Laurie Cumbo, a former Brooklyn Councilmember with a history of polarizing comments, is set to become the city’s next commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, the mayor's office announced Friday.
Mayor Eric Adams announced the appointment, which had been reported as imminent by The City, in a press release on Friday.
“Laurie Cumbo brings a breadth of experience in the arts, community advocacy, and city government to her role as commissioner,” the mayor said, in a statement. “She will be instrumental in leading our efforts to strengthen New York City’s vibrant cultural life and connect New Yorkers to cultural experiences and institutions in all five boroughs.”
Cumbo, who served as the Council’s majority speaker before being term-limited and is considered a member of Adams’ inner circle, was long viewed as a candidate for a position in the new administration. But her past statements on documented immigrants have drawn scrutiny. Her hiring adds to a growing list of controversial picks made by Adams, beginning with Philip Banks III Jr., a former police chief embroiled in a corruption scandal, and most recently, three pastors with a history of anti-gay stances.
Adams has defended his choices, saying that people are capable of changing and learning from their mistakes.
Late last year, Cumbo voted against a bill to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, arguing in a statement she posted on Medium that the prospect of 800,000 to 1,000,000 eligible new voters threatened to “dilute” the power of Black voters.
“As an African American woman, knowing the history of what Blacks went through to create the right to vote for all people, yes, it is difficult for me to sit back in silence and watch other oppressed people utilize that precious right to vote and partner with those who have openly oppressed us to advance their placement in the world at our demise,” Cumbo wrote.
Attempts to reach Cumbo for comment were unsuccessful.
The legislation, which passed with a veto-proof majority under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio, was enacted in January with the support of Adams. It is currently facing a legal challenge in court.
Cumbo’s remarks sparked outrage among some Democrats. Most notably, the political strategist Luis Miranda Jr. — who is the father of Broadway and film director Lin-Manuel Miranda — opposed Cumbo’s appointment in an email to his fellow transition committee members, according to Politico.
Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also criticized Cumbo, calling her an “affront to the Latino community.”
In 2015, Cumbo had to issue an apology after she expressed concern that a seemingly disproportionate number of Asians were moving into public housing in her Fort Greene and Crown Heights district.
Cumbo recently told The City that her arts background makes her qualified to lead the city’s Cultural Affairs Department. In 1996, Cumbo established the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, billed as an institution that acknowledges the African ancestry for Latinos and those living in the Caribbean. On the Council, Cumbo served as a member of the Cultural Affairs Committee. Cumbo succeeds Gonzalo Casals, who earned yearly $221,151 salary before resigning.
The Cultural Affairs Department is the largest municipal funder of arts and culture in the country, according to its website. The department, which in the past had a nearly $200 million budget, oversees funding to more than 800 organizations.
Under de Blasio, the agency most notably sought to create a new series of public monuments honoring women and people of color, an ongoing effort that has faced backlash and criticism.
In a statement in Friday’s press release, Cumbo thanked the mayor for naming her to the role. “Together, we will center the arts in New York’s economic recovery and bolster the educational and cultural experiences of every New York City student from Pre-K to CUNY,” she said.