Mayor Eric Adams is refusing to commit to releasing his tax returns to the public while in office — standard practice among New York politicians, albeit not a legal requirement.
“I will comply with whatever rules are in place,” Adams said Friday, when asked by a reporter whether he would release his taxes during an unrelated virtual press conference.
Asked as a follow-up whether he would make a “firm commitment” to release his taxes annually as mayor, Adams responded “no.”
The mayor once again delivered his remarks from Gracie Mansion, having been forced to isolate since testing positive for coronavirus on Sunday.
By law, New York City elected officials must file financial disclosure forms with the Conflicts of Interest Board. The disclosure forms contain basic information about income and investments reported within broad ranges, as well as loans. Those disclosure forms are due in May and are released to the public sometime in July.
When asked about his own financial disclosures, Adams said he planned to submit his Conflicts of Interest Board disclosure form.
John Kaehny, the executive director of the watchdog group Reinvent Albany, said he was unaware of any mayor having shared a completely non-redacted tax return.
“There is no expectation that they do so,” he said.
But a refusal to publicize his tax returns in any form would mark a break from Adams' predecessor Mayor Bill de Blasio, who did so throughout his eight years in office. Billionaire former mayor Michael Bloomberg was criticized for not releasing his full tax returns during his 12 years as New York City mayor. He instead allowed reporters each year to review his redacted filings in person, but only for a few hours, according to the Wall Street Journal.
On Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul — who is currently running for a full term — announced she would make her tax returns available for review by the media at both the Capitol and her New York City office on Friday between 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.
During the Democratic primary campaign last year, Adams was dogged by questions around financial transparency. A report from Politico that found he had left out rental income he earned on a Brooklyn brownstone prompted Adams to amend three years of tax returns. The mayor blamed his accountant for the discrepancy, at the time.
The decision by Adams to not release his tax returns also comes after Democrats excoriated President Donald Trump, a Republican, for refusing to release his taxes. In 2017, after he released his own taxes, de Blasio tweeted, “See President Trump? It’s not that hard.”
Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for Adams, referred back to the mayor’s comments seeking clarity on his decision, adding all legal guidelines will be followed.
Basil Smikle, a former political strategist who is currently the director of Hunter College’s public policy program, said Adams was making a political mistake that could hurt his party.
“That’s not a discussion he needs to plunge Democrats into right now,” he said. “How many countless hours did members of Congress and the state attorney general spend trying to get this information from Trump? There are consequences to operating out of the same playbook.”
The mayor is coming off a challenging week, where gun violence — Adams' central campaign issue — was once again front and center after a subway shooting in Brooklyn. He began the day by thanking frontline workers involved in the attack, which injured around a dozen people but did not result in any deaths.
Following that, he held a press conference to celebrate the recently passed state budget that directed $4 billion in childcare funding to the city. He spoke with reporters afterwards.
In addition to his tax returns, Adams was pressed about whether police poorly handled the search for Frank James, the suspect in Brooklyn subway shooting who was arrested in the East Village on Wednesday afternoon following a nearly 30-hour manhunt. Prior to being arrested, James was reportedly seen in broad daylight at several popular neighborhood restaurants, including Katz’s Delicatessen and a McDonald’s.
The mayor, a former NYPD captain, defended the police department’s performance and said second-guessing was unfair.
“I take my hat off to the good old-fashioned, wearing out shoe leather, putting the pieces together,” he said. “This was an amazing job by the New York City Police Department.”
Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia University law professor who studies policing, said police deserved credit for identifying James, who was linked to the crime by a credit card and key to a U-Haul van that were found at the scene. But he called the apprehension of the suspect “both luck and the results of citizen actions.” Multiple people have said they reported seeing James in the East Village, including Zack Tahhan, who achieved social media celebrity status.
NYPD officials have also said James called the police on himself.
“The police found the van and traced it to his address and identified him from there. That’s standard police work, nothing extraordinary,” Fagan said.
He added: “A good insurance investigator would have done the same.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the timeline of Hochul's tax return announcement and when the documents would be available for review. The story has been updated to include comment from the mayor's spokesperson.