Adams Community Relations Chief Lobbied for Developers — and Local Leaders Are Aghast
Fred Kreizman worked for mega-lobbyist Capalino and Associates on behalf of condo, warehouse and shelter developers until Eric Adams was inaugurated. Now he’s in charge of the mayor’s office that interacts with community boards and local concerns.
For months on end last year, residents protesting a planned homeless shelter in Queens struggled to get somebody — anybody — at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s City Hall to hear their argument that enough was enough.
The neighborhoods of Queens Community Board 3 — covering East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and North Corona — already hosted four shelters, and several hotels within the district were temporarily housing homeless individuals during the pandemic.
Behind the scenes, LGA Hospitality LLC, the owners of the property, fought back, hiring a politically wired lobbyist firm, James Capalino Associates, to move the project along, obtain all required permits and roll over local resistance.
Today the shelter, located at 112-16 Astoria Boulevard near LaGuardia Airport, is scheduled to open soon, but local leaders are now hoping for a more sympathetic ear from de Blasio’s successor, Mayor Eric Adams. As Queens Community Board 3 Chairperson Frank Taylor put it, “We’re happy to have the new administration and we’re hopeful.”
There might be a problem with that.
The key portal to City Hall for neighborhood residents is the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit (CAU), the division within the Mayor’s Office that helps citizens and community boards navigate the city’s bureaucracy. CB3 worked with de Blasio’s CAU on the shelter issue and planned to do so with Adams’ team.
In January, however, Mayor Adams named as his new commissioner of CAU Fred Kreizman — one of the lobbyists who had been retained by the shelter builder, LGA Hospitality LLC, to seek support from City Hall.
“Wow,” Taylor said when told of Kreizman’s dual roles. “Anytime we’re going into these things, we’re apprehensive because of what has happened. We’ve not been listened to. The only thing we can do is that this administration, if that gentleman has that type of connection, what else can we do but fight? And let the community know why are Black and brown neighborhoods being overburdened with these shelters?”
Until December 31, Kreizman was a managing director at the Capalino firm, representing more than a dozen private sector interests that continue to seek support from the Adams administration.
An investigation by THE CITY found that several of those clients had interests that ran contrary to the wishes of the community boards and neighborhood groups Kreizman will now seek to aid.
THE CITY reviewed hundreds of pages of city and state lobbyist disclosure records, court filings and property records and interviewed dozens of community leaders and elected officials in neighborhoods affected by projects promoted by Kreizman in his pre-City Hall role as a lobbyist.
Besides representing the Astoria Boulevard shelter builders, Kreizman also lobbied for a package delivery company pressing to open a huge “last mile” distribution center in Brooklyn over the protests of the neighborhood. He also represented a billionaire builder pushing for a ferry from Manhattan to Coney Island over the local community’s environmental concerns.
The potential for Kreizman to have influence over these and other projects that concern his former lobbyist clients as they move forward through city bureaucracies highlights what ethics experts have called out as a flaw in the city’s conflict of interest rules.
The rules are meant to curb the revolving-door phenomenon of government workers coming and going from the private sector by touting their connections to City Hall. These rules confront the issue of revolving out, but they don’t touch the issue of revolving in.
In New York, state workers hired from the private sector are barred from getting involved in any matter that involves their former private sector employer for the first two years they are on the state payroll. This is known as the “reverse two-year bar.”
The state ethics board, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, describes the purpose of the ban like this: “In practice, the ‘reverse two-year bar’ prevents the appearance that you, in performing your State duties, may give preferential treatment to, or be unduly influenced by, your former private sector employer.”
No such prohibition exists for city workers.
When they leave the city payroll, city employees are barred for two years from interacting with their former agency on matters they handled while there. The idea is to keep them from using their positions to win jobs from potential employers and thus cheat the public they’re supposed to serve. This is known as a revolving-out rule.
But there’s no city rule about revolving in.
“I think in general it’s a gap in conflict laws, this revolving in and having matters before them,” said Richard Briffault, former chair of COIB and a professor of local and state government law at Columbia Law School. “The city charter doesn’t address this issue of prior employment.”
Briffault said he understood why the city would hire someone from the private sector who has experience interacting with city agencies, but there was still reason for concern about potential bias favoring that employer while performing public service.
“Sometimes people are picked as a result of being engaged in that area. They know it really well. Just because you were a lobbyist or a lawyer for someone doesn’t mean that you’re committed to their interests,” he said. “I also hear the argument that if you spend a lot of time supporting something, you may well have developed a commitment to it that lasts beyond your [private sector] employment.”
Lobbied Community Boards
Kreizman is a good example of the revolving door. He worked for years as deputy commissioner for community outreach under Mayor Mike Bloomberg before jumping over to Capalino as a lobbyist in 2014.
THE CITY was unable to question Kreizman about his new role at City Hall and the potential for conflicts of interest due to his prior work as a lobbyist. He did not return a voicemail message, and Adams’ team did not make him available.
Questioned about Kreizman’s potential for conflict of interest, a City Hall spokesperson, Amaris Cockfield, wrote in an email to THE CITY, “For more than a decade, Commissioner Kreizman has served New Yorkers in city government, and he is now utilizing his role as commissioner of the Community Affairs Unit to better serve our city’s residents every day.”
To avoid the appearance of conflict, decisions about local issues that involve the CAU would be considered by a broad array of City Hall officials, Cockfield explained.
“Out of an abundance of caution, all community matters and concerns are distributed among numerous members of the administration and undergo review until a consensus is met,” Cockfield wrote.
Some of these “community matters and concerns” were on Kreizman’s radar when he was a lobbyist at Capalino, records show.
