Speaker Adams rebukes allegations she retaliated against council members over budget vote

Speaker Adams
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams with council members before passing city budget. Monday, June 13, 2022.
Photo courtesy of John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

All is not well in City Hall.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Queens) opened her pre-stated meeting news conference Thursday by fiercely denying allegations she retaliated against six progressive council members who voted against the city budget by withholding money from a special pot of discretionary funding she controls for those members and removing their names from initiatives funded in their districts.

During the press conference, the speaker appeared to respond specifically to criticism from far-left Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D – Queens, Bronx), where she accused Adams of playing “dirty politics” for allegedly withholding discretionary funds from the pot of money known as the “Speaker’s Initiative to Address Citywide Needs.”

“Some federal elected officials forget that a city is not managed through Twitter or social media. We don’t have that privilege,” Adams said, appearing to refer to Ocasio-Cortez’s comments.

Ocasio-Cortez made the comments in a video posted to Instagram Tuesday, where she pointed specifically to an after-school program at an Astoria Boys & Girl’s club that she said was deprived of funding. That was funding Council Member Tiffany Cabán (D – Queens), one of the six who voted against the budget, had requested.

The club reportedly only received half of the $150,000 it hoped to get, that money came from local initiatives funding instead of the speaker’s separate pot and was credited to Council Member Shekar Krishnan (D – Queens) instead of Cabán.

According to Adams, none of the six progressive council members – Cabán, Kristin Richardson Jordan (D – Manhattan), Chi Ossé (D – Brooklyn), Charles Barron (D – Brooklyn), Alexa Aviles (D – Brooklyn) and Sandy Nurse (D – Brooklyn) – who voted against the $101 billion budget Monday night were locked out of the speaker’s pot for their votes. In fact, she added, every one of them received some level of funding from the $41.6 million speaker’s fund.

“I want to be clear that it’s simply factually incorrect, that I excluded members from speaker’s list funding for groups in their districts or that they requested funding support for,” Adams said. “It is also contrary to fact that I took away funding from groups based on how the members of the districts that represent them voted on the budget. Every member, regardless of their vote on the budget, received funding allocations from these speaker initiated funds. It is inaccurate to say some members lost money, or were locked out of funding because of their votes. An initial news story that many outlets follow claimed that but it’s simply not true.”

Adams was seemingly referring to a news article from City & State New York earlier in the week, that was the first to report allegations that the speaker didn’t fund initiatives from dissenting council members through the speakers fund. 

A reporter with City & State acknowledged on Twitter Thursday that they missed context for the story and many initiatives from those members were funded. But he said the speaker’s office didn’t respond to their multiple requests for comment in the days following the vote to get clarification and that those members on average received less money from the pot than those who voted for the budget.

Speaker Adams said that while the nay-saying council members’ initiatives were funded from the speaker’s pot, their names were not listed on those budget lines because they voted against the budget.

“The only distinction that occurred was that some members whose districts received allocations from this pot of funding did not have their names attached to those allocations because they did not vote to approve a budget that includes those allocations,” Adams said. “There was no line item vote on the budget, you vote up or you vote down on the entirety of the budget. It does not mean allocations or items on their wish list are not made. In fact, they were.”

According to the speaker, keeping these council members’ names off of the allocations they requested for their districts wasn’t a form of political retaliation but rather to show that they don’t get credit for a budget they voted against. And that the budget isn’t about single council members but an entire body.

“The budget is not about a single member or of council members, it’s about funding programs or initiatives that New Yorkers depend on, which we do and which we did,” the speaker said. “There is no message to the no voters per se, it is merely showing that those that voted ‘no’ are not assigned credit to those allocations that are still coming from the speaker’s allocations.”

Adams also pushed back on criticism that the budget made significant cuts to education funding, saying the $215 million reduction in the Department of Education budget was an “enrollment adjustment.”

“We can’t play on the words all day long,” she said. “The bottom line is that principals and students are more than likely going to be affected by whatever happens, whether there’s increases to some schools or decreases to some schools or whether some have no change at all. The bottom line is that this City Council is determined and committed to working with our schools to doing the very best that we can to sustain them and make them whole and keep whole. We are still in talks with the administration on how to make this happen.”