Mayor Adams defends ex-Giuliani aide Randy Mastro, likely pick as the city’s next top lawyer, as City Council opposition grows

Eric Adams
FILE – New York City Mayor Eric Adams speaks during a news conference at City Hall, Dec. 12, 2023, in New York.
(AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie, File)

Randy Mastro seems to be the latest sticking point between Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council.

Amid mounting opposition to Mayor Adams’ potential nomination of the controversial attorney and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani administration alum as the city’s next top lawyer, Hizzoner on Tuesday sought to defend the experienced litigator’s record.

The mayor’s defense of Mastro came in response to backlash from several City Council members over rumors, first reported last week, that he wants the attorney to replace current city Corporation Counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix — who leads the Law Department. Adams’ top adviser, Ingrid Lewis Martin, later last week confirmed that Hinds-Radix is leaving City Hall, and that the administration is eyeing Mastro as her successor.

Since Mastro’s name first surfaced as a contender for the gig, several progressive City Council members have come out in opposition to his potential nomination. The council has City Charter mandated oversight of the mayor’s nominations for corporation counsel and must vote to confirm whoever he chooses.

The council members have cited concerns about Mastro’s record as chief of staff and deputy mayor to the Republican Giuliani, as well as his time defending clients like former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the “Bridgegate” scandal and the oil giant Chevron.

Then the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, which is made up of 34 members, stated it is “firm” in its opposition to a potential Mastro nomination, in a Tuesday morning statement. The caucus said Mastro is “unfit” to serve in the role, due to his record of representing “dubious” clients.

Given the 51-member makeup of the City Council and its heavy Democratic majority, it is not clear if Adams has the votes to get Mastro through the body.

‘A slippery slope’

Randy Mastro talking to reporters
Randy Mastro, representing New Jersey in its congestion pricing lawsuit, speaks to reporters at New Jersey federal court on April 3.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

But Adams and his Chief Counsel Lisa Zornberg sought to paint a different picture of Mastro during his weekly news conference on Tuesday morning. The mayor added that Mastro should be judged on his job qualifications for the position and not by who he represented in the past.

“It is a slippery slope to go after attorneys for representing their clients,” Adams said. “And so we’re gonna let the process move forward.”

Zornberg also expressed that sentiment in a lengthy defense of Mastro’s career against what she described as “really unbalanced” media reports she has seen about him. 

To illustrate her point, Zornberg compared Mastro to John Adams, one of the United States’ Founding Fathers and its second president. Specifically, she referenced when Adams defended a group of eight British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre — an incident in which they shot and killed five British colonists after the colonists pelted them with ice and broken glass.

“He didn’t hesitate to take on that case because he believed in upholding the rule of law,” Zornberg said. “That is what makes the United States spectacular, our incredible justice system.”

The chief counsel also touted Mastro’s civic work with organizations including the good government group Citizen’s Union, which he chairs, and the Legal Aid Society, where he used to serve as vice chair. And she pointed to Mastro taking on racial justice pro bono work, like when he defended a group of Black Lives Matter protesters who were violently cleared out of Washington DC’s Lafayette Square by law enforcement at the behest of former President Donald Trump in 2020.

Zornberg said Mastro is best known for his work to remove the mafia from the now-closed Fulton Fish Market during his time working in the Giuliani administration. She claimed he was called the “conscience of the administration” and was the highest-ranking Democrat in City Hall at the time.

“Randy’s an incredibly top-notch, world-renowned lawyer who’s given tremendous service already in the past to New York City and to the people of New York,” she said.

The impending change comes as Adams is looking to launch a more aggressive legal strategy against several high-profile lawsuits swirling around his administration, according to reporting from the New York Times. Those include a sexual misconduct suit brought against Adams filed late last year, where a former female NYPD colleague accused him of assaulting her in 1993.

But the Mayor denied that Hinds-Radix is being forced out of the administration or leaving because of legal disagreements between them.

“Judge Radix is a longtime friend for many many years, I was at her daughter’s wedding,” Adams said. “So there is no disagreement. All of us are dealing with these issues that we’re facing and we’re all doing the best we can to make them happen.”

However, the New York Post Tuesday afternoon reported that City Hall sought to replace Hinds-Radix after she raised concerns about the Law Department defending Adams in his sexual assault case, citing anonymous sources. Furthermore, the outlet reported that she only learned she was being forced out from news reports last week.