In his storied career as a federal prosecutor, Brendan R. McGuire helped put away a notorious Russian arms dealer and a Somali pirate, not to mention a string of unscrupulous public officials.
After a five-year stint as a partner in the law firm WilmerHale’s white-collar practice, Mr. McGuire will return to the public sector in January, when he will begin serving as chief counsel to Eric Adams when he becomes mayor.
“I thank Brendan for agreeing to serve in this administration,” Mr. Adams said in a statement late on Thursday, adding that he wanted advisers who were independent thinkers, had impeccable judgment and were “willing to provide me with their candid advice.”
Mr. Adams also intends to nominate Jocelyn E. Strauber, who, like Mr. McGuire, worked in the Southern District as a prosecutor, to lead the city’s Department of Investigation, a person briefed on the matter said. The D.O.I. is the city agency tasked with investigating allegations of fraud and other misconduct by city employees.
Ms. Strauber, now a partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York, declined to comment through a spokesman. As a potential commissioner, she must go before the City Council for confirmation.
Mr. Adams, a retired city police officer, a former state senator and the current Brooklyn borough president, has fended off criticism in the past that his fund-raising has, at times, tested the boundaries of campaign-finance and ethics laws. He has never been formally accused of wrongdoing.
In a statement to The New York Times in May, he said Black candidates for office were often held “to a higher, unfair standard — especially those from lower-income backgrounds such as myself.”
He said no campaign of his had ever been charged with “a serious fund-raising violation, and no contribution has ever affected my decision-making as a public official — yet I am still being cross-examined for accusations made and answered more than a decade ago.”
Mr. McGuire, 45, who served as an adviser to Mr. Adams during his campaign and his transition, said in an interview late Thursday that Mr. Adams had reached out to him through a mutual friend shortly after winning the mayoral primary in June to discuss his vision for his office. Mr. Adams asked Mr. McGuire if he was interested in joining his transition and potentially his administration.
“I think that what was attractive to me was his focus on wanting to ensure that the city government operated in the right way while attempting to make a big difference in the lives of New Yorkers,” Mr. McGuire said.
Mr. McGuire said Mr. Adams also made it clear that it was important to him that Mr. McGuire have direct access to him.
“I think it demonstrates a real understanding of the current environment and the importance of good government that he’s sought out someone with my profile,” Mr. McGuire said.
Mr. McGuire was born in Manhattan, and is a graduate of Regis High School, Williams College and New York University School of Law. He has deep roots in New York law enforcement: His grandfather, James McGuire, spent more than four decades with the New York Police Department, and his father, Robert J. McGuire, served six years as the police commissioner under Mayor Edward I. Koch.
During his nearly 11 years in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, Mr. McGuire oversaw teams of prosecutors that investigated and brought public corruption cases and, later, terrorism and national security cases.
In those posts, he oversaw the prosecutions of more than a half-dozen former elected city and state officials, including Bronx councilman Larry B. Seabrook and State Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, both Democrats. As a prosecutor, he also helped to win the convictions of Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani immigrant who tried unsuccessfully to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in 2010, and of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman accused of running an international arms-trafficking network.
While Mr. McGuire ran the Southern District’s anti-corruption unit, he also oversaw the prosecution of three businessmen who were convicted in 2013 of defrauding New York City of $500 million in the so-called CityTime case.
Preet Bharara, who served as the United States attorney for the Southern District from 2009 to 2017, and who supervised Mr. McGuire when he headed the public corruption and terrorism units, praised the appointment, stressing the lawyer’s integrity, intelligence and leadership skills.
Incoming N.Y.C. Mayor Eric Adams’s New Administration
Police Commissioner: Keechant Sewell. The Nassau County chief of detectives will become 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 currently oversees a public safety department in Las Vegas will be 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 will return to the public sector to advise the mayor on legal matters involving City Hall, the executive staff and administrative matters.
“He’s that rare lawyer who understands both the forest and the trees,” Mr. Bharara said in a telephone interview. “Given his background, I would expect that Brendan will be one of the people responsible for making sure that the government is transparent and ethical, which is what the people of the people of the City of New York deserve.”
The chief counsel typically advises the mayor on legal matters involving City Hall and the executive staff, and on legal aspects of administration policy and administrative matters.
Some decisions can be fraught: In 2016, Maya Wiley, then the counsel to the mayor, argued that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s email communications with certain outside advisers were protected because the advisers were acting as “agents of the city.” Thousands of pages of those emails were eventually released, in what became an embarrassing episode for the mayor.
Mr. Bharara’s office investigated Mr. de Blasio for two years, focusing on campaign finance irregularities, but in 2017 the office ultimately declined to bring charges. Mr. de Blasio said at the time that he had acted appropriately. Mr. McGuire said in the interview that he had no involvement in that investigation.
Mr. Bharara noted that Mr. McGuire would take his new position at a time when some areas of city government were in disarray.
“One challenge may be straightening out sprawling city bureaucracies that may not have been well-managed by the current mayor,” Mr. Bharara said.
Indeed, Mr. McGuire, in an essay in The Daily News in March, may have given a prescient summary of the challenges that may await him. He wrote that while most public officials in New York do their jobs honestly, “too many have crossed ethical and legal lines to our collective detriment.”
“Our confidence in the ability of government to get things done, to nurture transformative, forward-looking ideas, and to keep us safe, has never been lower,” he wrote.