In December 2018, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams visited Tashkent Supermarket, a large grocery store in the heart of Brighton Beach that caters to the local Uzbeki community. The Russian-language NTV America was there, too, filming Adams walking the aisles, taste-testing food and giving a rave review.
“This is a great store, a great place to shop, and I’m glad it’s part of the Brooklyn experience,” Adams said.
Boosting the local economy is part of a borough president’s job, and on Dec. 10, Tashkent posted the NTV segment on YouTube.
Adams’ visit also boosted his political mission. City campaign-finance records show that on the same day, Tashkent’s owner and several managers who work at his stores donated a combined $20,000 to Adams’ Democratic mayoral run.
Since his election as borough president in 2013, Adams has lavished attention on many ethnic communities. The Daily News noted his trips to countries with repressive regimes in reporting that his visits to Turkey, Azerbaijan and China were paid for by those governments and organizations in their U.S. immigrant communities. Adams created sister-city agreements with municipalities in those countries, pacts he said would help increase economic investment in the borough.
Campaign-finance records reviewed by the NYCity News Service show that donations later flowed to Adams’ mayoral campaign from individuals associated with organizations in the immigrant communities he courted with those trips.
Amnesty International has documented human-rights abuses in each of those countries, including Azerbaijani war crimes in its conflict with Armenia, Turkey’s oppression of LGBTQ people and its prosecutions of journalists and opposition politicians and China’s “harsh crackdowns on human-rights defenders and people perceived to be dissidents, as well as the systematic repression of ethnic minorities.”
“They’re all heavy-handed, authoritarian regimes that control their own populations [and] their own media,” said Thomas Weiss, presidential professor of political science at CUNY’s Graduate Center.
“If he knows anything about the places, he shouldn’t want to support them,” Weiss said of Adams, who leads the field in the latest poll of prospective voters in the June 22 mayoral primary. “To justify this as an official duty, I would see as not only a stretch, but prevarication.”
After Adams registered his mayoral campaign committee in March 2018, leaders in each those communities became generous donors, showering his campaign with tens of thousands in contributions, records show. Their early donations, which predated Adams’ formal entry into the mayoral race in November 2020, helped kickstart his campaign with a nest egg that eventually blossomed into a $7.9 million war chest.
Adams’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College, said Adams’ foreign travel is unusual for a borough president, calling the campaign donations “certainly problematic.”
“It raises questions of what he’s getting in return, since we live in a ‘quid pro quo’ world,” Muzzio said. “He gets the quid, what’s the quo? And, you know, it’s campaign contributions.”
Adams has spent years cultivating relationships with leaders of the three immigrant communities.
“I’m going to live in Baku”
In 2014, Adams declared Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, one of Brooklyn’s sister cities. He travelled there to promote ties in 2016—a trip paid for by Azerbaijan’s Culture and Tourism ministry. Adams valued the cost between $1,000 and $4,999, according to his filing with the city’s Conflict of Interest Board.
In March 2018, just weeks after forming his mayoral committee, Adams attended a party celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, at the Baku Palace restaurant in Sheepshead Bay.
“After I retire from government,” he told the crowd, “I’m going to live in Baku.”
The event also served as a political fundraiser. Standing next to Adams was Marietta Rozental, president of Brooklyn Baku Friendship Association. Rozental works as a volunteer “Brooklyn Ambassador” for the borough president’s office and travelled with him to Baku in 2016.
“If you want to see this person in the City Hall, we need your support. We need your support by donating,” Rozental told the crowd in a video posted to Brooklyn Baku’s Facebook page.
Officers associated with the association and another Azerbaijiani nonprofit—as well as their families—have donated nearly $7,000 to Adams, records show.
Rozental did not respond to requests for comment.
“We just happen to like him”
Adams has travelled twice to Turkey, where he signed a sister city agreement with Istanbul’s Üsküdar district in August 2015. That trip was paid for by the Turkish Consulate; an organization called the World Tourism Foundation covered the expense of the other.