City Hall said he ended his tenure with the Capalino firm before his Jan. 5 appointment by Adams to run CAU, and that his only continued financial tie to the firm as of last month was an $8,700 contribution Capalino owes to Kreizman’s 401K.
An examination of Kreizman’s work at Capalino shows that over the last two years, he has been part of the team lobbying multiple public officials — including community board members — on multiple issues.
Residents protesting the Astoria Boulevard homeless shelter worry that his allegiance to his former client, LGA Hospitality, may linger on. They see this as yet another example of why they’ve lost faith in City Hall in their so far unsuccessful campaign to halt the shelter. Adams, in contrast, recently pulled the plug on two shelters in Manhattan and one in The Bronx after community protests.
Locals first were told the Astoria Boulevard building under construction in 2006 was going to be a 126-room hotel. But year after year as construction was delayed, rumors swirled that the project was struggling financially.
Then last August, the city Department of Social Services informed Community Board 3 of the property’s new purpose: a homeless shelter for 140 childless couples DSS calls “adult families.” It would be located down the street from a new elementary school set to open soon.
“We were surprised with that because it was always supposed to be a hotel,” CB3 Chair Taylor said, estimating that CB 3 already has up to 11 facilities that shelter the homeless, between city-run shelters and hotels where the homeless have been housed during the pandemic.
“We have an inordinate amount of shelters right there and then you put it next to a school?” he said. “The prior administration was not helpful. They were actually abusive.”
In September, the community held a protest outside the building that attracted more than 100 local residents. That same month, lobbying records show, LGA Hospitality hired the Capalino firm and Kreizman was made part of the team.
Those records also show Capalino continued to represent LGA through February, even after Kreizman left for City Hall, assisting LGA “in seeking to obtain the necessary approval and permits in order to obtain a temporary certificate of occupancy for” 112-16 Astoria Blvd.
Delivered UPS Warehouse
Another potential conflict for Kreizman exists in the streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn, where this waterfront community has been fighting the dramatic proliferation of “last mile” distribution centers serving online retailers and package delivery firms popping up all over the neighborhood.
The Red Hook community is worried about an expected delivery truck army coming and going day and night at the centers, spewing emissions and tying up traffic in a neighborhood still struggling to come back following the flood that washed out its streets during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.
One option to get City Hall’s attention is the office Kreizman now runs, the Community Affairs Unit. But there’s a catch: Last year Kreizman was part of the Capalino team United Parcel Service (UPS) hired to win support for a mammoth distribution center on a huge parcel of land at the western edge of the neighborhood.
Until a week before Adams put him in City Hall, Kreizman and the Capalino team were lobbying for UPS, targeting among others the district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 6, records show.
And in January and February, Kreizman’s former colleagues at the Capalino firm began lobbying Community Board 6 and elected officials on behalf of another client, RXR Development Services LLC, which plans a “last-mile” center a few blocks away from the UPS site, records show.
Community Board 6 District Manager Michael Racioppo said he’d noted the presence of two Capalino lobbyists representing RXR during a board meeting last month.
Then there’s the great battle of Coney Island Creek.
Last year, battle lines emerged over the location of the landing de Blasio planned for a promised ferry from Manhattan. Local leaders feared the regular dredging required to maintain the landing would constantly churn up toxic sludge lying dormant at the bottom of the notoriously fetid waterway.
“There’s many many toxic chemicals in there according to the EPA,” said Jeffrey Sanoff, chair of Community Board 13’s Environmental Committee, citing a 3,000-page report by the federal Environmental Protection Agency documenting high levels of toxins in the creek. “People swim there. People fish there. People get baptized there. This will destroy the habitat there. Once the habitat is destroyed, the horseshoe crabs don’t go back there.”
In response, the community pressed City Hall and the city Economic Development Corp., which manages the ferry program, to relocate the landing to the oceanside. Under de Blasio, however, the community’s pleas went nowhere.
Meanwhile behind the scenes, another powerful force wanted that ferry up and running as soon as possible, environmental concerns be damned: Billionaire John Catsimatidis who desperately needed the ferry to service a huge luxury apartment tower he calls Ocean Drive that he is now building out there.
Renting units now, his website touts “the City’s proposed ferry service” will provide Ocean Drive tenants with “a fast and efficient connection to Manhattan.” In an interview with the New York Times, the reporter noted that Catsimatidis “used an expletive to describe the environmental concerns.”
But dredging for the landing fell behind schedule due to the EPA’s concerns that the dredging in Coney Island Creek would interfere with the mating season of horseshoe crabs and flounder. Dredging there is now on hold through June 2022.
In the interim, the community — including elected officials and members of the community board — are now pressing Adams to change the planned location and address their environmental concerns.
“Adams is the one who’s able to do something about it,” said Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus (D-Brooklyn). “We want to put him on the spot and say, ‘What is your take on this? What are you going to do?’”
Unbeknownst to them, however, Adams’ new Community Affairs Commissioner Kreizman was part of a team of Capalino lobbyists pressing City Hall to hurry up and get that ferry landing built, regardless of the potential toxic mess.
Kreizman’s client was Catsimatidis.
As of February, Kreizman’s former lobbyist colleagues at Capalino continued their work for Catsimatidis lobbying Radhy Miranda, EDC’s ferry pointman, records show. This could potentially place Kreizman in a place where he’s providing access to City Hall for community leaders at the same time his former colleagues at Capalino are pressing for a position contrary to the community’s interests.
On Monday, Catsimatidis explained his reasoning for opposing relocating the landing and what would happen if it was moved from the creek to the oceanside: “I don’t care which side they put it on but the first hurricane, it’s gone. It’s stupid.”