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Mr. Adams, who wants New York City to become the global capital for cryptocurrency, will have his paycheck converted into Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Mayor Eric Adams has courted cryptocurrency investors like Michael Novogratz, who held a fund-raiser for Mr. Adams.
Mayor Eric Adams has courted cryptocurrency investors like Michael Novogratz, who held a fund-raiser for Mr. Adams. Credit... Brittainy Newman for The New York Times

Jan. 20, 2022

In November, Eric Adams made an announcement that galvanized the cryptocurrency world: Once he became mayor of New York City, he would take his first three paychecks in Bitcoin.

Mr. Adams has now followed through on that promise, to the extent that he could.

Because federal labor laws require the city to pay base wages to its employees, including Mr. Adams, in government-issued currency, the mayor has arranged to use Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, to convert his paycheck on Friday into Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Mr. Adams’s eagerness to honor his pledge and his desire to broadcast it to the world point to one of his most frequent economic development arguments: New York City should become the global capital for cryptocurrency.

“New York is the center of the world, and we want it to be the center of cryptocurrency and other financial innovations,” Mr. Adams said in a statement. “Being on the forefront of such innovation will help us create jobs, improve our economy, and continue to be a magnet for talent from all over the globe.”

On some level, the new mayor is simply employing an age-old political strategy: making overtures to the business community. Fintech is a growing field in New York City, and blockchain-based companies represent a significant part of the sector.

The industry, in turn, has embraced Mr. Adams. In late September, Michael Novogratz, a major cryptocurrency investor, hosted a fund-raiser for him at Zero Bond, the members-only downtown nightclub where Mr. Adams has been known to fraternize late into the night.

In an interview, Mr. Novogratz described Mr. Adams’s announcement as a potent symbol.

“Listen, he is pro-business, he understands this is a growing industry, and it’s great P.R. for the city and him,” said Mr. Novogratz, the founder and chief executive of Galaxy Digital, a New York cryptocurrency investment firm that has in recent years grown from roughly 40 employees to more than 200. “It’s a booming industry and to symbolically say, ‘I care about and I want as a city to participate in it’ is really, really smart.”

Mr. Adams, shortly after his election, also flew to Puerto Rico on the private jet of Brock Pierce, a former child actor who is now a cryptocurrency investor. Mr. Adams said he paid his own way to Puerto Rico, but declined to produce receipts. Mr. Pierce, who attended the mayor’s election night victory party at Zero Bond and donated $100,000 to a political action committee that supported Mr. Adams’s mayoral bid, said he was “preoccupied” and would call back later when asked for comment on Thursday.

State Senator Diane J. Savino, who chairs the Senate Committee on Internet and Technology, said that while Mr. Adams’s announcement might seem like showmanship, his actions would make his constituents more comfortable with cryptocurrency.

“Seeing the mayor of New York willing to take his own money and convert it sends a powerful message,” she said, adding that the state needed to build out regulatory means to harness the new technology, rather than eschewing it out of concern for the environment or risk to investors. “For God’s sake, we run the New York Stock Exchange. We can do this.”

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But Mr. Adams’s crypto-boosterism has sparked skepticism among economists who consider digital currencies to be a bubble or a financial scheme; pushback from the many more traditional financial firms based in New York; and outrage from environmentalists, who bemoan the industry’s prolific production of greenhouse gases during a climate emergency.

“Bitcoin is an environmental disaster,” said Judith Enck, the former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, who pointed to the recent reopening of a once-closed fossil fuel plant in the Finger Lakes region, for the purpose of Bitcoin mining. “Entire countries have stopped the practice, and I think Mayor Adams sends a very negative environmental message when embracing Bitcoin.”

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Environmentalists share a growing concern of the proliferation of Bitcoin mining plants in places like Mechanicville, N.Y.
Environmentalists share a growing concern of the proliferation of Bitcoin mining plants in places like Mechanicville, N.Y. Credit... Cindy Schultz for The New York Times

There are other cryptocurrencies that use much less energy, said Yvonne Taylor, co-founder of Seneca Lake Guardian, a group that works to protect the health of the Finger Lakes. The mayor’s embrace of the industry could attract more firms to New York as countries such as China ban or severely restrict cryptocurrencies.

N.Y.C. Mayor Eric Adams’s New Administration

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Police Commissioner: Keechant Sewell. The Nassau County chief of detectives becomes New York City’s first female police commissioner, taking over the nation’s largest police force amid ​​a crisis of trust in American policing and a troubling rise in violence.

Commissioner of Correction Department: Louis Molina. ​​The former N.Y.P.D. officer, who was the chief of the Las Vegas public safety department, is tasked with leading the city’s embattled Correction Department and restoring order at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex.

Chief Counsel: Brendan McGuire. ​​After a stint as a partner in a law firm’s white-collar practice, the former federal prosecutor returns to the public sector to advise the mayor on legal matters involving City Hall, the executive staff and administrative matters.

“We can be a leader on both climate and crypto,” Ms. Taylor said. “We are in a climate emergency. New York City could be underwater if we don’t do something.”

Mr. Adams argues that cryptocurrency could give New York City a chance of becoming a base of operations for the industry. At the same time, cryptocurrency investors are aware that, in the face of potential regulation, they need allies — and Mr. Adams, as well as the mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, has met that need.

Mr. Suarez spent much of last year proselytizing to his residents, as the city has become a hub for businesses dealing in digital currency. Last month, he was crowned by CoinDesk, a cryptocurrency news website, as one of the most influential people in the blockchain world.

“We want to be on the next wave of innovation,” Mr. Suarez told The New York Times in March. In early November, he said that he would take a paycheck in Bitcoin, narrowly preceding Mr. Adams’s pledge to do so. Mr. Adams countered, on Twitter, that he would take his “first THREE paychecks in Bitcoin.” His salary as New York mayor is $258,750.

Some law enforcement authorities have expressed skepticism about virtual currency. In March, the New York State attorney general, Letitia James, issued a warning to investors, urging “extreme caution” when investing in cryptocurrencies, and reminding business entities who dealt in digital currency to register with the state to avoid potential criminal or civil liability.

There is also a political aspect to Mr. Adams’s embrace of cryptocurrency. Democrats whose policies are to the left of Mr. Adams have called for tougher regulation of the industry.

“The people who have been the toughest on the industry are the stars of the progressive movement, so to have someone who is the self-declared new face of the Democratic Party say, ‘This is something I am excited about’ sends a strong message,” said Eric Soufer, head of the crypto and fintech practice at Tusk Strategies. “At this moment in the industry’s life cycle, those messages are really important.”