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Hudson Yards cut line for fire inspections as ‘top priority’ for City Hall, emails show

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High-ranking fire department officials ordered inspectors to cancel their scheduled appointments and expedite safety reviews at a Hudson Yards office tower “as a top priority from city hall” last year, according to internal messages obtained by Gothamist.

The directive to usher developer Related Companies’ 50 Hudson Yards office tower to the front of the inspection line in April 2022 comes as Mayor Eric Adams and the Fire Department face scrutiny for fast-tracking approvals on behalf of influential real estate firms — even if it meant bumping others waiting months for review, as Gothamist reported Tuesday. The accusations of favoritism have emerged in a federal probe into Adams’ campaign fundraising activities.

In one April 8, 2022 email, a deputy chief ordered staff in the fire prevention bureau to clear their schedules and get to 50 Hudson Yards to complete necessary fire alarm inspections no matter what was on their calendars already.

“The request to expedite Hudson Yards comes from the Office of the Fire Commissioner, as a top priority from city hall,” Deputy Chief Kevin Murphy wrote to officials in the email. “Any feedback or consequences from rescheduled/cancelled inspections on other affected projects can be handled by the OFC if necessary.”

Three days later, Fire Prevention Bureau Assistant Chief Kevin Brennan passed the order on to the department’s customer service center to let them know about the upcoming cancellations, another message shows.

The email bore the subject line “DMO-Priorities list update” — a reference to the Deputy Mayor of Operations, the position that oversaw the fire department under Adams’ predecessor Bill de Blasio. Adams and his spokespeople have repeatedly denied that such a list exists, even after Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh confirmed its use in an interview with NBC.

“I want to be very clear: we don’t know of a DMO list. We have not created a DMO list. Every New Yorker that comes to me is serviced,” Adams told reporters Tuesday.

He said he wanted to eliminate the “bureaucratic madness” for all applicants and doesn’t play favorites.

“Whoever calls us, whoever seeks assistance, we help them,” he added. “That is what this administration is about.”

A City Hall spokesperson pointed to the mayor’s comment when questioned about the directive. Brennan and Murphy did not respond to emails.

As Gothamist reported Tuesday, various projects owned or built by major developers like Related, the Durst Organization and SL Green were ushered to the front of the line for fire inspections by the Adams administration. The VIP treatment allowed the projects to bypass a monthslong backlog. Fire officials said they were forced to cancel other buildings to make way for the “prioritized” projects.

Other projects on the list included a homeless shelter, a facility for kids entering foster care and preschools, along with a handful of small businesses and sites owned by smaller development firms.

Fire inspection delays plague buildings across the city, causing owners to accumulate debt without being able to open and earn money.

The problem worsened during the pandemic. Fire prevention inspectors completed roughly 28,000 reviews in fiscal year 2021, compared to about 47,000 in fiscal year 2019, according to an annual report on city agency performance. The number rose to around 33,000 last fiscal year — still short of pre-pandemic levels.

Questions remain around what kinds of projects get to jump the line and avoid the backlog.

Few companies are as plugged into city government as Related, which developed the sprawling Hudson Yards complex and is working with a smaller developer on a proposal to tear down nearby public housing to make way for a new mixed-income community. The company’s billionaire chairman Stephen Ross has spent more than $1 million to sway local elections in favor of moderate or right-leaning candidates..

Around the time of the emailed directive, Related was paying the firm Kasirer to influence City Hall around building approvals, city lobbying records show. Kasirer twice targeted Adams or top officials in the mayor’s office, including his chief of staff, Frank Carone and Deputy Mayor of Operations Meera Joshi, in the late-winter and early spring of 2022.

Related did not respond to requests for comment on the fast-tracking. Kasirer did not provide a response.

The 50 Hudson Yards site also appeared on the list of “prioritized” properties from June 2022. The office tower opened in October 2022, with Adams heaping praise on the complex in a company press release at the time.

“With some of the biggest investors in the world leasing space in this building, these business leaders are sending a clear message that they have confidence in the future of our city and want to expand their footprint in the greatest city in the world,” he said.

Commercial tenants include Facebook parent company Meta and the investment firm BlackRock.

Federal agents have asked some fire officials about the prioritized buildings list in interviews earlier this year, according to attorney Jim Walden, who is representing a group of chiefs suing the department after their demotions. Walden said his clients were asked about the document in April.

The FBI and Southern District of New York, which are handling the investigation, declined to comment.

Federal authorities are currently investigating whether fire department inspectors were pressured to approve incomplete fire prevention systems at a Turkish consulate building in Midtown ahead of an event attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to the New York Times. The Times reported that Adams texted then-Commissioner Daniel Nigro about speeding up inspections at the tower less than two months after winning the Democratic mayoral primary.

Neither Adams nor his campaign staff have been publicly accused of wrongdoing .

In the lawsuit, former Fire Prevention Bureau Chief Joseph Jardin said he was sidelined after speaking out against “corruption” on behalf of developers with City Hall access.

Jardin said the list of prioritized projects was first created to aid small businesses at the tail end of the de Blasio administration but soon transformed into “a mechanism to force FDNY to permit politically connected developers to cut the inspection line.”

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