The mayor spoke to THE CITY about his freshman season, while experts weigh in on his performance on some of the biggest issues in New York City.
“This story was originally published on December 27, 2022, by THE CITY.
By Katie Honan
Mayor Eric Adams was sworn in as the 110th mayor of New York City minutes into the 2022 new year at the annual ball drop in Times Square, promising to usher in a safer and more prosperous city.
A Democrat, he made public safety the cornerstone of his campaign, saying it was the key to prosperity in a city still feeling the effects of the pandemic. As officers assaulted him said he was inspired to join the force after officers assaulted him in his local Queens precinct as a teen, Adams’ message seemed to resonate with New Yorkers.
Within weeks of taking the job, he dealt with one of the deadliest fires in New York City history and the killing of two rookie police officers, the first of many line-of-duty deaths this year.
He also had to unexpectedly shepherd the city through a migrant housing crisis as tens of thousands arrived on planes and buses sent directly from the southern border, with thousands more coming.
And of course there is the continued COVID crisis, lagging unemployment, and tourism numbers still crawling back to pre-pandemic levels. Not to mention the monkeypox outbreak of the summer.
As the leader of the nation’s largest (and, let’s be real, most important) city, Adams has embraced the business community — a major shift from former Mayor Bill de Blasio and more reminiscent of prior Republican mayors — and released plans to streamline the creation of more housing.
He’s also ushered in a policy of “involuntary removal” of people exhibiting mental health crises, and the return of a controversial “street-crimes” unit in the NYPD.
“It’s difficult to move forward while you’re climbing up ground with all of these things on your back,” Adams told THE CITY last week in a wide-ranging interview about his first year in office, citing his many challenges.
Asked to grade his first 12 months, he’d give himself and his team “a solid B+.”
“I’m so excited about 2023,” he said. “We got some good stuff in the pipeline.”
“I love doing my job,” he added.
The mayor, known for showing up at crime scenes and nightlife hotspots, believes the citizens of New York are behind him.
“Anyone who’s out in the street with me and sees that people know I care for them and they care for me — you can’t miss it.”
THE CITY took a look at some of the biggest issues this year in New York — and how Adams has, or has not, addressed them.
Crime and Public Safety
Murders are down more than 12% compared to this time last year, and shooting incidents are down more than 17%, according to NYPD crime statistics. But overall, major crimes — including robberies, assaults, and rapes — are up more than 23% compared to last year, according to that same data.
“I wanted to go after violent crime in general, but specifically, homicides, shootings, gun crimes, those crimes were terrorizing our city,” he told THE CITY.
“People just felt that every time [they] heard a gunshot or heard about another person being shot — it was traumatic.”
He released a plan to reduce gun violence earlier this year and established a task force focused on it in June.
He also launched the NYPD “neighborhood safety teams,” a rebranding of the maligned street-crimes unit that de Blasio disbanded in 2020 amid racial justice and anti-police-brutality protests.
Adams also has added more police officers to the subway and redirected other officers to do more targeted policing,
“He certainly has taken steps to not only reduce crime but also to make New Yorkers feel more safe and secure,” longtime political consultant Basil Smikle Jr. told THE CITY.
“You see that with the changes where police are, in terms of the subways.”
But others say his approach doesn’t address many of the root causes of crime, including poverty, education, and mental health — and points to budget cuts across city government agencies as proof.
“Every deep cut to an agency that provides critical services — every gap creates a social ill that this administration considers a crime issue instead of a public health issue,” said Councilmember Tiffany Cabán, a far-left Democrat who represents parts of Queens.
Regressing on Rikers
In recent weeks, the Adams administration has also changed course on the de Blasio-era plan to close Rikers Island and replace them with borough-based jails.
To close the facilities, the population has to be down by 3,300, according to the proposed plan.
Earlier this month, Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina said during testimony at the City Council that he expects the population on Rikers Island to grow from just under 6,000 as of mid-December to 7,000 next year — which could prevent the closure of the troubled jail complex.
“Kudos to Molina for being honest and candid — that we need to look at this plan, and we need a Plan B,” Adams told THE CITY. “And, because this is costing us close to $10 billion, we can have a better use of our tax dollars, and I stand with him, and I agree with him. And I think the City Council must reassess this plan.”
Adams has little wiggle room, however: The City Council in 2021 passed a law preventing Rikers from being used as a jail after Aug. 31, 2027.
The city’s budget office estimates that the borough-based jail plan needed to close Rikers Island will cost more than $8 billion.
“You have to work really hard to go to Rikers; for the most part, being placed in Rikers means that you are a bad person that you did something probably extremely violent,” he told THE CITY.
“No one is going to Rikers because they stole an iPhone in a store somewhere; you’re going because you are a violent offender. And that is why you’re there.”
But many advocates for people behind bars contend that most of the population is either mentally ill, suffering from addiction, or battling severe poverty. They note that 50% of the population has a mental health diagnosis, with 16% labeled “serious,” according to the latest Mayor’s Management Report.
This year, 19 incarcerated people have died in the city’s jail system, the highest number in 25 years.
Lawyer Dean Vigliano — whose client Edgardo Mejias, 39, died from an apparent drug overdose inside the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers on Dec. 11 while being held on $15,000 bail from a shoplifting charge — slammed Adams’ assertion that only violent criminals are being held in city jails.
