Jason Adolfo Otaño, the General Counsel for the New York City Council, was born to Puerto Rican parents and grew up in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn. Otaño’s father was a City firefighter for 28 years, his mother a paraprofessional for the Department of Education, and his uncle a captain for the Department of Corrections.
Otaño takes great pride in his Jesuit education having graduated from Xavier High School, in Chelsea, from Fordham University in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in Latin American/Latino studies and political science with a concentration in peace and justice studies, and Fordham University School of Law in 2004. After law school, Otaño practiced entertainment and commercial law for four years before shifting gears to public interest and government law.
In 2008, Otaño turned his attention to politics and government. When Otaño heard about an open position as the general counsel for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, he “threw a Hail Mary” and applied. It was unlikely that just after three years of being admitted he would be appointed chief counsel to the elected official representing over 2.5 million Brooklynites. Despite the long odds, Otaño argued his case to Carlo Scissura, then Brooklyn Borough Hall chief of staff and now president of the New York Building Congress. Otaño connected his political education and legal experience to the work being done in Brooklyn and got the job.
During his transition into City government, Otaño credits Anthony Crowell, then counselor to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and current dean and president of New York Law School with helping him understand his role in City government. Otaño says Crowell spent time teaching him the ins and outs of City government.
As general counsel at Borough Hall, Otaño advised Markowitz, his staff as well as Brooklyn’s eighteen Community Boards on operations and policy, including ethics, open government, litigation, procurements, employment matters, and administrative law. He represented Brooklyn on the Board of the New York City pension fund as well as the Franchise and Concession Review Committee. He served as general counsel to Markowitz until July of 2012, when he resigned to run for the New York State Senate.
In March of 2014, Otaño returned to City service, this time with the General Counsel of the City Council. He has served as associate general counsel, then managing counsel and parliamentarian and deputy general counsel. In September 2016, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito named Otaño general counsel to the Council, and in January 2018, upon his election as Council Speaker, Corey Johnson retained him that position.
As the general counsel, Otaño advises the Council Speaker on legal and compliance matters and directs the Council’s legal division. His office represents the Council in lawsuits challenging legislation, responds to Freedom of Information Law requests, advises on all ethical matters, and provides legal counsel to members and staff on all matters that pertain to the work of the Council. His office also conducts the Council’s compliance operations, vetting groups that receive Council discretionary funding and candidates for appointment to the City’s boards and commissions.
As general counsel, Otaño sees an opportunity to work with institutions such as law schools to have a more of a presence in the public and academic dialogues on government. He hopes that he and his staff will write commentary on issues happening in the City and nationally. Otaño believes that the Council can add a unique perspective to public discussions on current issues affecting government.
In commenting about his hopes for the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, Otaño says that “separation [of powers] is key.” Otaño would like to see more clarity as to the powers of the City Council and the Council’s relationship with City agencies. Otaño would like the Charter Revision Commission to conduct a broad review of the Charter in order to provide New Yorkers with an opportunity to decide how the City is governed.
While at the City Council, Otaño pursued one of his other goals: military service. Otaño was commissioned in 2015 as an officer in the United States Army Reserve where he currently serves as a Captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. As a reservist, Otaño provides legal assistance to soldiers, their families, and retirees, and is a legal advisor for domestic operations during times of emergency, such as the hurricane that ravaged his family’s native Puerto Rico last year. Otaño credits both past Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and current Speaker Corey Johnson for their support in performing his role as a reservist.
By: Dorichel Rodriguez, Esq.