New York’s mayor-elect, Eric Adams, will have to navigate a number of problems when he is sworn in on Jan. 1, including the city’s crime rate and COVID recovery efforts, but an issue that has privately concerned some advisers is his relationship with a controversial Trump-connected PR executive who has inserted himself into the ex-cop’s inner circle.
Adams has surrounded himself with a number of colorful characters over the past few months, perhaps none more so than Ronn Torossian, an aggressive PR executive who founded the agency 5WPR and is well-known for his street-brawler tactics.
Among his more controversial associations, Torossian had a close relationship with the jailed former New York congressman Michael Grimm (who once worked out of an office at 5WPR), and has also repped the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, convicted Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis, convicted rapper Lil’ Kim, disgraced TV chef Paula Deen, and, for a brief time on Saturday following his CNN firing, Chris Cuomo.
Torossian has also, as Politico reported, achieved “a sort of ubiquity in the incestuous world of Trump’s friends, relatives and advisers.” He has represented the Eric Trump Foundation and worked with “dirty trickster” Roger Stone and convicted businessman and one-time Trump confidant Felix Sater. In 2018, Torossian penned a Daily Caller op-ed touting his testimony against ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort while declaring the Robert Mueller investigation to be a “witch hunt” that should be quashed.
Ever the hard-driving entrepreneur, the Bronx-raised Torossian has never been one to miss a new opportunity and, as such, has over the past few months fostered and promoted his proximity to Adams, helping organize his much-buzzed-about election night party at Zero Bond, a private members-only club in NoHo where the future mayor has repeatedly partied as Torossian’s personal guest.
Torossian, a lifelong Republican who donated to Hillary Clinton in 2016, has boasted to prospective clients of his direct line to Adams (himself a former Republican), according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.
“As a NYC native who has raised a family, and built a business in this city, my only interest in politics is to help this city recover and see a better New York,” Torossian wrote in a statement to The Daily Beast.
The PR guru has been a ubiquitous presence with Adams, and the pair have often been photographed together at private clubs like Zero Bond and rival Casa Cipriani. This coming Monday, Torossian and Zero Bond founder Scott Sartiano are set to host a benefit for Adams at the swanky social venue. Guests have been encouraged to pony up as much as $5,100 to Adams’ “transition and inauguration entity,” according to a copy of the invitation reviewed by The Daily Beast.
The budding relationship has caused concern for some local Democrats and among Adams’ inner circle, several members of which asked to speak anonymously for fear of reprisals from the notoriously brass-knuckled Torossian. In particular, these insiders fretted over Torossian’s take-no-prisoners reputation, his work with disreputable figures, and his newfound closeness to the new mayor—all of which could potentially come around to damage the as-yet-inaugurated Adams administration.
“The fundamental thing is that Eric Adams is surrounding himself with a bad character who has a bad track record,” one prominent NYC Democratic consultant told The Daily Beast, asking for anonymity to discuss sensitive political matters. “That’s a recipe for disaster as a mayor.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, the incoming mayor’s spokesperson wrote: “The Mayor-elect appreciates the support of contributors, but the only people who influence Eric Adams’s views and priorities are the people of New York, who he was elected to serve.”
Thanks in part to Torossian’s efforts, Zero Bond, which opened in October 2020, played host to Adams’ lavish victory party this fall. The soirée was attended by New York City elite, including Chris Rock, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, entrepreneur Wendi Deng Murdoch, Equinox Group chairman Harvey Spevak, billionaire Knicks owner James Dolan, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and even rapper/actor Ja Rule. While the New York Post and Bloomberg had access, most other media were kept out at the firm instruction of Torossian, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Torossian even moved Adams’ son Jordan’s seat so that the flack could be more prominent in photos with the mayor-elect, according to two people who witnessed the incident.
