Former Staten Island BP James Oddo to Be New Buildings Commissioner

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Former Staten Island Borough President James Oddo was tapped by Mayor Eric Adams to head up the Department of Buildings after its former commissioner, Eric Ulrich, resigned amid a probe into potential illegal gambling, City & State first reported.

Oddo, a Republican and former City Council member, served as Staten Island borough president from 2014 to 2021 and joined Adams’ administration once he left office as the chief of staff for Deputy Mayor of Operations Meera Joshi, which Oddo called a “dream job.”

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“Commissioner Oddo is an expert at building and running high-functioning teams, and he will bring the leadership the Department of Buildings needs to oversee our city’s buildings and protect New Yorkers who work in construction and walk on our streets,” Adams said in a statement on Thursday confirming the appointment. ”

Oddo will take over the DOB from acting commissioner Kazimir Vilenchik, who took the reins of the agency in November once Ulrich resigned when the Manhattan district attorney started investigating whether Ulrich had taken part in illegal card games with members of the mob. Vilenchik will return to his role as first deputy commissioner of the DOB.

“Ensuring the safety of every New Yorker and workers alike will always be the top priority,” Oddo said in a statement. “As we undertake that critical work, we will continue reorienting the agency to be more efficient and customer friendly.”

Sources told City & State that, while Oddo likely doesn’t want the post, he’ll be a “visionary for the agency, and that’s been lacking.” And he’s already won some praise from some in the industry.

“His ability to connect with people, create relationships and push for what is right even in face of opposition, make him the right choice for NYC Department of Buildings,” Rafael Cestero, the CEO of affordable housing lender The Community Preservation Corporation and former commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said in a statement. “New Yorkers need an efficient and effective DOB to drive new housing and implement equitable development across our city. Mayor Adams has made an excellent choice.”

Aside from being without a commissioner since November, the DOB has plenty of problems. It has struggled with budget cuts and remains dramatically understaffed, causing it to conduct fewer job site inspections, issue fewer code violations and audit fewer permit applications. 

It’s also dealing with nearly 300 unfilled jobs — and struggling to match the higher salaries offered by the private sector — at a time when the construction industry saw its deadliest year on record since before the pandemic in 2019.

While Oddo has had no prior experience as an architect or an engineer and graduated with a law degree from New York Law School, he was known to tussle with the city on land use and construction issues while in office. He used his post as borough president to call on the city to tweak zoning codes aimed at stopping Staten Island developers from cramming as many homes as possible into single lots, fought against the quirks of private streets in the city, tried to get changes at the delay-plagued Department of Design and Construction, and stuck a controversial development with names synonymous with greed.

Oddo told the Gotham Gazette in 2019 that his aim when he was borough president was to fight against city bureaucracy at agencies to try to get his agenda accomplished and establish a “get-it-done culture” with staff.

“You have to be hands on,” Oddo told the website. “You have to lead. You have to surround yourself with talented people who are leaders. You have to allow them to lead, but there’s got to be accountability to you.”

Update: This story has been updated to show that Adams confirmed the appointment on April 27.

Nicholas Rizzi can be reached at nrizzi@commercialobserver.com.