The Early Days of New York City Mayor Eric Adams
Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office of Photography
“I’m going to put in long hours – no one in this town is going to top me”, Eric Adams noted the first day, and he continued to accumulate at least 47 public appearances in his first ten days as mayor — commuting to work on a Citi bike and riding the subway, shoveling snow off the steps of his Brooklyn brownstone, sliding down a fire station pole, making appearances on national news programs and solemnly attend a vigil in the Bronx following a horrific fire that killed 17 people.
“It’s not about showmanship – it’s about showing off,” he said in his first address in town. Like Mayor Ed Koch, who took the reins of City Hall four decades ago in the shadow of a budget crisis that necessitated mass layoffs and cutbacks, Adams is making tough choices – his chief of budget already has ordered the agencies to sketch plans to cut spending by at least 3% before the end of the month – but he’s also trying to lift the spirits of a tired city that needs a boost as we enter the third year of the pandemic.
“When a mayor has swagger, the city has swagger,” Adams said in unwritten remarks at a school in the Bronx, sporting a big, dazzling smile. “We let people bring us down so much that we just wallowed in COVID,” he added. “We no longer thought it was a town of bluster. It is a city of resilience.
New Yorkers should expect to hear more pep talks from City Hall as our faltering local economy struggling to get up. Right now, the city’s 9% unemployment rate is nearly double the national average, and we still have 350,000 fewer jobs than before the pandemic and aren’t expected to fill them until 2025.
Adams, pleading with city employers to end remote work and reopen offices, raised his eyebrows at a news conference, making a deaf reference to “my low-skilled workers, my cooks, my dishwashers, my messengers, my shoe shiners, those who work at Dunkin’ Donuts – they don’t have the academic skills to sit in an office corner.”
Critics, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, were quick to point out that the mayor should be more concerned about the low wages of essential workers than making pejorative comments about their educational backgrounds and perceived skill levels. Adams later took to Twitter to point out that he himself had worked as a cook and dishwasher.
The mini-blunder is likely to be remembered by the chattering classes, but surely did nothing to shake Adams’ connection to the working-class families that make up his political base. A more serious set of challenges emerged in the form of harsh headlines and chastising editorials – which he knew were coming – about the ethical issues surrounding his personnel choices.
“It’s kind of disheartening to see the new mayor really want to start his war on crime this way,” wrote the New York To post editorial board, blaming Adams for trying to lead his younger brother, Bernard Adams, in a high-level job at the NYPD and for choosing Philip Banks – a friend, associate and traveling companion of several men convicted in a corruption scandal – as deputy mayor for public safety.
the Daily News also had harsh words. “The mayor skipped important steps in the process. He should change course.” Editorial Committee said of the plan to hire Bernard Adams. As for Banks, the newspaper warned: “In bringing into his entourage a man who played a significant role in one of the most sordid chapters of de Blasio’s tenure, Eric Adams is taking a risk.”
Adams indirectly responded to criticism. After first announcing that his brother would be Deputy NYPD Commissioner, Adams reduces its proposed responsibilities managing the mayor’s personal security department, and he has agreed to abide by the guidelines of the city’s conflict of interest committee. “I need someone I trust around me during these times for my safety, and I trust my brother deeply,” he said. CNN’s Jake Tapper.
And while Adams continues to defend Banks – the brother of his schools’ chancellor, David Banks – the mayor has taken the unusual step of allowing him to announce his own nomination in an opinion piece, a stark contrast to the long televised press conferences during which his first five deputy mayors were presented.
Adams is clearly betting that complaints about his personal choices will disappear from the headlines if his team can deliver on its main campaign promise: to make New Yorkers feel that our streets and subways are safer and more orderly.
It has already been done. In the 1990s, one of the reasons Rudy Giuliani became two-term Republican mayor in our majority Democratic city was that he greatly accelerated the decline in street crime that began under his predecessor, David Dinkins, and took political credit for the dramatic increase in security that followed. , picking up crossover Democratic voters in even the most liberal neighborhoods that were at their wit’s end in the face of crime and disorder.
Famously, when Giuliani’s flashy and innovative NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton — who had designed and led the implementation of the department’s data-driven CompStat management system — appeared on the cover of Time review, Giuliani fired him within weeks, he replaced him with a fire marshal, Howard Safir, who kept a low profile and was careful never to overshadow his boss.
Adams, in the mold of Giuliani, clearly plans to run the NYPD from City Hall and take 100% of the credit if crime is curtailed.
Consider his appointment of Keechant Sewell as Commissioner of Police. A rising star in law enforcement, Sewell had never worked in New York City government, and his experience running the 350-member Nassau County Police Detective Bureau is overshadowed by the 50,000 civilian and uniformed NYPD employees. It will take time for Sewell to master the broad scope, culture and internal politics of the NYPD, unlike the men to whom she will report, Banks and Adams, who are veterans with longtime allies and connections throughout the department.
Adams, Banks and Sewell have yet to unveil any major initiatives or fundamental changes to NYPD strategy. If they are open to new ideas, a couple is ripe for the taking.
Naveed Jamali, a technology and national security expert, preached the merits of the NYPD sharing its 911 dispatch data. “We have become a data company. And the NYPD is no slouch in the amount of data it produces,” he told me recently.
Jamali said a thorough analysis of 911 calls — most of which never result in an arrest or evidence of a crime — would likely generate valuable insights into issues that may arise in the future. Repeated police visits to a particular address could serve as a warning system that gun violence, domestic violence, the sale of illegal drugs, or a mental health crisis is likely to occur.
“It’s what we in the intelligence world would call ‘indication warnings.’ You are indicating that there is a trend here that shows this is leading to a crisis,” he said. “Whether it’s gun violence or all of that, the idea is to try to disrupt it before it reaches that critical stage. And what I’m hoping for is that the NYPD, who siloes this data, would potentially be willing to open it up to other agencies – not to use it themselves, but rather to open it up to other agencies that can help improve their work in serving the city. ”
A similar logic drives a group of lawyers who filed a class action against the city in the final days of the de Blasio administration. The group argues that the NYPD violated state and federal constitutions and the Americans with Disabilities Act by allowing police officers who lack medical training to make on-the-spot, street-level diagnoses of who an “emotionally disturbed person” is and to subject them to arrest, imprisonment or lethal force.
The coalition behind the lawsuit is calling on New York to remove cops from response activity to so-called EDP cases and instead send in trained, unarmed medical specialists and peer group members, modeled on a program called Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets that has operated successfully for nearly 30 years in Oregon. In 2019, the program responded to 24,000 crisis cases with police backup called in just 150 cases.
“It’s not really about the police and how the police can do things better – it’s about taking them completely off the board,” said Disability Justice Program Director Ruth Lowenkron. at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “It’s not a matter of criminal law; it’s a health issue. And so we want to send a health response.
Lowenkron hopes the coalition suing the city can meet with Adams, who speaks frequently about breaking down barriers between city agencies. “I spoke a lot with the members of the transition team to let them know what I thought. And I’m cautiously optimistic that my message is getting through,” she said.
That question – Does my message get through? — is the one that countless advocates, business owners, parents, and homeowners ask for. Adams has spoken of a solid game so far, but will he pull it off?
“I think his first week in office was pretty extraordinary,” said Betsy Gotbaum, the former two-term public lawyer who now leads the Citizens Union good government organization. “We just had a board meeting, and of course everyone was talking about the optics of his appointment of his brother and his friends,” she told me. “But they also feel that there is someone responsible in the city. He’s having a great time – but boy, was he on top when things weren’t going so well. On some level it was a terrible week for him, but he handled it very well.