Senior FDNY officials worried during the early days of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration about how the agency was being asked to fast-track building safety inspections for politically-connected real estate firms over developers of projects like schools and housing complexes, according to emails reviewed by the Daily News.
The emails, which date back to mid-January 2022 and were obtained by The News through sources, revolve around the so-called “DMO List,” named after the office of the Deputy Mayor of Operations, where the document was established in 2021 under former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, a lawsuit filed by several former and current FDNY chiefs alleges. The suit claims the list was created at the behest of the Real Estate Board of New York, which the influential industry group has strongly denied.
Adams says City Hall has not maintained a DMO on his watch, though the emails obtained by The News suggest that such a list was used at least in the early days of his administration, largely overseen by the FDNY. Adams has said he strives to help property owners that are “having the challenge of navigating an entity.”
The emails outline how fire officials used — and debated — the list.
On Jan. 26, 2022, about four weeks after Adams took office, then-FDNY Chief of Fire Prevention Joseph Jardin messaged several colleagues saying he was concerned about the direction the DMO document was heading in. In the email, Jardin wrote that top FDNY leaders had instructed him to “arbitrarily expedite” six projects listed on the DMO roster.
“We can’t readily permit this to be the opening of a Pandora’s box and start of bad trend!” Jardin wrote in the Jan. 26, 2022 email after referring to the list simply as “DMO.”
Within 15 minutes, Assistant FDNY Chief Anthony Saccavino wrote back to Jardin: “I agree.”
That was followed by Kevin Brennan, another assistant chief, also chiming in: “A lot of times these clients ‘claim’ they are waiting on us, but in fact we have sent the contractor back requests for changes and are waiting on the contractor they hired to get back to us.”
It’s not clear from that exchange which six projects Jardin was concerned about.
The DMO list first landed in the headlines last month after it emerged that the FBI, as part of its investigation into Adams’ 2021 campaign and ties to the Turkish government, has obtained a copy of it.
The feds’ interest in the list comes amid reports that, prior to his election as mayor, Adams asked then-FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro in September 2021 to look into inspection issues that were threatening to delay the opening of the Turkish consulate in Manhattan. The consulate opened soon after. FBI investigators have interviewed several former and current FDNY officials, including Jardin, about the DMO list, according to a source directly familiar with the matter.
The emails obtained by The News do not mention the Turkish consulate matter, but shine a light on other projects.
‘Finalize’ Old Farley
On Feb. 4, 2022, Julie Greenberg, a lobbyist with the government relations firm Kasirer, emailed then-Buildings Commissioner Melanie La Rocca and others, asking they “finalize” inspections of the old Farley Building at 421 Eighth Ave. in Manhattan, a copy of the correspondence obtained by The News shows.
The property at the time was waiting to open after being developed into a 740,000-square-foot office space by Vornado Realty Trust, the city’s second largest commercial landlord which had hired Kasirer to lobby the Adams administration on “real estate issues,” according to disclosures.
La Rocca forwarded Greenberg’s email to FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, who was at the time the department’s first deputy commissioner.
“This needs to be top priority,” Kavanagh wrote in an email forwarding La Rocca’s message to members of her executive staff. They, in turn, passed it along to Jardin and other FDNY chiefs.
With Jardin and the others looped in, FDNY Captain Brian Cordasco wrote in response:
“They are looking to add this to the top of the DMO LIST…which I guess tops the newest high priority (Amazon HQ) in Manhattan that they sent just an hour ago.”
Writing back to Cordasco, Jardin voiced concern about the way the list was being used and argued it wasn’t jibing with its original purpose.
“Maybe we should raise the issue of the scope/purpose of the CRT meetings and the notion that aiding small business was the focus of the effort,” Jardin wrote of the DMO list, using an acronym for “cutting red tape.” It’s unclear if the email was subsequently shared with Kavanagh.
Jardin, who left the FDNY earlier this year and is among a number of chiefs suing Kavanagh and the department over alleged age discrimination, did not get his way, other emails show.
On April 5, 2022, Luis Martinez, a special adviser to Kavanagh — who by then had been appointed FDNY commissioner by Adams — sent an email to department officials informing them they had created a new “Top 7” list for expedited building inspections. The subject line on the email was “DMO-Priorities list update.”
New ‘Top 7’ List
The top item on the new list was 50 Hudson Yards, a 77-story office tower on Manhattan’s West Side developed by Related Companies, one of the city’s largest real estate firms, the email from Martinez shows.
Ritz Carlton on Broadway, Vornado’s Farley Building project and Amazon’s new headquarters on Fifth Avenue were also on the new priority list in slots two, three and four. On the fifth, sixth and seventh slot of the “Top 7” list was a new therapeutic unit at Bellevue Hospital, Cornbread Restaurant on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and a St. Francis College building on Remsen Street, also in Brooklyn.
Kavanagh was especially interested in getting immediate updates on the “top two” projects, 50 Hudson Yards and the Farley Building, Deputy FDNY Chief Kevin Murphy wrote in a subsequent email on April 6. Getting a quick inspection for the 50 Hudson Yards project, in particular, was “a top priority for City Hall” and would require “cancelled inspections” at other properties, Murphy added.
Canceling other inspections
The emails obtained by The News show that a total of 13 inspections had to be canceled to accommodate the 50 Hudson Yards project. Among them was an inspection at Hanson Place Seventh-day Adventist, an elementary school in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, several small residential buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan as well as a Target on Bay Parkway in Brooklyn.
Despite the cancellations, 50 Hudson Yards, which is one of the city’s largest commercial office buildings, required more inspections in May, emails show.
“The group has asked for HY to be expedited again, despite the recent history,” Murphy wrote in a May 11, 2022 email to Cordasco and other officials forwarding a message from Madelyn Adams, the FDNY’s intergovernmental coordinator, asking for the project to get another fast-tracked inspection. The “recent history” referenced by Murphy was the inspections that had to be cancelled in April.
“Can I assume there will be some pushback on moving HY up due to last inspection results?” Murphy asked in a separate email to Cardasco.
Forwarding the chain to Rocco Bonavita, the FDNY’s executive director, Cordasco wrote: “I already wrote back to Chief Murphy to agree there is definitely concern. I recommend we do not drop everything like last time, cancel a bunch of jobs, and try to do this week.”
After its inspections, 50 Hudson Yards opened in October 2022. Adams attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the building, calling its opening a “major milestone in New York City’s continued economic recovery.”
Spokespeople for Vornado and Related did not return requests for comment this weekend.
A spokesman for Adams declined to comment Friday when asked about the emails uncovered by The News. The FDNY did not return a request for comment.
As previously reported by The News, beyond Vornado and Related, real estate giants like the Durst Organization and SL Green have landed on the DMO list. Between them, those firms own millions of square feet of property across the five boroughs and are considered among the most politically influential businesses in the city.