“This visit,” Adams said in a press release at the time, “underscores the deep importance of our own Turkish community and their contributions to our One Brooklyn family.”
Adams has used One Brooklyn as a slogan for his borough presidency. It is also the name of a nonprofit he formed to support borough projects, including cultural celebrations, programming for seniors, and health and housing initiatives.
His mayoral campaign received a financial boost after the visit to Turkey. Turkish American supporters hosted a fundraiser for Adams in July 2018 at Ali Baba Turkish Restaurant in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan. The gathering could help him reach a crucial fundraising threshold for his campaign, he said that evening.
“It was my goal in March, as we started our journey, to get to $1 million by July 11,” Adams is heard saying in a video posted by a donor. “We believe before the night is out we’re going to get the number that we wanted to get to. And doing these events is so important.”
Campaign records show Adams raised more than $16,000 on the day of the fundraiser at Ali Baba. More funds from Turkish American donors came in the following days. Businessman Murat Guzel—contributor to numerous national Democratic campaigns—gave Adams $5,000 on July 12. Guzel donated an additional $5,100 a month later.
Because Adams is participating in the city’s matching campaign-funds program, individual donors can give a maximum $2,000 in total contributions. Any additional amount is refunded by the campaign. Guzel, for instance, was refunded $8,100.
Behram Turan, board chairman of the Turken Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes Turkish and Muslim culture, donated $3,000 to Adams that July. In November 2018, Turken broke ground for a 21-story building in Manhattan where Adams hoisted a ceremonial shovel alongside Turan and Turkey’s ambassador to the UN.
“We’re not expecting any special treatment,” Turan said when asked by the NYCity News Service about his donation. “We just happen to like him personally and see the potential for him to provide good service for New York City, where we have a project.”
“This is the payback”
Adams has also worked to foster a relationship with the borough’s rapidly expanding Chinese-American community. Shortly after becoming borough president in 2014, Adams travelled to China to sign sister-city agreements with Beijing’s Chaoyang district and Yiwu, a city in Zhejiang province. Adams said the agreements would help promote tourism and economic ties with Brooklyn.
He also vowed to bring to fruition a long-pending project in Sunset Park’s Chinatown known as the Friendship Arch, a 40-foot-tall structure Adams championed as an economic and tourism draw. Plans for the arch ultimately fell through last year, which City Hall said was a result of China rescinding the gift, according to The City.
Adams’ travel to China was primarily paid for by the Sino-America New York Brooklyn Archway Association, which covered some $7,000 in expenses, while the Chinese government covered his roughly $800 hotel, food and travel costs, according to the New York Post. Among the Archway Association’s officers is Winnie Greco, a liaison to Chinese community for the borough president. Greco is also a board member of the One Brooklyn Fund. Campaign finance records show officers and supporters of the Archway Association have donated a combined $11,900 to Adams.
Archway officer Robin Mui, a registered Republican, said he has hosted two Adams fundraisers, estimating they raised between $20,000 to $30,000. Mui said Adams has been a reliable supporter for the Chinese community.
“Every problem, he looks out for us,” Mui said.
He cited the controversy over the admissions test for the city’s most-selective public high schools as a key example. Adams initially supported Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call to change admissions standards for specialized schools like Stuyvesant High School, where Asian Americans make up nearly 75 percent of the student body and Blacks just 1 percent.
Adams later softened his stance after donors in the Chinese American community complained, according to the Post. Adams now says he wants to create more specialized high schools but that the test’s future lies with the state.
Frank Seddio, an Adams supporter who is a former leader of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, said ethnic communities are a legitimate source for campaign fundraising.
“As borough president, he’s made sure to reach out to all the communities and it’s helped him gain support from so many diverse groups,” said Seddio, who has known Adams since they were city police officers in the 1980s. He also served with him in the state legislature
“He’s managed to respect all the parties and all the groups, and this is the payback.”