In July, Mayor Eric Adams held a press conference to announce a crackdown on "ghost cars," vehicles driven by people who use fake or obscured license plates. "This is a city of law and order, not lawlessness and disorder," Adams told reporters.
Mayor Adams didn't need to look too hard to find a "ghost car" driver. Until very recently, Tony Herbert, the Brooklyn director of the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit, drove a black Jeep outfitted with lights, sirens, and a plainly illegal device that covered the license plates at the touch of a button.
When Hell Gate reached out to the Mayor’s Office to inquire about Herbert’s “ghost car,” we were told that the illegal features had been removed. "We take these allegations very seriously, and, after investigating, have determined that all of these devices were disassembled or have been inoperable for some time now," Kayla Mamelak, a spokesperson for Mayor Adams, wrote Hell Gate in an email. "We will take all necessary corrective measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again."
If Herbert's Jeep has lacked lights and the license plate cover "for some time now," it would have been after October 22, which is when we spotted it on Schenectady Avenue in Crown Heights at the scene of a traffic fatality, sporting Thin Blue Line stickers and Freemason decals.
The same Jeep, with a Mayor’s Office parking placard on the dash, was also spotted parked in a crosswalk outside of a Brooklyn precinct in August, during the precinct’s National Night Out Against Crime event. The license plates were rendered invisible by the drop-down covers, according to photos and video sent in by a tipster.
Herbert, a longtime community activist, told Hell Gate in a phone call on Thursday night that he did not have lights and sirens on his vehicle, and then hung up.
Last year, Herbert ran an unsuccessful campaign for Public Advocate, in which he appeared on the Conservative Party ballot line. He's talked about his closeness to Mayor Adams. “I’ve worked with him prior to that, when he was a borough president, when he was a senator,” Herbert said of Mayor Adams in an interview from earlier this year. “Given the opportunity, this man is going to help turn this city around, and that’s why I decided to work with him.”
Herbert also appears to be rather cozy with law enforcement. He is often pictured with a badge, most likely issued to him in his capacity as the mayor's liaison. Herbert was reportedly one of the organizers of a 2020 Blue Lives Matter march over the Brooklyn Bridge. Earlier this year, he threatened those who wanted to protest over the return of the NYPD's plainclothes unit with citizens' arrest.
The Mayor’s Office did not answer our questions about the details of Herbert’s employment, though his LinkedIn page lists his start date with the Mayor’s Office as February 2022. City payroll data shows that Herbert's annual salary is $83,981. A City website calls the Community Affairs Unit “the fundamental connection between City Hall and New York City residents throughout the five boroughs," essentially the eyes and ears of the Mayor's Office, showing up to community events and crime scenes.
Even with the plate-covering gadget, the car has racked up 23 violations since 2020, including two red light tickets and 14 school zone speeding tickets, the most recent of which came in early October.
A DMV spokesperson said department policy is to not comment on specific cases, but pointed to state law that prohibits lights and sirens from being used on nongovernmental vehicles like this one.