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New York mayor confirms FDNY contact regarding Turkish gov’t high-rise in Manhattan

Eric Adams

New York City Mayor Eric Adams attends a New York City Police Academy graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden on April 24, 2023 in New York. (Photo by Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who is being investigated for allegedly pressuring New York Fire Department (FDNY) officials weeks before his election in 2021 to sign off on a high-rise built by the Turkish government in Manhattan despite safety concerns with the building, has admitted to contacting FDNY about the issue, according to a report by the New York Daily News on Wednesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan inaugurated the 35-story “Türkevi” (Turkish House), which cost Turkey nearly $300 million, during a visit to New York City for the UN General Assembly in September 2021 amid criticism that the money could have been put to better use, especially when university students were protesting the high cost of housing at the time.

The building, which hosts Turkey’s Permanent Mission to the UN as well as the Turkish Consulate General, at 821 First Avenue in Manhattan, just across from United Nations headquarters, uses traditional Turkish architectural motifs, rises to the sky in the shape of a tulip and can be seen from downtown Manhattan, the East River and Long Island.

After winning the Democratic mayoral primary in July, Adams contacted then-Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro in late summer 2021 and urged him to allow the Turkish government to occupy the building at least on a temporary basis. Although an inauguration ceremony took place in September 2021, the building had yet to open because fire officials had cited safety issues and declined to sign off on its occupancy.

The unusual intervention by Adams is being examined as part of a broader public corruption investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors in Manhattan that led to the seizure of the mayor’s electronic devices by federal agents earlier this month. The FBI has been asking top fire department officials about Adams’s role in the matter.

According to New York Daily News, Mayor Adams acknowledged in a press briefing at City Hall on Tuesday that he had checked in with Nigro on Turkish Consul General Reyhan Ozgur’s behalf after she asked him for help. However, the mayor disputed the notion that there was anything unusual or nefarious about the contact.

“I did not speak to any other individual in the FDNY, did not circumvent the commissioner. The commissioner was the person that I asked, ‘Can you look into this?’ And that was all I spoke with,” the mayor was quoted as saying.

According to initial reports by The New York Times, federal authorities are investigating allegations that Adams’ campaign collaborated with the Turkish government to obtain unlawful campaign donations through proxy donors, seeking official favors in return. The investigation is also focusing on KSK Construction, a Brooklyn contractor linked to Turkey, whose executives made substantial contributions to Adams’ 2021 campaign.

Adams’s ties to the Turkish government and community stretch back years. As Brooklyn borough president, he actively wooed wealthy members of the Turkish community in south Brooklyn. The mayor states that he has recently visited Turkey at least six times.

One of those trips, taken in 2015, was paid for by the Turkish Consulate, according to financial disclosure forms, which list the purpose as being “to discuss a sister city agreement” with Turkish officials.

Most recently, Adams attended an event hosted by first lady Emine Erdoğan at Turkish House on Sept. 19. The ‘Path to the Global Zero Waste Movement’ event was also attended by spouses of heads of state and government participating in the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Adams’ intervention paved the way for Erdoğan, whose fondness for massive building projects was well known in Turkey, to preside over the grand opening of the tower despite numerous flaws in its fire safety system, according to the people familiar with the matter and city records. The skyscraper in the center of New York City reflected Turkey’s “increased power,” Erdoğan said at its ribbon-cutting.

Neither Adams nor his campaign has been accused of wrongdoing, and no charges are publicly known to have been filed in connection with the investigation.

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