A local media company reaps untold ad revenue from a pseudo-newspaper that wannabe mayor and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams mails to his constituents with taxpayer cash — after the same publisher gave to his 2017 campaign.
Schneps Media publishes One Brooklyn for free, selling ad space and distributing the complimentary, pro-Adams propaganda paper to about 148,000 borough households.
But good government advocates say the setup is ripe for conflict — particularly as Adams tries to boost his profile for a likely mayoral campaign in 2021.
One Brooklyn, published semi-regularly since 2014, is unabashedly centered on Adams and his achievements. At least half of the editions have featured photos of the beep on the cover — sometimes with children, or a dog, even his mother. The first issue in July 2014 has two pictures of the former cop: a stoic police head shot and a photo of him reading Dr. Seuss to kids.
“A TOUGH COP…” the cover reads. “…A TENDER BOROUGH PRESIDENT.”
The newspaper runs “articles” about Adams’ initiatives and photos of him at events, as well as lifestyle and personal finance tips from him. The most recent edition this fall was 36 pages with about 20 ads, including one from film production company Broadway Stages thanking Adams for his “dedication and commitment to Brooklyn.” The issue also had 20 different photos of Adams.
Schneps collects the ad revenue from the paper — while taxpayers foot the bill for postage.
“This is a private enterprise profiting off the use of public funds and that’s wrong,” said Betsy Gotbaum, who leads good-government group Citizens Union.
The arrangement benefits Adams donor and publisher Vicki Schneps, who donated $1,000 to his campaign in 2017. That’s the biggest check she’s personally cut for any city politician since at least 1989.
The city’s Conflicts of Interest Board still determined the fake newspaper has a permissible public purpose and considers its publication an “in-kind” gift or donation to the city, according to guidance given to the borough president’s office and shared with The News.
“The COIB is dead wrong and should never have secretly permitted this. This is a violation of the ban on gifts to public servants. There is no way a publication which largely promotes BP Adams is somehow a benefit to the City,” said Alex Camarda, a senior policy adviser for good government group Reinvent Albany. “It undoubtedly benefits BP Adams personally by increasing his visibility for his mayoral campaign.”
The borough president’s office isn’t involved in soliciting ads or creating the layout, and doesn’t even know which Brooklynites get the newspaper, as Schneps procures addresses.
Adams’ office said it sends “most” of the content to Schneps and pays for postage — spending nearly $503,000 in taxpayer funds to mail the paper since 2014.
The newspaper has the same name as a nonprofit set up by Adams, “One Brooklyn Fund,” that allows wealthy donors to curry favor with the beep without running afoul of rules barring city candidates from raising money from corporations, limited liability companies and partnerships. But the office says the paper has no relationship with One Brooklyn Fund.
“Schneps Media, which otherwise publishes reputable and valued community newspapers in this city, is sullying its reputation by publishing this thinly-veiled promotional publication masquerading as a newspaper,” Camarda said. “Lobbying regulators may view Schneps as running afoul of the exemption for newspapers in the state’s lobbying laws by promoting the agenda of BP Adams. It ought to cease publication immediately.”
Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz also had a mailed newspaper published by another local media group.
Adams senior adviser Stefan Ringel stressed that borough presidents don’t have a specific budget for mailing newsletters like other city and state elected officials have for constituent outreach.
“We are proud to have created a partnership with a local media business that assumes the costs of designing and printing this publication, a method that comparatively saves thousands of taxpayer dollars,” Ringel said. “We encourage other elected officials to create similar partnerships, particularly at this time when our vital local media businesses are facing so many challenges.
“The independent COIB is the ruling authority and the final word, and they are clear that this way of educating the public while saving taxpayer money is appropriate,” Ringel added.
The other four borough presidents don’t use the same tactics for outreach.
The Staten Island BP sends a weekly e-newsletter and the Manhattan BP mails out a two-page pamphlet. The Queens beep sends a one-page newsletter once a year, a printed update near-quarterly and a weekly e-blast. The Bronx BP’s office used to send out an eight-page newspaper, sub-contracting with a printer, but stopped in recent years.
Adams’ office said it doesn’t know how much Schneps has profited from ads in One Brooklyn, and wouldn’t say how much publishing the newspaper for free costs the company.
This is the first year the monetary value of the “in-kind” donation of the publication from Schneps must be reported and Adams’ office said that’ll be disclosed in February.
Schneps currently puts out 33 papers in New York City and Long Island, according to its website. Schneps has six Brooklyn-based papers that regularly cover Adams. This fall, Schneps bought subway newspaper amNew York from Newsday, prompting around a dozen layoffs.
Co-publisher and CEO Josh Schneps said the company works with many local elected officials on community outreach.
“We are proud to be so involved and work closely with elected officials, community leaders and small businesses across New York City,” Schneps said. “Our company is as local and community minded as it gets.”