And soon after the party, a Torossian-friendly PR news site published an article raving about the event: “About 125 business leaders, celebrities and supporters nibbled on sliders and sushi as they hailed Adams for his pro-business stance.” The article trumpeted Torossian’s involvement in organizing the elite gathering, declaring him to be a “long-time friend” of Adams.
The two men may have only met last year, according to two people familiar with the matter, after being introduced by Zhan (aka Johnny) Petrosyants, who, along with his brother Robert, pleaded guilty to a money-laundering scheme in 2014.
The brothers, no strangers to political fundraising, own a number of bars and restaurants including the now-shuttered Woodland where, in 2016, they hosted an event for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Their links to Adams date back years to before he became Brooklyn borough president, according to the people with knowledge of the situation. Neither Zhan nor Robert responded to a request for comment.
Since linking up with Adams, Torossian has been credited with connecting the mayor-elect to celebrities, journalists, business leaders, and potential donors. Several of the introductions took place at Zero Bond, where cameras are banned and where the PR guru became a member in August.
“Who knows who [Torossian] is trying to get him to meet with. It’s a world of crazy possibilities. Adams is exposing himself to potentially some really bad people who have some really bad motives,” the Democratic consultant said.
Adding to insider concerns, this person said, is the potentially secretive behavior private members clubs, such as Zero Bond and Casa Cipriani, could enable. While Adams’ schedule—including who he meets with—can be accessed through Freedom of Information Act requests, meetings at the clubs are not officially documented.
“It’s a way around it,” the consultant noted.
“I’m the mayor, this is a city of nightlife—I must test the product. I have to be out,” Adams recently told Stephen Colbert. “If you’re going to hang out with the boys at night, you’ve got to get up with the men in the morning. And I’m up at 5 a.m. every morning.”
Although his pitbull-like strategies are disdained and ridiculed by industry veterans, Torossian’s penchant for conflict is admired by his clients.
“He is not always the nicest guy but he is incredibly effective at what he does,” former client Andrew Fox, the self-proclaimed “Super Jeweler,” told The Daily Beast. “He is playing his best hand and he is doing it very well but that does not always make friends.”
Others close to the PR exec claimed he’s made a recent effort to ease up on his antagonism. “He is a hard guy but I got along with him 90 percent of the time,” 5WPR’s former media director, Jules Feiler, told The Daily Beast. “Ronn has worked really hard over the last few years to straighten out his reputation. He isn’t looking to make enemies anymore.”
Feiler added: “He used to be a hard guy to get along with. He was looking for trouble. He was argumentative. He was a tough guy. If there was a fight, he was in it.”
But seven former staffers, who spoke with The Daily Beast anonymously out of fear of reprisals from Torossian, described him as a “toxic” person from whom the incoming mayor of New York should maintain his distance.
“You can’t leave Ronn,” one former senior employee claimed. “He must be at war with someone at all times. Turmoil is his comfort zone.“
According to three people with knowledge of the matter, Torossian is also the person behind public-relations trade news site Everything PR, which has been known to trash rival PR agencies while promoting 5WPR’s work.
Torossian even sued his former HR director, Melissa Weiss, in 2008, claiming she violated her contract. Weiss claimed she was fired for protesting labor violations at the firm. The PR exec sent Weiss an email with the subject line “YOU STUPID C-NT,” warning her: “You will pay for the rest of your life for trying to ruin my business.” (“It’s unfortunate you are choosing to rely upon 15 year old, untrue tabloid reports to form your story,” Torossian added in his statement to The Daily Beast.)
Many current and former clients told The Daily Beast that despite his aggressiveness, Torossian’s greatest trait is his steadfast loyalty and the lengths he will go to protect his associates.
When one journalist, tape recorder in hand, approached Adams at his Zero Bond victory party to ask the mayor-elect a question, it was Torossian who personally intervened to get the scribe kicked out, according to two people with knowledge of the incident.
“He was told he wasn’t allowed in!” Torossian was heard yelling as security escorted the reporter out of the club.
—With additional reporting from Maxwell Tani.