Mayor Eric Adams turned the page on the first year of his administration Tuesday morning, officially naming Sheena Wright and Camille Joseph Varlack his next first deputy mayor and chief of staff, respectively, at a City Hall news conference.
Wright, deputy mayor for strategic initiatives, and Joseph Varlack, a senior advisor to the mayor, will be taking over for Adams’ current First Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo and Chief of Staff Frank Carone, who will leave office at the start of the new year.
Grillo and Carone have both said they joined Adams’ administration with the understanding they would only serve in their senior positions for its first year to get things off the ground and then pass the torch onto officials who would stay in those roles for the duration of the mayor’s first term.
First, Hizzoner tipped his cap to Grillo and Carone for their year of service in his administration. Adams said he picked Grillo because of her deep expertise in municipal government garnered through her nearly three decades of service to the city, mostly in the School Construction Authority (SCA).
“Lorraine came in with the level of expertise and the level of knowledge and really provided the security that we needed as we transitioned into this new level,” Adams said. “No matter who we were, when you want to do something you’ve never done before, you better have someone there that has done it before. And Lorraine brought that.”
The mayor also reflected on his long standing friendship with Carone and drew comparisons between their personal backstories of coming from working class New York City neighborhoods and rising to the highest ranks of city government.
“It was the combination of Frank Carone, my chief of staff, and Ingrid [Chief Advisor to the Mayor] Lewis-Martin that sat down together and stated ‘we will make this pursuit,’” he said. “My heart breaks that I’m losing him. But I know he’s one text away.”
Adams credited Grillo and Carone with brokering a deal to bring a new life sciences center to the Kips Bay section of Manhattan, reigniting efforts to make long-needed repairs to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, working to reform the city’s capital process and building his administration.
While Grillo and Carone have huge shoes to fill, Adams said, Wright and Joseph Varlack will “bring their own shoes” to the roles. By naming them to a couple of the most senior roles in his administration, he said he’s continuing his efforts to place women of color in positions they haven’t traditionally been chosen for.
The mayor said Wright, who is married to Schools Chancellor David Banks, has demonstrated through her work as deputy mayor for strategic initiatives that she has the ability to bring various entities together to move the ball forward on major undertakings.
“Sheena, I’ve known for many years, she’s been a steady hand, cool head and [has] a passion for the work that is needed in this city,” Adams said. “She knows how to bring business, nonprofits and government together to simply get stuff done. Government has always had knowledgeable people who did not have the creativity to solve the problems that we are facing. And she brings that commitment and creativity to our city.”
Before joining Adams’ cabinet, Wright was president and CEO of both United Way of New York City and Abyssinian Development Corporation. The mayor credited her with initiatives like clearing backlogs of child care vouchers and $4.2 million in payments to nonprofits contracted with the city.
“It is an awesome responsibility to lead my sister deputy mayor’s, chief housing, tech and efficiency officers, to work with an incredible leadership team to ensure that we are realizing the Mayor’s vision and that we are driving to and accomplishing meaningful and measurable change for New Yorkers,” Wright said. “Ensuring that we are a results oriented and data driven administration.”
Wright has long been rumored to be Grillo’s most likely successor after it was first reported in September that the latter would be stepping down as Adams’ first deputy.
Joseph Varlack came to the Adams administration by way of the legal sector as a founding partner and the chief operating officer of the law firm Bradford Edwards & Varlack LLP. She’s also worked at the highest levels of state government as deputy director of state operations, chief risk officer and special counsel for New York State.
Adams said Joseph Varlack displayed the “calm, strategic, general like” demeanor that he was seeking in Carone’s replacement.
“Over and over again, I took notes as I watched her movement and her ability to just handle the crisis, to bring people together and bring the level of sureness that is needed in the disorder of government as everyone moves in different directions and being able to herd us together and say we will be focused and disciplined,” the mayor said.
During her remarks, Joseph Varlack said taking on this role was the best way to fulfill her mission of making sure the city continues to be a hub of opportunity.
“The American dream starts in New York,” Joseph Varlack said. “It is New York. And this opportunity to help enable New York to continue to be a place where people like my mother can achieve our dreams is an opportunity that you say yes to.”
Basil Smikle, the director of Hunter College’s Public Policy Program, told amNewYork Metro that Adams made good picks with Wright and Joseph Varlack. Smikle said Wright, who he’s known for many years, in particular is a strong pick because of her background in bringing the private and public sectors together.
“These are two strong public servants, really smart on policy,” he said.“Sheena has a track record of working with private sector institutions and other public sector entities to try to sort of bring resources for New Yorkers. And that’s going to be very important as the city and the mayor thinks about this sort of post COVID environment.”