EXCLUSIVE: Insider’s Podcast Gives New Yorkers Hall Pass to City Hall

Kapil Longani Headshot
Kapil Longani as Counsel to the Mayor on Monday, December 10, 2018. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

They say you can’t fight City Hall but now, thanks to a podcast hosted by the mayor’s counsel, you can at least get an insider’s view into how the great behemoth works.

City Hall Pass, hosted by Kapil Longani, counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and produced with the help of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment makes its debut on Tuesday. 

The biweekly podcast, which can be found on a multitude of podcast streaming services, is a hall pass to City Hall. It features interviews conducted by Longani with the hall monitors of the city –– sorry –– movers and shakers of the de Blasio administration and gets into some of the nitty gritty behind the decisions that touch residents’ daily lives and who makes them. Listeners will also learn about the backgrounds of the people behind the decisions and how they got where they are today, Longani said. 

“I don’t think people have a sense of how these issues are digested and how policymakers make decisions,” he said. “We hope, you know, in a small way we could inspire people, but also be extremely informative about what happens here as told through the eyes of some of our most senior policymakers from the highest levels of city government.” 

The series kicks off with an episode featuring former Press Secretary to the Mayor Freddi Goldstein who joined the administration in 2016 and was at de Blasio’s side for the first few months of the pandemic.  

Longani came up with the idea years ago when he was senior counsel to the late U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he said, but decided it was time to press record a couple of months ago.

It was a few months into the pandemic and City Hall was still largely empty, he said. Many of the decisions affecting day to day life –– closing and reopening non-essential businesses and schools, quarantine orders –– were coming down from the mayor or the governor. There was a lot of uncertainty and New Yorkers wanted to know what was going on. 

“This would be a terrific time to let people hear some voices that really do know what’s going on and talk to the public about the process,” he said. “What they’re thinking and how they think through things, how they approach issues with the mayor, how they approach issues with other elected officials and how they discuss issues internally.”

Longani hopes a listener will finish an episode with a better understanding of why a decision was made the way it was made and how. He wants them to feel like a “fly on the wall” eavesdropping on the conversation on the issues most important to them.

“Maybe you’re not interested in enforcement, but you are interested in small businesses. Maybe you’re not interested in small businesses, but you’re interested in sanitation. Maybe you’re not interested in sanitation, but you’re interested in NYPD. Maybe you’re not interested in NYPD but you’re interested in how the Chief of Staff of the Mayor in New York City operates and what her thoughts are and how she got to this position,” he said. “We’re public servants. We work for New York and our fellow New Yorkers deserve that level of candor. They deserve to know how people in these privileged positions of power operate, and where they come from, and why.”

Future episodes focus on current and former City Hall officials and people who worked with the administration. Already in the queue is Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff Emma Wolfe, First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, former Sanitation Commissioner and mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia, Sheriff Joe Fucito, Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin, Barry Berke, and Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters at the NYPD Ernie Hart. 

Longani also branched out to speak with people who he called “interesting New Yorkers” –– people not associated with the administration but who have relevant backgrounds and who would be interesting to hear from right now. One such interesting New Yorker is former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

City Hall Pass isn’t meant for just policy nerds. It’s meant for all New Yorkers, he said. 

“I hope that we have a diverse array of New Yorkers. Everybody from people who own businesses, to policy wonks to school teachers, city employees, students,” he said. “I hope, across the board, anybody that lives in this city will find something that they can relate to.”

If all goes well, Longani hopes to continue the podcast throughout the rest of the administration which means he has a lot of early mornings ahead of him. He only conducts interviews at 7 a.m. so that production doesn’t get in the way of his day job as counsel to the mayor. 

If an interviewee isn’t a morning person, they won’t make it on the show, he said. 

City Hall Pass is available on Spotify, Anchor.fm, Soundcloud, PocketCasts, and Counsel to the Mayor’s website