest source of the mayor’s and council’s ongoing power struggle. A bill introduced last week by Speaker Adams would expand the powers of advice and consent – council authority to approve mayoral appointees – to an additional 21 agency commissioner-level positions. The proposed expansion of that power was met with fierce opposition from Mayor Adams.

The speaker’s bill, if passed, would require approval by a voter referendum. The mayor’s sudden announcement of a new Charter Revision Commission last week was seen as an attempt to block or delay a referendum on that legislation – assuming it passes – as proposals emanating from that commission would preempt any proposal on the speaker’s legislation on the ballot this November. City Hall has denied that the commission was a direct result of the speaker’s legislation.

A contingency plan was built into the speaker’s legislation, specifically noting that a referendum would be scheduled in a special election if it were to be knocked off the November ballot by the Charter Revision Commission. But the council and speaker are nonetheless pressing the gas on the bill as the mayor does the same for his Charter Revision Commission, which met for the first time on Wednesday.

The council heard both testimony in support of and warning against the expanded advice and consent power, including in testimony from several good-government experts. “This measure doesn’t supplant the mayor’s appointment process,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “But it addresses the weaknesses of a ‘strong mayor’ system,” she added, saying that a weakness of such a system is giving too much influence to special interests, including those loyal to the mayor.

Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of Citizens Union, warned against rushing through an expansion of advice and consent, however. Gotbaum said the list of 21 additional positions that would be given council oversight needed more scrutiny, as they represent a varied list of agency purposes and sizes. One position she said should be included, which this legislation leaves out, however, is police commissioner.

The council hearing ended just minutes before the first public meeting of the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission began four miles uptown. The commission, led by New York Building Congress President and CEO Carlo Scissura, went through a variety of housekeeping tasks, including introducing the other members of the commission and a training on conflicts of interest.

If the mayor and council have been out of step on some key issues lately, they’re at least running at the same quick pace to advance their respective projects. Former state Sen. Diane Savino, who is now a senior adviser at City Hall and was named executive director of the Charter Review Commission, noted the speed with which the commission has to move to get proposals on the November ballot. “This is a short sprint,” she said.