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This enthusiastic Adams loyalist is leading New York City’s foray into crypto, but she’s the head of a City agency so new and opaque that it’s hard to follow in her footsteps.
- Paralegal and personal assistant, William C. Thompson
- Special assistant, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
- Strategic adviser for Latinx Alliances, Adams 2021 campaign
- Co-Executive Director and Senior Advisor, Department of Innovation and Emerging Markets
Denise Felipe-Adams and Eric Adams (no relation) are a match made in charisma heaven. According to Felipe-Adams, she met the future mayor at a Brooklyn Democratic Party event, where she said Adams “saw me working the room with so much energy and pizzazz.”
Felipe-Adams has admitted that her background has “nothing to do with tech,” but it does include a long stint by Adams’s side as his friend and assistant, which may have helped her land her a cushy, six-figure job in an office with a nebulous, vaguely cryptocurrency-oriented focus.
Felipe-Adams entered the world of politics under the tutelage of Brooklyn’s first Black state senator, William C. Thompson, whose private law firm she worked for as a paralegal and, later, a personal assistant. After connecting with Adams, she worked as his special assistant in the borough president’s office. During his mayoral campaign, Felipe-Adams, who is Dominican American, was his strategic adviser for Latinx alliances. (Felipe-Adams and Adams are close enough friends that she brunches with him and fellow confidantes Eleonora Srugo and champagne mogul William Benson.)
When it came time for Adams to make appointments to head the new Mayor’s Office for Innovation and Emerging Markets, an “obscure” agency seemingly focused largely on cryptocurrency, he turned to his former assistant, as well as NYPD Lieutenant Jonathan Salomons. The mayor forgot to publicly announce the office’s creation, and a City Hall spokesperson declined, when asked by Crain’s, to pinpoint a start date for its operations.
These days, according to Crain’s, which first reported on the office’s existence, Felipe-Adams works out of 375 Pearl Street, the Lower Manhattan building where Adams has a sort of shadow City Hall operation—as Crain’s wrote, “top Adams lieutenants Tim Pearson and deputy mayor Phil Banks also reportedly work there.”
When asked during a press conference to explain why he chose Felipe-Adams and Salomons, Adams praised Felipe-Adams for “her contracting construction background, her knowledge, [and] her ability to look through large volumes of materials and say ‘Is this presentable for my agency?'”
What does that agency (the creation of which is very much in line with the thinking of Adams’s informal crypto adviser Brock Pierce) do, exactly, and what makes it different from, say, the Office of Technology and Innovation? In the same press conference, Adams said the new office was basically the City’s sniff test for private companies looking to score contracts.
“I wanted a separate entity to focus on those who bring technology and innovation to us,” he said. “Their sole purpose is to go through the layers and layers, look at the presentations.”
According to the City’s lobbying records, a diverse array of companies have already tried their luck with the fledgling agency, including Microsoft, Coinbase, and Home Depot, as well as smaller companies peddling products like air purification technology and “smart” streetlights.
“In New York, this has always been a Bitcoin-, blockchain-friendly city,” the mayor said at the Security Token Summit in May 2022, a conference that listed Felipe-Adams as one of its speakers. “I took my first three paychecks in cryptocurrency, and it was more than just looking for the investment—it was to send a message: This is a city that is going to be open to innovation,” he continued. “Innovation does not wait for the comfortability of regulatory agencies and individuals. It continues to progress.”
Felipe-Adams seems to be on the same page as the mayor. “Nerds love this! Tech nerds, they love all things technology and they love the new era that we’re in when it comes to all things digital,” she said in a rare interview with crypto influencer Randi Hipper’s YouTube show MissTeenCrypto. “Blockchain, Web3, NFTs, cryptocurrency, digital assets. This is their time to shine…I believe [blockchain] is the way of the future for us, and the mayor is looking forward to tapping in.” She said that blockchain in particular could be useful for cutting down on “internal bureaucracy” and “cumbersome format” that currently plagues City affairs, specifically pointing to birth and death certificates and marriage licenses as documents she’d love to see encrypted for transparency’s sake.
In her interview with MissTeenCrypto, Felipe-Adams cited a “smart cane” developed in part by a Turkish nonprofit called Young Guru Academy as one example of the kind of non-crypto innovations she hopes to bring to New York City. “In the borough president’s office, we linked up with a Turkish company called WeWALK, which was great,” she said. “The companies are existing, they’re doing their thing all over the world, so they want to establish a relationship and a good rapport with the City government [for] our exposure.”
Adams, as Brooklyn borough president, used grant money to purchase and distribute at least eight of WeWALK’s $395 “smart canes” to a handful of visually impaired Brooklynites. (One 2022 review by a YouTuber is less than enthusiastic about the device.) In 2019, news stories touted the MTA’s involvement in this collaboration, but a representative for the MTA later denied that the agency had ever been involved with any “smart cane” pilot program, and the canes were never widely distributed by the City.
Felipe-Adams seems to be genuinely passionate about her current role in City government, which saw her pulling in a $123,000 salary in 2022, according to the Crain’s report. But she also has a backup plan that’s exactly as fun as she is. In a 2022 interview with a municipal government-focused podcast called “Local Hero Coffee Break,” she told host Michael Mazur, “If I wasn’t working in government, I would definitely have a tiki bar by the beach in Saint Lucia. I love beach, so a tiki bar, happy dreams—very opposite!” She added, “An easier lifestyle… but I really do love what I do. I love helping constituents, I love being impactful, [being] influential any which way that I can.” City Hall did not respond to a request for comment about Felipe-Adams.
- Catch Denise on LinkedIn and X (FKA Twitter).
- Obscure city business office staffed by mayor’s friend, NYPD lieutenant | Crain’s New York Business
- Talking NYC with Denise Felipe-Adams | MissTeenCrypto
- Denise Felipe-Adams & Jonathan Salomons / NYC’s focus on Innovation and Economic Growth | Local Hero Coffee Break
Last updated: 12/18/2023
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