Brooklyn man — Ken Adams — to run state economic agency

Brooklyn man — Ken Adams — to run state economic agency

The state agency behind the controversial Atlantic Yards mega-project and the Brooklyn Bridge Park waterfront development now has a Brooklynite at the helm.

On Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo tapped former Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Kenneth Adams — a Cobble Hill native — to run the Empire State Development Agency, the state’s quasi-independent economic engine.

Adams is currently the head of the Business Council of New York State, a 2,500-member pro-business lobbying group that pushes for less regulation and lower taxes. In his four years at the helm, the council became more politically active, making the first endorsement in its history last fall — Andrew Cuomo for governor.

This week, Cuomo returned the kind words, calling Adams the “right person at the right time” to “change the state’s business climate to attract and maintain cutting-edge companies.”

Carl Hum, Adams’s successor at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, cheered the news as good for Brooklyn.

“The perfect candidate for the job has an understanding of upstate and downstate issues, and he understands both,” Hum said.

Those who remember Adams, whether as a teenager in Cobble Hill or during his successful tenure at the Chamber of Commerce from 1996-2005, were awash with pride.

Way back in 1996, Ken Adams visited our newsroom in a run for office.

“He’s been a dedicated public servant his entire life,” said Roy Sloane, the president of the Cobble Hill Association, a civic group Adams once helmed.

Adams’s reputation as a bridge-builder could help put a positive face on the Empire State Development Corporation, which has drawn fire for rubber-stamping the Atlantic Yards project, and for approving housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The agency finances and operates state projects by issuing tax-exempt bonds — and often avoids the city’s usual public review process for its projects.

“The Empire State Development Corporation was used in Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Atlantic Yards to skirt all public scrutiny and evade community input,” Sloane charged.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to give Adams — a Brooklyn Friends graduate, after all — a chance.

“Do I have issues with the Empire State development Corporation? Yes. Do I have issues with Ken Adams? No,” he stated.

Atlantic Yards opponents are cautiously optimistic.

As head of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Ken Adams was always a huge Cyclone booster (but, hey, who isn’t)?
File photo by Gregory P. Mango

“For those of us with huge concerns about Atlantic Yards, I would hope Ken brings a new era of transparency and the seeking of community input on projects the development corporation has in its portfolio,” said Eric McClure, campaign coordinator of Park Slope Neighbors, a grassroots group.

The appointment is part of a decision to cleave the functions of the CEO and the chairman, posts previously held by Dennis Mullen, the former Birds Eye Food CEO, whom Adams succeeds.

Adams will oversee Cuomo’s plan to create 10 regional councils that will constitute the newly organized agency.

The agency’s mission is to drive job growth and strategic investment through an array of programs, including a $50-million small business loan fund and a $250-million jobs program. It also offers financial incentives to companies to set up shop in the state.

Adams’s responsibilities are statewide, but local officials are already calling for him to focus on Brooklyn.

“I’m confident that Ken will address the high rate of unemployment in Central Brooklyn, the lack of procurement for minority and women owned businesses in the state of New York, as well as the impact of the recession on all small businesses,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Fort Greene).

“These are austere times, and the question is, can he be all things to all people in Brooklyn?” she added.

In 2000, Adams backed Rep. Anthony Weiner.
File photo by Gregory P. Mango

Adams did not return a request for comment in time for our online deadline.