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Hell Gate Is Suing Mayor Eric Adams

City Hall admits the mayor’s communications with the owner of Zero Bond are a matter of public record, but won't turn them over.

Mayor-elect Eric Adams laughs at his Zero Bond election night party in 2021

Mayor Elect Eric Adams at his celebration party at Zero Bond on November 02, 2021, with Zero Bond owner Scott Sartiano at left (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Haute Living)

For more than a year, the Mayor's Office has failed to turn over public documents related to Eric Adams's relationship with the owner of Zero Bond, the exclusive nightclub where the mayor frequently holds court. So Hell Gate is suing the Adams administration to force the City to hand them over.

"The Mayor’s Office has never cited any exemption that would justify its withholding of the public records at issue in the request," the lawsuit states. "And there is no valid basis to withhold the requested records."

Adams's love of the members-only Zero Bond is well known—he likes to hang out there in a zone that requires a fingerprint scan, and even held his post-election day victory party at the club in 2021. (Adams insists that he picks up his own tab when he's there.) 

Less documented is the exact nature of the mayor's relationship with Zero Bond's owner, Scott Sartiano. 

Last September, we published a story about a veto Mayor Adams made in early 2022—the first mayoral veto in eight years. With a stroke of his pen, Adams eliminated the mechanism that would have forced the owners of artist lofts in SoHo and NoHo to pay a conversion fee, or face stiff fines.

Sartiano and his wife bought one of those lofts in the spring of 2022 for $3.45 million, and Adams's veto likely saved the couple hundreds of thousands of dollars—including a $15,000 fine for being a non-artist living in an artist's loft, as well as $290,000 in contributions they would have been compelled to make to a fund for downtown artists. 

The Mayor's Office told us at the time that Adams and Sartiano never discussed the veto, or the rezoning plan that the loft enforcement law was part of. But given that Adams appointed Sartiano to the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in May of 2022, the two clearly have some form of working relationship, and we think the public deserves to know more.

Two days before we published our story last September, we asked for "emails, text messages, or other written logs of communication between Scott Sartiano, the owner of Zero Bond, and his surrogates, and Mayor Eric Adams, and his surrogates, between 1/1/2022 and 9/12/2022." 

Under the state's Freedom of Information Law, these records are public records, because they involve a public office communicating with a private entity (our former mayor fought to blur this distinction and obscure records like these and ultimately lost). 

Initially, the Adams administration said they would let us know if they were going to grant or deny our request by October 18, 2022. But that date rolled around, and they told us that the response was delayed again until December 16, 2022 "due to the volume of requests that we have received."

This happened six more times. Each time, the Adams administration stalled, kicking the can down the road. In June, Hell Gate, represented by our attorneys at Ballard Spahr, filed an administrative appeal. Basically, we told the Adams administration that they had stalled so much that it amounted to a rejection—a "constructive denial" is the legal term—and asked them to either turn the documents over or officially deny us, so that we could start litigation.

More than a month later, the Adams administration responded, granting our request. "The Office of the Mayor takes seriously the importance of disclosing information to the public consistent with the law," wrote Alicia Berenyi, an attorney who works for the Office of the Chief Counsel to the Mayor and City Hall. Berenyi said the Mayor's Office would give us the records by September 29, 2023. That day came and went without them giving us the records, so we filed a lawsuit. 

The filing is called an Article 78, and we're asking the judge to compel the Adams administration to turn the documents over. (And also, for the Adams administration to pay for our attorneys' fees, as the law allows.)

The Mayor's Office and the Law Department did not immediately respond to our requests for comment. A message sent to Zero Bond has also not yet been returned. We'll update this story if we get any responses.

"New York has a longstanding commitment to open government and access to public records. For that access to be meaningful, it has to be prompt," said Jaquelyn N. Schell, a partner at Ballard Spahr, who is representing Hell Gate in this matter. "While we understand that agencies have many demands on their time, the repeated extensions in this case are no longer reasonable and have left us with no choice but to seek the court’s involvement." 

The Mayor's Office must reply to our petition by November 10, and our response is due November 15.

While Ballard Spahr is graciously representing Hell Gate pro bono, the reporting work that goes into our publication costs money. If you'd like to support our efforts, subscribe to Hell Gate, or toss a few bucks into our tip jar.

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