URBAN AGENDA: An Opportunity to Finish De Blasio’s Unfinished Business
David R. Jones, Esq., President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York | 7/22/2021, midnight
Democratic nominee Eric Adams heads into the mayoral general election with buzz, momentum, and a chance to win a ground-breaking victory that would bring desperately needed new liveliness to City Hall. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 7 to 1 margin, Adams is expected to cruise to victory in the November general election over Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels.
This election, arguably the most consequential in decades, would make Adams the city’s second Black mayor after David N. Dinkins, who was elected in 1989. Like Dinkins, Adams would enter office facing multiple crises—a spike in crime, festering demands for racial justice, an education system failing too many students, legions of unemployed, and a lack of affordable housing and public transportation, just to name of few.
To be sure, the two-term Brooklyn Borough President would be a significant departure from the incumbent in style, substance, and temperament. Mayor de Blasio has been deservedly criticized for the disappointing shortcomings of his second term -- particularly his capitulation to the NYPD and its aggressive policing tactics. Adams will have an opportunity to re-set expectations and clean up de Blasio’s unfinished business.
He won the primary behind an old-school political coalition of Black and Latinx unionized voters: working-class people, largely outside Manhattan, who believed his message about making the city safe from crime and returning it to economic health.
Unfortunately, the challenges New York City faces are complex and must be addressed simultaneously to make the city safe and restore it to economic health amid the still-lingering coronavirus pandemic.
Arguably the first area that must be addressed (not an obvious choice) is the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), home to over 400,000 New Yorkers. NYCHA is the city’s most important source of affordable housing, yet it has rarely been treated as such. Decades of disinvestment, underfunding, neglect and mismanagement at the federal, state and local levels have created unlivable conditions in many of the authority’s 176,000 units. As such, residents are distrustful of the authority’s grand plans to repair NYCHA’s crumbling infrastructure through conversions.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that public housing has never registered high on Washington’s priority list. However, that may be changing. This month, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D- NY) announced that he is pushing for an infrastructure bill that will double the President’s originally proposed investment in public housing, from $40 billion to $80 billion.
With adequate federal assistance, an Adams administration could make progress addressing NYCHA’s $40 billion capital backlog. Regardless, he should use his election honeymoon to meaningfully engage NYCHA residents -- an important constituency often overlooked by de Blasio – on preservation strategies for the beleaguered housing system.
The New York City public schools also demand immediate attention. The city must mount a full-court press to bring students, many of whom were “lost” during pandemic remote learning, back to classrooms for in-person learning. The city’s schools still face the lingering problems of segregation, low graduation rates and too few pathways to higher education and meaningful job training.
Crime was the centerpiece of the Adams’ campaign, and the former NYPD captain promises he will take dramatic action. He has said he would appoint the city’s first woman police commissioner. The NYPD needs new leadership, solid community relations and transparency to win public confidence for a campaign to curb gun violence as well as address racial justice in policing. And let’s not forget that an alarming number of households during the pandemic struggled to put food on the table and make their rent payments. We would be naive to think poverty and the pandemic do not figure in the spike in crime locally and nationwide.
The coronavirus has exacerbated – and potentially makes permanent for the foreseeable future – social and economic inequities. New York City needs federal, state and city programs that focus on Black and Latinx residents, hourly workers, and people without college degrees.
Fully funding and promoting Fair Fares, the half-priced MetroCard program rolled out but not fully embraced by the de Blasio administration, would go a long way toward helping New York City’s poor. Fair Fares would also dramatically reduce police encounters with Black and Latinx New Yorkers swept up in NYPD fare-beating enforcement. Just last week a video went viral of a man being tasered by police, raising questions about balancing enforcement in the subway against concerns about police abuses.
For all the hopefulness that ushers in a new mayor, Adams would arrive in the mayor’s office hamstrung just like all his predecessors. New York City’s mayor simply lacks authority over huge chucks of city operations controlled by state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who famously feuded publicly with de Blasio.
Still, after a devastating pandemic that claimed thousands of lives and threatened New York’s economy, expectations are high for Adams. Especially among the coalition of Black and Latinx voters who helped put him on course to be the city’s 110th mayor.
David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 175 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.