Last week, while reporting on a rare veto made by Mayor Eric Adams that ultimately benefited his pal, the owner of Zero Bond, we found ourselves outside the members-only nightclub in question.
In the harsh light of day, there's not much to see. It's SoHo—excuse us, NoHo. Cobblestones. Athleisure. Tourists.
Except, wait, what's this? A fancy car illegally parked in a commercial zone? Hell Gate co-publisher Max Rivlin-Nadler was on the scene to take some photographs.
This is an $80,000 Maserati Levante SUV displaying on its rear a special license plate only issued to members of the New York State Assembly, where the annual base salary is $110,000. (Legislators raised their own pay a few years ago, in part to remove some of the enticement to earn money in less savory ways.) In case you were wondering, the median household income in New York City is $67,000/year.
We're well acquainted with the tens of thousands of parking placards issued by the City to public servants and officials (one former assemblymember once called them "the greatest perk in the world"). The Maserati wasn't displaying any. But this was the first we'd seen of a special license plate alerting the world that yes, the person in this car is a big shot legislator. And what's with the "18A"?
"Think of it as a super special placard," one source who has worked in New York politics for years told Hell Gate. The source, who asked to remain anonymous so as not to anger the people who can obtain these plates, said it was a common belief that they helped lawmakers avoid tickets, though it also made their vehicles stick out. "You might get your car egged if people know you're a politician," they said.
Tim O'Brien, a spokesperson for the state DMV, wrote to us in an email, "The numbers are randomly assigned numbers 1 thru 170. Numbers with a small A (or small S for Senate) represent a 2nd vehicle; each member is allowed two sets of plates."
O'Brien added, "These plates confer no special privileges on the holder." Right now, there are 57 Assembly plates on the road, and 23 from the Senate (there's a total of 150 seats in the Assembly and 63 in the Senate).
So who does this assembly plate belong to?Running its vehicle identification number, we learned that the car was listed for $86,424 at Maserati of Manhattan in July of 2021. "Frank Nodarse Motors" and a phone number is printed on the license plate holder. We texted with a person on the other end of the line but they stopped responding after we asked them about this car.
A HowsMyDriving search of an "18A" assembly plate reveals that the plate has accrued seven tickets in the ensuing 14 months after its listing, including two school zone speeding violations. There's also two tickets written at 4 Bond Street, right near Zero Bond: failure to display a meter receipt, and failure to have a front/back license plate. On the day we saw the car, the front plate on this Maserati was also missing.
But wait! A separate HowsMyDriving search for an assembly plate bearing "18" brought back 15 tickets from years before the Maserati was bought and three tickets for speeding and running red lights in 2021 and 2022.
We sent a photo of this Maserati to Mike Whyland, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who told us that the plate holder's identity is not public information.
"We don't release information related to assigned license plates for safety and security," Whyland said. "Also, members are responsible for all the costs associated with the plates." (Typical personalized plates cost around $60.)
There was one more clue to run down. The parking violations accrued by this Maserati happened in two places: outside of Zero Bond, in Assemblymember Deborah Glick's district, and in Inwood, in Assemblymember Manny De Los Santos's district.
Glick's office said it wasn't her Maserati. A spokesperson for De Los Santos told Hell Gate she didn't think it was his, and that he doesn't use Assembly plates.
So which state lawmaker had a Zero Bond emergency on Wednesday, September 14? Whose Maserati is this? If you know, drop us a line: email@example.com
[UPDATE / 3:40 p.m.] Tipster Josh Goodman emailed us with another clue: Assembly plate 18A received a school zone speed camera ticket on September 9, 2022, that hasn't yet been scraped by HowsMyDriving. The ticket occurred on Beach Channel Drive in the Rockaways.
We'll keep poking around.
This story has been updated to include more full quotes from the State DMV spokesperson, and to make the language about the state-issued plates more precise.