Mayor taps Republican ex-Council member as buildings chief

Eric Ulrich represented Queens district for 12 years

Eric Ulrich and Kazimir Vilenchik (Twitter via Eric Ulrich, LinkedIn)
Eric Ulrich and Kazimir Vilenchik (Twitter via Eric Ulrich, LinkedIn)

Four months into Eric Adams’ mayoralty, he finally named a buildings chief.

Adams on Tuesday appointed Eric Ulrich commissioner of the Department of Buildings. Ulrich, who for 12 years was one of the few Republican members of the City Council, has been a senior adviser to the mayor since January.

Ulrich takes over for Constadino (Gus) Sirakis, who became acting commissioner in March. He had succeeded de Blasio-appointee Melanie La Rocca, who took on a new role as the city’s chief efficiency officer in January.

The Department of Buildings commissionership is considered one of the most difficult city positions to fill. In previous years, mayors have selected professional engineers to lead the agency, but many struggled to manage its bureaucracy and modernize its systems.

Ulrich is the second consecutive commissioner to come from a city government background, perhaps a recognition that management skills are essential and technical expertise is not.

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The agency has a great impact on the real estate industry as a regulator and enforcement body. Inefficient processes slow development and increase its costs, and inspectors have the power to stop projects, issue large fines to owners and contractors and even order buildings to be evacuated. Corruption scandals pop up periodically.

In a statement, Ulrich said he will be “laser-focused on raising safety standards on job sites, delivering the customer service our city deserves, and making our building industry the most sustainable in the nation.”

Adams also tapped Kazimir Vilenchik as first deputy commissioner. Vilenchik joined the department in 2008 as deputy borough commissioner in Staten Island. He has been its Brooklyn borough commissioner since 2018.

Ulrich represented southern Queens from 2009 to 2021, serving as chair of the Committee on Veterans and as a member of the Committee on Housing and Buildings. Toward the end of his term last year, the council member opened up about his struggles with alcohol and has since posted updates on social media about his recovery.

The Department of Buildings oversees 1.1 million buildings and tens of thousands of construction sites. The agency will play a key role in the rollout and enforcement of Local Law 97, which caps large buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions and in 2024 will introduce fines for violators.