“He should know better,” Vigliano told THE CITY. “There are bad people in Rikers, but this fellow, as far as I could tell, had a drug problem. He wasn’t violent.”
Housing and Development
Earlier this month, Adams and City Hall officials announced a plan to streamline the process of building more housing — saying the changes would result in up to 50,000 new units.
The mayor also unveiled last month an updated plan for Willets Point in Queens, which would add 2,500 income-restricted “affordable” housing units alongside a new soccer stadium for the New York City Football Club.
Adams said those housing plans and other related projects approved by the City Council were some of the biggest wins of his first year in office. He was also proud that his team “convinced” some reluctant Council members to approve large-scale development plans, like Innovation Queens in Astoria.
He said that his housing team continues to look at new ways to build more.
“We’ve never really leaned into the benefits of modular housing,” he told THE CITY. “We want to look at a new modernized version of an SRO, single room occupancy, you know, young people are living differently, shared spaces is something that’s common.”
Alicia Glen, a deputy mayor for housing and economic development under de Blasio, noted many factors to constructing new housing that are out of the city’s control. “We are in a very challenging environment — interest rates, inflation,” she told THE CITY.
But she said the mayor’s team seems committed to at least smoothing the path to more construction. Both she and Adams said the expiration of 421-a — a widely used real-estate tax break promoting the building of new apartments — is another challenge.
“It was a big mistake what we did in Albany about not renewing some form of 421-a,” Adams said of the policy. “People keep stating, ‘This is a tax benefit for the rich developers,’ and it is not — it is an incentive to build housing.”
Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for the nonprofit organization Housing Justice for All, said the mayor’s housing plans are “basically insignificant compared to the number of street sweeps and aggressiveness of policing the homeless.”
And Oksana Mironova, a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society of New York, said the mayor’s appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board, which sets rents on regulated units, have hurt the lowest-income New Yorkers. The board voted to approve a 3.25% rent hike on about 900,000 apartments earlier this year – the largest increase in nearly a decade.
“We saw rent freezes under de Blasio, and there’s been a complete shift in the RGB at a time when a lot of low-income NYers are still struggling,” she told THE CITY.
Mironova also pointed to the staff shortages at crucial city agencies that facilitate housing programs as a major roadblock.
“In order for anything to happen, there have to be enough people in city government to do stuff, and the vacancy rates at HPD and DHS … are just astounding,” she said.
Appointing buddies, relatives, and political allies has become somewhat of a theme for Adams this first year., Among the first was his longtime friend David Banks, the former head of the public school network The Eagle Academy for Young Men, to lead the Department of Education.
He’s also drawn criticism for a massive education budget cut — which the City Council later tried to renege on, unsuccessfully.
The cuts “affected almost every school and really led to a level of anger among parents I had not seen in many years,” said Leonie Hamson, a city education advocate who founded the nonprofit Class Size Mattes two decades ago.
“The anger was even further accentuated when the mayor kept going around town saying there were no cuts,” she said. “Clearly, the parents experienced this firsthand.”
Adams, though, told THE CITY that his cuts were just “right-sizing” as federal pandemic funds were running dry — and it would have been “irresponsible” for the city to “keep propping up a system.”
“It was just really fiscally irresponsible. And I just refuse to just pretend as though everything is right when it’s not,” he said.
His administration also nixed a $202 million plan to create a universal curriculum and pre-kindergarten schooling for 3-year-olds.
Heather Dailey, who has become an advocate through dealing with her 10-year-old son in a public school for special-needs students in Queens, noted that classrooms “are feeling the pressure of budget cuts, especially for special education.”
“Somebody who is praising themselves as an equity champion doesn’t cut funding to schools,” she said of Adams. “Don’t say you’re supporting equity and then cut school funding.”
The Adams Family (and Friends)
Since the start of the year, the mayor has been criticized for multiple controversial hires — from former NYPD Chief of Department Phil Banks (David’s brother) as deputy mayor for public safety to his friend and former roommate Lisa White as deputy commissioner for employee relations for the NYPD.
He even hired his brother Bernie Adams to lead his security team. The sibling eventually agreed to take a salary of just $1 to alleviate controversy.
But Adams told THE CITY he believes these criticisms mainly exist in the “echo chamber” of the local media.
“Not one person has stopped me on the street,” he said. “Not one person has questioned me at a town hall, not one person at the countless events are going to stop me to talk about the appointments, not one.”
He argued, “I build a team based on the qualifications and abilities of people to bring their unique skills, as well as their professional accomplishments, to help me.”
The mayor has also dodged criticism of his inner circle, from the finance-felon twin brothers who own Osteria La Baia, a favorite restaurant for Adams, to Bishop Lamor Whitehead, a longtime Adams pal, and ally who was arrested last week on fraud charges.
Former Gov. David Paterson said he felt the reporting on Adams’ connections and hobnobbing overshadowed his accomplishments.
“Sometimes it feels like an attempt to make Mayor Adams look not serious, like he can’t be a serious mayor because he goes to swank restaurants,” Paterson, a fellow Democrat who overlapped with Adams’ time in the state Senate, told THE CITY.
“Everybody eats dinner, and everybody eats dinner at one place or another, but when he finishes dinner and wakes up in the morning, he works harder than any mayor I’ve seen before him.”
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