Eric Adams and the Crossroads of Power: Navigating Scandal and Scrutiny in New York Politics

Image provided by Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

News Analysis by Elif Caliskan ‘25

In the daunting scene of New York politics, Eric Adams attempted to confront a large-scale migration crisis and the pandemic simultaneously. In his 2021 mayoral campaign, Adams embarked on a high-stakes endeavor to capture the hearts of the citizens of the Big Apple. Initiating a robust fundraising campaign, he courted significant financial support from real estate executives, and his legal defense fund, which traces to dubious origins. Where is the money coming from?

It was a successful campaign.  For his incumbent path to Mayor, which does not officially start until 2025, Adams’ campaign, with over 2,500 donations, has already raked in nearly $3 million. 

Under the city’s matching funds program, contributions are limited to $2,100. However, Adams was able to collect such a large amount of money early on in the election through contributions to his legal defense fund. 

The fund was established in 2022 to cover legal expenses stemming from a federal investigation into his 2021 campaign and has emerged as a novel avenue for direct financial support. Although higher than the city’s matching funds program, it has a cap of $5,000 per individual.

Despite POLITICO‘s attempts to solicit comments from individuals who contributed over $7,000 to his fund they declined to provide insights. Similarly, a spokesperson for Mayor Adams’ campaign opted not to comment. 

The imperative of transparency in campaign finance is underscored by federal regulations mandating the disclosure of donors by candidates and committees. Voters have a vested interest in understanding the sources of funding that seek to influence both governance and electoral outcomes.

Despite the existing laws, some wealthy individuals and interest groups continue to obscure their political contributions using tactics involving “straw donors,” which are explicitly prohibited under federal law. In these cases, a donor first passes the money to another person or entity, often a shell company created specifically for this purpose, which then funnels the funds to a political organization.

The consequences of these types of donations have real-world consequences with Adams’ campaign. Six contributors to Adams were arrested on state charges for orchestrating “straw donor” contributions this past summer. They allegedly used individuals’ names without permission to circumvent campaign finance laws and obtain matching funds. Among those charged was Dwayne Montgomery, a retired NYPD deputy inspector and long-time acquaintance of Adams, who had been coordinating with top members of the Adams campaign to organize a fundraiser. 

Last week, two of the accused (excluding Montgomery) pleaded guilty to misdemeanors connected to the straw donor conspiracy and agreed to assist with ongoing investigations into Eric Adams’s 2021 campaign.

Moreover, POLITICO’s analysis highlights trends among the mayor’s primary financial supporters, revealing a diverse group that includes steadfast supporters, leading figures in real estate, and others.

Who are the others?

The charts point to Türkiye. 

Federal authorities are investigating allegations of  Adams’s acceptance of illicit donations from the Turkish government to fund his 2021 mayoral campaign. This raises questions about his current mayoral tenure and his capability to maintain his position through 2025.

On Thursday morning, November 2, 2023. Adams, within hours of touching down in Washington D.C. for important meetings at the White House, had an unexpected return to New York City. His former chief fund-raiser, 24-year-old Brianna Suggs’ home was raided by the FBI and all laptops and iPads labeled “Eric Adams” were confiscated directly from the home. 

There have been multiple allegations that suggest Eric Adams’ campaign conspired with the members of the Turkish government, funding a portion of his campaign through illegal donations. 

The FBI and the federal prosecutors are also on a side quest examining a Brooklyn building company called KSK Construction, owned by Turkish immigrants, as they held a fund-raiser in 2021 that would send the profits directly to Adams’ campaign. 

Two other homes in New Jersey were also raided on the same day as Ms. Suggs’ home, due to their affiliation with Mr. Adams and Turkey. 

 Moving forward, although Mr. Adams claims to “have nothing to hide” and that he will cooperate, the investigation into his campaign presents a significant challenge for him and all that surrounds him. Will he be able to overcome it and what does this mean for the city?

Elif Caliskan ‘25, the author, is a staff writer for The Grace Gazette.