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‘Bizarre and uncomfortable’ — Adams wants photos of city job applicants

NEW YORK — Eric Adams is building his own Facebook.

The New York mayor has instructed city agencies to present him with photographs of potential hires as City Hall reviews candidates for jobs ranging from assistant commissioner to departmental press secretary.

The move — which aides say will help the mayor recognize his employees in a workforce of some 330,000, and several city officials contend is entirely a diversity push — comes as Adams’ team struggles to fill an unusually high number of vacancies.

Of nine current and past officials interviewed for this story, most voiced concern that the practice is already leading to staffing decisions based more on race and ethnicity than merit, even if they said they support a diversified workforce. And nearly all of them said it has added another obstacle to an already slow hiring process.

In two emails reviewed by POLITICO, mayoral staffers advised about a dozen high-ranking employees to submit pictures of people they want to bring on board for the mayor’s review.

“Flagging that the Mayor would love all agencies upper leadership in this type of style,” reads an email an Adams staffer sent on April 19, referring to an attached template of existing pictures and job descriptions of agency brass. “Clarifying also that the avatars in the attached should be actual photos as the Mayor likes to begin to recognize folks faces.”

The new protocol, described by officials across several agencies, is widely viewed as a measure to diversify the city’s workforce — a priority for the new mayor, whose slate of City Hall deputies predominantly comprises women and people of color.

“There’s no other way to interpret it,” said a high-ranking city official, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about an internal policy.

The person recalled receiving the instructions verbally, and being told by someone who works in the mayor’s office of appointments that Adams wanted agencies to hire people who “reflect the constituencies we serve.”

“Everyone knew what it was. There was no question. It was the first thing everybody said: ‘We’re going to start counting complexions now,’” one recently-departed City Hall employee said about the practice.

Others say it has slowed the hiring process at a time of increased job vacancies — 8 percent of municipal jobs were unfilled as of April, according to data from the Citizens Budget Commission. And some city staffers questioned whether it is appropriate to make hiring decisions based on demographics.

Adams spokesperson Fabien Levy stressed the policy is “about respect for our colleagues and knowing who they are when we arrive at an event.”

“City Hall reviews the resume of all final candidates for senior level positions at agencies to ensure the mayor and we at City Hall know who is point on projects when working with them,” Levy added. “The Adams administration is hiring the best people for the best jobs in the best city in the world. And we are committed to building a team that reflects the city they serve and the administration they represent. Every hire is judged on their qualifications and whether they will be able to deliver for New Yorkers day after day.”

One of the group emails reviewed by POLITICO, titled “Hiring Slide template,” instructs agency officials to submit to the mayor’s team organizational charts with the names and titles of existing staffers.

The April 15 missive states that Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi had recently met with Adams to discuss hiring and showed him a slide of her own proposed team.

“The Mayor really liked the org chart and he asked that all DM teams use this as a template moving forward as it relates to team structures,” the City Hall staffer wrote. “I’ve attached a template here for all of you — I’m happy to help for slide design if you need support in this. Note, the avatar are space for you to provide a photo of the team member.”

Two agency employees who are tasked with hiring staff said they are not required to ask job candidates for photos, so long as they can provide images to the mayor. They said they often scour social media sites like LinkedIn for headshots. Once obtained, they must paste the picture into their agency’s organizational chart — which includes photographs and job descriptions of existing officials — and highlight the would-be newcomers in yellow, according to a copy of the PowerPoint reviewed by POLITICO.

“The whole hiring process this City Hall set up is difficult enough, and the photo requirement just takes it from hard to bizarre and uncomfortable,” another high-ranking agency official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A New York City-based employment attorney said no law prohibits hiring decisions based upon race and ethnicity if it furthers a goal of diversifying a workforce.

“If a company called me and said, ‘Hey listen we really want to increase the diversity at our company, especially at senior levels, do you think it would help us if we used photos in order to increase it,’ I don’t see how that would be a problem if it actually helped,” lawyer Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor Law LLP, said in an interview. “They’re entitled to take steps to try to fulfill that diversity goal, providing that in doing that they’re not running afoul of the existing law.”

Her one note of caution: Job candidates should not be required to present photographs, though there is nothing legally barring officials from searching for headshots online. “I would say you better be sure you have their permission and they’re doing this voluntarily,” she said.

In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission addresses this matter, noting on its website: “Employers should not ask for a photograph of an applicant. If needed for identification purposes, a photograph may be obtained after an offer of employment is made and accepted.”

When asked about his rationale for the policy on Thursday, Adams reiterated a desire to recognize city workers’ faces.

“Nothing I think is more disrespectful than when people work for you on your executive team and you don’t know who they are. I should know my employees, I should walk up to them and say thank you, I should know what they look like,” he said after an unrelated press conference in Queens, before arguing that people who believe otherwise are merely angry that he enjoys being mayor.

“Now, for those who have other reasons that I decide that I want an org chart, that’s up to them. You know, a lot of people just start their day with saying, ‘Let me see what I can think hateful about.’ You know, I start my day off saying, ‘Wow, I’m lucky to be the mayor of New York City,’” he added.

“You know, I’m amazed at how much people are upset that I’m happy that I’m mayor.”

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