The everything guide to alleged mayoral crime

Haven't been compulsively following Eric Adams' campaign finance maybe-scandal, but still want all the good goss? Dave's got you covered.

The everything guide to alleged mayoral crime
Mayor Eric Adams, seen here with Hilmi Türkmen, the mayor of Uskudar, Turkey, in a file photo that is suddenly very relevant to every media outlet in New York. (Photo via Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

By Dave Colon

Eric Adams is in trouble. No, this is not the highly-anticipated sequel to the hit novel and TV series Fleischman Is In Trouble, it’s the real life political situation in New York City today. While Adams himself has not been charged with any crimes yet, federal investigators are looking into whether his 2021 mayoral campaign was a nexus of illegal foreign campaign contributions and influence peddling, something prosecutors look poorly on. It’s led many people to ask things like “What’s going on?” and “Does this mean we’re having another election already?” and also-

You there! Tell me of the mayor’s crimes.

Sorry, I can’t do that. Legally speaking, and for the financial and reputational health of New York Groove LLC, I’m not allowed to say “the mayor” “committed crimes.” I can talk about what’s been alleged though.

Fine, tell me about the mayor’s alleged crimes.

Oh happily. On November 2, the FBI raided the home of Brianna Suggs, Mayor Adams’ chief fundraiser, who was just 23 years old when she ran his 2021 fundraising operation and possibly committed campaign finance crimes involving straw donors, a Turkish contractor and the Turkish government’s consul building in Manhattan, and attempts to cheat the city’s public matching funds system. Talk about adulting, amirite? It may or may not lead all the way to Adams, seen here making half of a hand heart symbol with a robot that doesn’t have a heart or hands.

I see. What’s a straw donor?

A straw donor is a person who makes political donations under their name, but on behalf of someone else, who then reimburses that “donor” for the money “they” contributed. You can do it to get around campaign contribution limits, which maxed out at $2,000 from an individual for a campaign participating in the city’s matching funds program, and in places like New York City that have matching public funds for local donations, you can do it to fraudulently obtain more matching funds. Or that is to say you can do it in the sense that you have the ability to do it, but you shouldn’t do it, because it’s illegal. 

It’s especially illegal if, as is being alleged, the money is coming from foreign nationals, who are barred from donating to campaigns in America.

In what is surely not a bad sign for Adams, this isn’t even the first straw donor scandal linked to his campaign. Or the second. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg wrung a guilty plea from a pair of brothers who made campaign donations in the name of their employees in a conspiracy that involves a former NYPD officer Adams is friends with. And The City found a bunch of employees at Flushing’s New World Mall who were listed as donors to the Adams campaign but said they never gave the Adams campaign money, or were paid back for making donations to the campaign.

What else has happened?

Is it easier to start from the most recent breaks in the case? Let’s try that. So, the latest twist in the case is that the FBI is looking at some 2021 text messages from Adams to then-Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro in which Adams, still Brooklyn Borough President at the time, asked Nigro to fast track a temporary certificate of occupancy for the new Turkish consulate in Manhattan. This part isn’t illegal. If you have an elected official’s phone number you’re allowed to ask them to do all sorts of stupid favors for you. I do it all the time.

However. It doesn’t look great for Adams that on Nov. 6, the FBI seized two phones and an iPad from the mayor. Just walked right up to the guy on the street, got into his car with him and took a few devices. The public didn’t find out about this until Nov. 10, and, while it’s weird we found out about it at all (more on that later) it’s also weird that on Nov. 8, Adams didn’t say anything about the whole phone seizure thing, but did tell the public he knew everyone on his team follows the law because he constantly reminds them to follow the law. We all have that boss who’s constantly saying stuff like that. 

Once we all found out about the phone seizure, Adams’ lawyer said his team found out that “someone” acted improperly and they told the FBI. But again, the order of events goes: 

  • Phone seizure Monday 
  • Telling the press everyone you know follows the law Wednesday 
  • Revealing the mysterious unidentified wrongdoer and wrongdoing on Friday 

Adams and his attorney are also not going into further detail about the unidentified wrongdoer and wrongdoing, but someone has identified her as Rana Abbasova, a staffer in the city’s Office for International Affairs.

All of it of course kicked off in the most hilarious fashion possible, as on the morning of Nov. 2, Adams had just landed in Washington DC as part of a delegation with the mayors of Chicago and Denver to talk about migrants with the president. Instead of sticking around and talking to the president about an issue that Adams has said will “destroy” the city, he rushed home almost as soon as he landed in the nation’s capital.

