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Eric Adams’s Former Chief of Staff Is Working for Big Real Estate But Definitely Not Working on Big Real Estate’s Effort to Kill NYC’s Climate Law

Ha ha, why would you even think that?

Eric Adams and Frank Carone in City Hall, December 6, 2022. (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

When the Durst Organization opened One Bryant Park in 2010, the developers billed the 51-story office tower as one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the country. Al Gore spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

But One Bryant Park has one serious flaw: It still heats itself using natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to the global climate crisis. This will be a problem for the Durst Organization very soon, once the City starts imposing emissions caps on commercial real estate buildings, which are among the biggest polluters in town.

The City's Department of Buildings is currently coming up with a set of proposed rules for buildings like One Bryant Park, set to be released later this summer, including fines for buildings that burn more carbon than is allowed under a 2019 climate law, known as Local Law 97. These fines are crucial to the effectiveness of the law—if they are set too low, carbon spewing buildings will essentially just pay the tax and continue to burn oil, instead of retrofitting their buildings to run entirely off of electricity to cool and heat themselves. 

As the prospect of having to pay serious fines on buildings like One Bryant Park draws nearer, the Durst Organization, which owns more than 13 million square feet of commercial real estate in Manhattan, has publicly asked City Hall to loosen Local Law 97.

In an interview with NY1, Douglas Durst argued that the City has "to make the law reasonable for people who have spent years creating more efficient buildings." 

According to City Clerk records, the Real Estate Board of New York, of which Douglas Durst is the chairman, has spent over $85,000 lobbying City government on various issues so far this year, including Local Law 97. According to lobbying records, REBNY's lobbyists have met with officials at the Department of Buildings, and with the Office of the Mayor. Durst family members are also showering the mayor's reelection campaign with cash. 

In addition to its public pleas and its behind-the-scenes lobbying, the Durst Organization has also employed someone who personally knows Mayor Eric Adams very well: his former chief of staff, Frank Carone.

Carone is known for helping a landlord with a shady record win lucrative shelter contracts from the City, selling Adams on a controversial police lasso he owned a stake in, helping out the de Blasio administration on a number of real estate-related issues, giving the Adams mayoral campaign insanely cheap office space, as well as helping choose judicial candidates for the party. He lasted just 11 months as Adams's chief of staff, before leaving government to open up his own consulting firm, Oaktree Solutions. Carone now lists football stars, major developers, and a team that wants to build a casino in Times Square as his clients. Carone also works with another developer, SL Green, who also has a brand-new building that will be impacted by Local Law 97's emissions requirements.

The City's ethics rules prohibit Carone from lobbying City Hall for two years after he leaves government, but Carone is not a registered lobbyist. Instead, he is bound by even stricter rules set by the City's Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which broadly prohibits City workers from doing anything for private employers on certain issues if they also worked on it for the City.

According to COIB guidance, "Former public servants may never work on a particular matter (for example, a contract) for a non-City employer if they worked on that same matter during their City employment" (emphasis theirs).

When Carone left City Hall, it's unclear whether he asked the COIB about what he could legally work on for private clients. The COIB, which is responsible for helping current and former City workers navigate ethics laws, said it can't comment on whether it gave Carone any advice.

"The City Charter prohibits the Board from disclosing whether a public servant has sought advice, whether the public servant received advice, and the subject of that advice," its executive director, Carolyn Miller, wrote Hell Gate in an email. "The recipient of the advice, by contrast, is free to share that advice with whomever they choose."

Brooklyn Councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez speaks at a rally last week calling on strong implementation of New York City's climate law. (Hell Gate)

The COIB lacks investigative powers, and instead refers any possible conflicts, which are based on complaints or press reports to the Department of Investigation. 

Rachael Fauss, a policy director at Reinvent Albany, and an expert in ethics and conflicts of interest, believes that Carone's quick entry and exit into City Hall is indicative of a revolving door that allows powerful former officials to treat their service for the City as a cash cow. Mayor Bill de Blasio also kept a group of private consultants very close to the administration. Former City Council Speaker Corey Johnson immediately turned to lobbying the body he used to lead after leaving the council. 

"Working on the same thing you used to work on, and using that knowledge, is so much harder to track than direct lobbying," Fauss told Hell Gate. "You're not supposed to provide backroom services for anything you used to work on…and in general you're not supposed to use any knowledge or information you gathered in government to profit. So it's tricky: How do you prove anything when it's being all handled by a company that now employs the person who used to work at City Hall?"

Shortly after Carone's exit, Brooklyn City Councilmember Lincoln Restler introduced a bill that would strengthen restrictions on lobbying by former City Council members and City Hall staffers. But it's unclear if the legislation would have any impact on someone like Carone, who is not technically a lobbyist.

So how are New Yorkers supposed to know if the Durst Organization is using Carone's immense influence to weaken a vital piece of climate legislation? We have to take their word for it.

"Mr. Carone was retained to assist with business strategy and that has not included LL97," a Durst Organization spokesperson told Hell Gate.

City Hall told Hell Gate that Carone has not been in touch about Local Law 97. Carone did not respond to a request for comment.

While Carone may now be focused on his consulting firm, he'll be back working with the mayor soon enough: He has signed on to be a part of Eric Adams's 2025 reelection campaign.

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