New Acting Commissioner Kazimir Vilenchik is an engineer and veteran Buildings Department official with previous experience in the private sector.
Eric Ulrich’s resignation Thursday amid a criminal probe by the Manhattan District Attorney has paved the way for a veteran deputy to take over the Buildings Department.
Kazimir Vilenchik, a trained engineer who previously led the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) Brooklyn office, was named the agency’s acting commissioner by Mayor Eric Adams after Ulrich agreed to step down from his $243,171 per year position Thursday morning. Adams’ spokesperson Fabien Levy announced the leadership change in a statement.
Ulrich resigned “in an effort to, in his words, avoid ‘unnecessary distraction for the Adams administration,’” Levy said, adding that he had no more information about Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s ongoing investigation.
Ulrich, a former Republican councilmember, turned over his phone to Manhattan prosecutors earlier this week and was reportedly questioned about illegal gambling after investigators served him with a search warrant at his Queens home. He has not been charged with a crime, and calls to his cell phone have gone straight to voicemail.
Ulrich’s appointment to the post in May came after he supported Adams’ bid for mayor, helping to shore up the former Brooklyn Borough President’s bipartisan bonafides in the Democratic primary last year. His replacement, in contrast, is a long-time bureaucrat with previous experience in the private sector.
Vilenchik, a native of Belarus, began his career in city government in 2008 when he joined the Staten Island DOB office. He went on to work in the borough offices of Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn, where he rose to borough commissioner in 2018, according to a bio posted on the agency’s website.
During his career, Vilenchik worked on the implementation of the Universal Pre-K program under Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as Sandy recovery efforts. He also handled affordable housing development and related code and zoning changes, DOB said.
Before working for the city, Vilenchik owned the forensic engineering firm KIVM Consulting and Management. Forensic engineering is a specialized field that entails investigating the cause of structural failures. A DOB spokesperson said Vilenchik gave up the business—named after his first initial and the first initials of his wife and children—when he joined the DOB in 2008.
The Buildings Department said Vilenchik was not available for comment Thursday.
The department is tasked with approving development plans, holding owners and contractors accountable for safe construction standards and inspecting New York City’s more than 1 million buildings. Delays in those processes can prolong development, while corner-cutting can endanger New Yorkers.
City Hall has “full confidence in the team at DOB, and the agency remains fully operational,” Levy said. “No city services will be impacted.”
Three development industry insiders who spoke with City Limits said the effect of the shakeup on day-to-day operations remains to be seen.
Ulrich was not at the agency long enough to institute many significant changes and Vilenchik has a good reputation in the development community, said Jordan Barowitz, a longtime spokesperson for the Durst Organization who recently started his own consultancy firm Barowitz Advisory.
“Leadership changes at any institution can cause upset and challenges,” said Barowitz, who previously worked in the Bloomberg Administration. “That’s mitigated in this case because the commissioner wasn’t there for very long. His tenure was quite short, so it does make the response to the change of leadership a little more elastic.”
Two others, who asked to remain anonymous talking about an agency they depend on, said developers had hoped Ulrich would come in with an outsider’s perspective and streamline entrenched processes. But having a commissioner like Vilenchik who is more familiar with the department and its rules could be beneficial too, they added.
City Council Housing and Buildings Committee Chair Pierina Sanchez, meanwhile, said she plans to meet with Vilenchik to discuss the direction of the department.
“The qualified leadership team of deputy and assistant commissioners at DOB must ensure this resignation does not interrupt the delivery of department services. I look forward to reviewing these priorities with the Acting Commissioner,” Sanchez said, adding that she respects Ulrich “for stepping down and allowing the agency to continue its vital work.”