A New Look for the Empire State Building and Its Workers

Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll get a look at a new look at the Empire State Building. We’ll also find out about the former F.B.I. counterintelligence chief in New York who, prosecutors say, secretly worked for one Russian oligarch to investigate another.

Credit…via Empire State Building

The view from the 86th floor Observatory at the Empire State Building has not changed. The look inside has.

The employees are getting new uniforms — light gray jackets and hats with bright blue trim, along with slacks and vests in the same light gray. They will replace burgundy uniforms that were introduced 15 years ago — uniforms that have become almost as familiar to tourists and office tenants in the building as King Kong and Fay Wray.

The uniforms are the coda to a $165 million “reimagination” of what visitors see on their way to the top. The entrance they are supposed to use was moved around the corner, onto West 34th Street, from Fifth Avenue. An interactive museum on the second floor was added.

“With that,” said Robert Gross, above, who is 44 and who has worked at the Empire State Building for more than half his life, “the décor changed. It didn’t match the uniform as it did before. The uniform was to match what you were walking into, our lobby.”

I first encountered Gross when he was being fitted for his burgundy uniform 15 years ago. “When I started, we were guards,” he told me on Monday. His job title changed to guide, then host and now “guest service ambassadors.” He said training over the years had “transformed us from being guards or a guide getting someone from Point A to Point B to being customer-service friendly.”

The Empire State Building is conscious of its history and its image — how it became the image that “emerges above New York like a great inland lighthouse,” as the 1939 W.P.A. Guide to New York City put it. Or, as Jean-Yves Ghazi, the president of the Empire State Building Observatory, put it several years ago, “the pin on the map that holds this city together.”

Gross said that updating the uniforms would complement the building’s updated look. The new uniform “has a modern style to it,” he said. The fabric is softer, made of cotton, as opposed to the polyester in the outfits that are being retired. “That’s something we’ll enjoy in the summertime,” he said.

I asked our fashion reporter Jessica Testa for her opinion. “The new uniform strikes me as more casual, even if its essential structure — full suit, tie, peaked cap — hasn’t changed much,” she said. “The new lightness, punctuated with that cornflower blue, gives off a certain weekend-shift approachability. Burgundy and black formed a very serious color combination, which befitted a very serious landmark. It doesn’t need to be so serious.”

The new uniforms were designed with Peyman Umay, who is also a television host in Turkey. In 2017 he designed a gray suit for the actor Joe Manganiello, who wore it to a premiere of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

The suit came with a secret message.

When Manganiello turned around and flipped up the collar — or when his wife, Sofia Vergara, put on the jacket and turned up the collar for photographers — there were the words “I love Sofia.”

“We haven’t found any hidden messages yet,” Gross said.

Robert Gross in 2008, being fitted for the type of uniform that is now being retired.Credit…Andrea Mohin/The New York Times


Enjoy a mostly sunny day near the mid-40s. The evening is partly cloudy, with temperatures around the low 30s.


In effect until Feb. 13 (Lincoln’s Birthday).

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Credit…Desiree Rios/The New York Times
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A former F.B.I. official in New York is charged with aiding an oligarch

Credit…Sarah Silbiger for The New York Times

A former top F.B.I. official was accused of taking $225,000 in secret cash payments.

Charles McGonigal was the special agent in charge of the bureau’s counterintelligence division in New York before he retired in 2018. He was indicted on charges that he conspired to violate U.S. sanctions by taking secret payments from Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. An indictment said Deripaska wanted a rival oligarch investigated.

The arrest shocked former colleagues of McGonigal, who had supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Deripaska — who was himself indicted last year on sanctions charges. Deripaska was a client of Paul Manafort, a longtime lobbyist and onetime chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, who was convicted of financial fraud and other crimes in 2018.

My colleagues Benjamin Weiser and William K. Rashbaum write that the charges against McGonigal are a troubling sign that Russia’s oligarchs can work their way into the essential nucleus of American law enforcement. Jonathan Poling, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s national security division, called the case “unprecedented.”

He said it could “fuel political criticism and concern about the F.B.I.,” but would also demonstrate that the Justice Department was sending a signal, “including to former officials that worked in national security fields.”

That idea was echoed by Michael Driscoll, the assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.’s office in New York. “There are no exceptions for anyone,” he said, “including a former F.B.I. official like Mr. McGonigal.”

McGonigal, who pleaded not guilty, was indicted in both New York and Washington. The Washington indictment said that McGonigal took the $225,000 from an Albanian who had worked with Albanian intelligence decades ago. McGonigal was accused of not telling the F.B.I. about their relationship.

McGonigal was also accused of asking the New York office of the F.B.I. to open a criminal investigation into foreign political lobbying. The former Albanian intelligence worker became a confidential informant in that investigation, court papers said — with McGonigal again keeping quiet about his financial relationship with the employee.

The New York indictment accused McGonigal of violating U.S. sanctions, money laundering and conspiracy for what it said were attempts to aid Deripaska.


Randalls Island exit

Dear Diary:

My wife and I moved our daughter into a walk-up on 86th Street in summer 2002, lugging her furniture up four flights from midnight to 2 a.m.

I had to return the rented trailer to a U-Haul at 135th and Broadway in the morning. Being from out of town, I was nervous about driving in New York, especially on a Monday at rush hour.

At one point, I made a wrong turn and wound up on the Triborough Bridge heading out of Manhattan. When I got to the tollbooth, I explained my mistake to the toll taker and asked how to get back.

He said I could turn around by taking the Randalls Island exit. At that moment, I was in the furthest right-hand lane, and the Randalls Island exit was all the way to the left across several lanes of traffic.

As I considered how to get to the exit, another toll worker approached me. I explained my plight. He understood from my Southern accent that I wasn’t a New Yorker.

“Wait here just a moment,” he said.

He spoke into a walkie-talkie, and then turned back to me.

“When I tell you to go,” he said, “you go.”

And with that, the person in the booth dropped the arms at all of the booths while I made my way across.

— Charles Williamson

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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