To win the mayor’s support in a quest to bring casinos to New York City, the head of Las Vegas Sands invited one of Eric Adams’s closest advisers to his Park Avenue pied-a-terre: Chief of Staff Frank Carone.
The casino mogul talked to Carone about building a gaming complex on the land surrounding the Mets stadium. It was a controversial idea billionaire Steve Cohen extolled eight days earlier when he hosted Carone and Adams at the Mets owner’s executive suite at Citi Field.
It was three weeks into the Adams administration. Cohen and Sands CEO Rob Goldstein were in talks to partner on a Queens casino. They didn’t explicitly require the mayor’s signoff – casino licenses are granted by New York state, not the city. But Carone's buy-in, and the mayor's, would show the state that City Hall was behind the idea.
A few months later, New York announced a decision to allow three new downstate casino licenses. Adams will get to appoint one member of a six-person advisory committee that approves the locations.
“We want the best for New York City. We want the economic development,” Adams said after the state’s announcement.
In the first month of the Adams administration, a rush of real estate executives, campaign donors and lobbyists met with Carone at some of the city’s swankiest restaurants and apartments, according to a copy of Carone’s daily schedules.
The records were obtained by Bloomberg News through a Freedom of Information request. The Adams administration has halted a number of government transparency practices of past mayors, such as proactively releasing records of the mayor’s detailed daily schedules and posting meetings between staffers and lobbyists on City Hall’s website.
The first formal meetings of Adams’s senior staff detail nights spent at downtown Manhattan restaurants like Mark Joseph Steakhouse and Cipriani and check-ins with the city’s chief lobbyists. But more importantly, the schedules reveal at least some of the political priorities of a new administration much of the city is still trying to figure out.
Carone's initial days in office don't fit the mold of prior mayoral chiefs of staff, many of whom spent their early weeks in catch-up briefings with agency officials and meeting with City Council members to jumpstart the new mayor's policy agenda. Instead, Carone plunged into meetings with New York’s top power brokers and campaign donors over a variety of real estate and business issues.
Outside of internal meetings, Carone listed two dozen meetings in the span of one month. At least ten were with people seeking to or already doing business with the city. Three were with campaign donors, like members of real estate firm Tishman Speyer, who he dined with at Nolita eatery Wayan.
Tishman Speyer declined to comment. Carone declined to comment through a City Hall spokesperson. The spokesperson, Fabien Levy, wouldn’t comment on specific meetings but said members of the administration meet with “anybody and everyone willing to work to propel New York City forward, grow our economy, and build a more fair, just, and prosperous city.”
“Since day one, Frank Carone has met with numerous individuals and organizations willing to do just that, and he will continue to do that every day,” Levy said.
‘Money buys access’
But the records also show that “money buys access,” said John Kaehny, head of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group. “There’s a reason Steve Cohen contributed a lot to that PAC and it’s because he wanted access. There’s no doubt that money has and will always buy access to mayors.”
Cohen had donated $1.5 million to a political action committee formed to support Adams and was the single largest donor to the PAC. He and other sports franchises were also pressuring the mayor to lift vaccine mandates that prevented some of their teams’ unvaccinated star players from playing home games, according to lobbying records. In March, Adams lifted the vaccine mandate.
Cohen declined to comment. A spokesperson for Goldstein and Las Vegas Sands declined to comment. Lobbyists for Las Vegas Sands in April filed paperwork with the city to officially lobby Carone on the subject.
Levy, the City Hall spokesperson, said the “administration is committed to transparency and accountability, and to establishing a culture that adheres to the highest standards of integrity and good government.”
Real Estate Lobbyists
Even before Adams took office, Carone’s appointment was controversial because of his past dealings as a former law partner at the law firm of Abrams Fensterman. Over the years, he’s represented dozens of real estate, transportation and other clients that still have business before the city. As counsel to the Brooklyn Democratic Party for many years, he became a powerful and well-connected lawyer who befriended Adams and once served as his personal attorney.
Carone divested himself of his business interests and his ownership stake in his law firm in December 2021, before taking a position with the Adams administration. But his long legal career and his kaleidoscopic portfolio of business ventures and investments means that many of his former clients and associates may still have business before the city.
He told Politico in a May interview that he has not sought guidance from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board before he took his position as the mayor’s chief of staff, and that he is evaluating potential conflicts on a case-by-case basis instead of laying out a formal policy governing his interactions with former clients.
“That’s a previous life. I still have fond relationships with friends, but that’s a different world I live in now,” Carone told Politico.
Among Carone’s first round of meetings as chief of staff also included high-powered lobbyists like Suri Kasirer, the principal of the city’s highest grossing lobbying firm. Kasirer represents real estate firm Related Companies and the owners of One Madison, a new commercial office building in Midtown South, which both inked agreements with Kasirer to lobby Carone on matters related to land use and real estate. Kasirer, One Madison and Related didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Carone also dined with real estate lobbyists Peter Vallone and Anthony Constantinople in late January at Mark Joseph. They were hired to lobby Carone on behalf of a residential developer who is seeking the city’s signoff to build a massive mixed-use development in Queens. They didn’t respond to requests for comment.