So that’s the story, mostly. If you’re confused by reverse chronological order, just read the whole section from the fifth paragraph to the first.

Oh wow he’s totally guilty huh?

No because if you’ll remember, I mentioned above that it’s weird we know about his phone getting seized.

Yeah you did write that was weird. Is it weird?

It could be, since it could be a leak to make the investigation look very serious and impactful. Adams and his attorney are mad about the various leaks in the case so far, obviously because they make him look bad. But also New York has had its share of hyper-ambitious press-savvy prosecutors who’ve used their time in the courts as a springboard to higher office and disgrace, higher office and (alleged) crimes for the president of the United States, or, even worse, podcasting. Don’t judge, did you move here to be “the next Janeane Garofalo” or to do an email job?

But, you don’t even know the name of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, so we may not be in that kind of situation where a prosecutor with big time ambitions is handling building a weak or non-existent case through the media. 

Who says I don’t know the name of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York?

Because if you knew Damian Williams’ name, you couldn’t possibly be the kind of person asking me to explain this news to them.

Okay fine. But did Eric Adams do it or did he not do it?

Eric Adams maybe did everything and more. Eric Adams perhaps just ran for mayor and was unaware he was supported by a lot of campaign finance crime. Brianna Suggs maybe did nothing wrong. Even if Eric Adams “did” whatever “it” is, it’s more difficult than ever to get a public corruption conviction to stick, ever since the Supreme Court narrowed the grounds on which an elected official can be charged with bribery. 

Also mayors are commonly finding themselves under investigation for crimes tied to them or taking place under their watch. Bill de Blasio had a pile of campaign finance scandals as tall as he was and almost caught corruption charges from federal and local prosecutors. Ed Koch had so much bribery going on around his orbit that Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett wrote a book called City for Sale about his administration.

All of which is to say, it’s all very early and we shouldn’t be speculating about stuff like “What happens if the mayor is indicted or convicted or flees the country for Monaco?”

Oh my god what if the mayor is indicted or convicted or flees the country for Monaco???

If the mayor is indicted, nothing has to happen. However, the governor is allowed to remove the mayor from office. It’s never happened before though. The closest we’ve come to it is when playboy mayor Jimmy Walker (who people compared Adams to even before he was under investigation) almost got the gubernatorial boot in 1932 over his own corruption and carousing, but walker resigned under massive pressure. Hilariously, on multiple occasions people asked Andrew Cuomo to do that to Bill de Blasio, but Big Bill wound up with the last laugh on that one. 

But. If the mayor is convicted or flees to Monaco, the public advocate becomes the mayor and has to declare a special election between 40 and 70 days after the vacancy occurs. 

A sudden 2024 election for mayor would not be your traditional Democrats vs. Republicans kind of thing. Instead, it will be a nonpartisan election, and the first nonpartisan citywide election under ranked choice voting rules. Hey did you know that Michael Bloomberg dreamt of bringing nonpartisan elections to New York City, and even spent millions of his own money on a referendum to do so? Voters fucking hated the idea.

I don’t care.

Fine, whatever. Anyway, it would be weird. No one could possibly predict the eldritch horrors that would be unleashed by a 100-meter dash of an election in the nation’s biggest media market for the prize of running the biggest city in America the same year a presidential election is happening.

I did an informal and anonymous poll of local politics knowers, aka staffers or fixers or junkies willing to answer my text messages, and asked them, on a scale of “could be fun” to “I will self-trepanate,” how they felt about the prospect of this possible contest.

Most weren’t dreading it, instead pointing to the possibility of picking up work or seeing history happen right in front of them. One, however, sent back a GIF of Thomas the Tank Engine nervously staring at a fire, and another one allowed that if the whole thing became a proxy fight over Israel, they’d consider reaching for the trusty ice pick.

Who would run for mayor?

Scuttlebutt at Somos, the alcohol-infused Puerto Rican getaway our entire political class gets together for every year for some reason, was full of people throwing around potential candidates faster than they were throwing back cocktails.

And why not? Maybe you remember the public advocate election in 2019, when 17 people ran for the office of “person who tells the mayor they’re doing a shit job.” Maybe you remember that 13 people ran for the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2021. Unshackled from the party structure, if even for just a few weeks, dozens of people could be shrieking at you that they are an independent voice not tied to a party or ideology, all powered by New York’s public matching system. Hell, maybe you should also run in a weird little freak election where anything could happen. Lord knows I will.