Appearing more than comfortable with navigating everyday NYC dilemmas at the press podium, Mayor Eric Adams deftly swerves questions with new stats and a let’s-focus-on-this-instead strategy. Pick a topic, this retired 22-year-vet NYPD officer-turned-state-senator, and now New York City mayor quickly calculates a response that fits the administration’s messaging.
During this yet another hectic week for the city, the Amsterdam News was able to get a one-on-one, in-person interview with Mayor Eric Adams. The interview touched on a variety of issues, but subway crime is currently headline news.
Since 2021 crime in the city has risen by over 43%. Underground crime is in the news almost every day. On one journey—say from Brooklyn to Manhattan—a straphanger can encounter fellow riders experiencing poverty, mental health issues, homelessness, aggressive panhandling, and, unfortunately, quite possibly a crime.
Adams seems to suggest that people were being subjected to media fearmongering and press emotional manipulation. “On average we have less than six felony crimes a day,” Adams began. “On our subway system, we have 3.5 million riders a day. For the most part, your ride is uneventful, you’re not a victim of a crime. You may see someone who’s homeless. You may see someone who’s loud. You’ll no longer see the encampments because we got rid of them. We took over 2,000 people who were living off the system, off the system. We have a greater presence of police that are riding trains visibly present. So, if you wake up every day and the New York Post is telling you that we’re gonna take the worst part of the transit experience and highlight it on our front page every day, you’re gonna start feeling unsafe.”
Or maybe straphangers are experiencing a legitimate concern of a real rise in danger potential.
“We’re fighting a perception issue,” Adams insisted. “I just gave you the numbers.”
Many New Yorkers would disagree, the AmNews pointed out, and if a person’s perception prevents a person from doing something because they fear a certain interaction, then that is their reality.
Adams purports that if it doesn’t happen to one personally, then the feared perception is not reality. “If you’ve read every day of those six crimes they highlight, then I go on the subway system and I see someone homeless, I hear loud noises, I see disruption, that is impacting on how I feel…and I don’t see police as much as I want to…so we have to get rid of those six crimes, we can’t have any crimes. But, at the same time, we have to do those visible things of making sure people feel comfortable when those police officers are riding through the car. Now they are not standing looking at their phones.”
The former NYPD officer, who began his 22-year career as a transit cop, seems to somewhat discount that for many MTA train and even bus-riding New Yorkers their sense of safety has been altered. He insists that the city is not eating itself.
“People are feeling unsafe, what is driving the feeling of being unsafe is not the personal interaction, it is not based on what has happened to me—this is what I’m being told.”
So, journalists shouldn’t report on the crime because people may think it is worse than it is?
The mayor repeated that with 3.8 million riders, six felonies aren’t a bad ratio.
Assaults and murders though? It’s relative, he seems to be declaring.
The 3.8 million is still not the 5 million plus usual pre-pandemic day average though, and the crime rate may have something to do with that considerable dent. People are voting with their feet, and perhaps using the subway as sparingly as they can for work, school, appointments, and visits.
$2.75 shouldn’t be the price for trauma
Adams switched up.
“When you have a system that is telling us ‘Hey officer, you don’t have the right to take that person off the train that is yelling. Your city council, your state lawmakers, they’re saying that you can’t go up to that person and remove that person from the subway—you can’t have it both ways.”
Within a couple of hours of the interview on Monday, Oct. 17, one man fell to his death on a Queens subway track. Reports citing the police department state that in a fight over a cellphone, Carlos Garcia fell or was pushed into the path of an F train at the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station. Heriberto Quintana, 48, has been charged with manslaughter.
On Saturday at the E. 149th Street and Southern Blvd. station in the Bronx, fellow subway riders had to help a 26-year-old man up off the tracks after he was pushed by a man described in some reports as exhibiting possible mental challenges. A week ago in Far Rockaway, Queens, Jayjon Burnett, 15, was gunned down on the A train. Cops were on the platform when that shooting happened, as they were in Queens when Garcia was killed.
On a PR subway ride on Tuesday, MTA President Richard Davey said, “The police were on the platform yesterday when that incident occurred…They were at the station at Rockaway last week…For some of these senseless crimes that are occurring, even the presence of police hasn’t been able to stem that.”
According to NYPD’S own recordings, this year 22 people have been pushed onto train tracks, and 10 killed.
Two weeks into Adams’ term on Jan. 15, 2022, Michelle Alyssa Go was standing on a Times Square platform when she was pushed into the path of an oncoming R train. On April 12, Frank James allegedly shot 10 people riding on an N train in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. None of the injured died, but the fears during the subsequent lockdown and search for the shooter put the city on tenterhooks. Only to be shaken again on Tuesday, Sept. 20, when a video circulated of a vicious assault at the Howard Beach-JFK Airport station. There, just after 5 a.m., a man savagely beat and kicked a woman, and threatened a man who tried to intervene in the Queens subway station attack.
New Yorkers say that $2.75 shouldn’t be the price for trauma.
“The train station is like being in the psych ward sometimes,” health worker Jillian Monroe told the Amsterdam News.“There’s instances of mentally-ill people approaching you, smoking, drinking, peeing on the tracks, talking loudly to people intimidating them—like they need supervision.”
The MTA stated this week that they will now announce the presence of police officers on the trains as a means to deter crime; this was met with a muted response from riders.
“The MTA, the police, the mayor’s office—they need to do more to protect the riders,” Monroe said. “So many of us have no choice but to take the train, but we need to feel secure, not scared.”
Permanent real affordable housing
New York City has an incredible 100-billion-dollar expense budget and a 95-million-dollar capital budget, and it is a conundrum to many that issues like homelessness in NYC are as burgeoning a problem as they are.
“There are too many people that believe anytime you build something new you’re going to displace tenants,” Adams offered. “That is not the fact. We have to start governing cities based on the facts, not based on the sound bites and our emotions.”
People standing on the other side of that viewpoint may be from areas where so many new condos have been and are being built in the increasingly gentrified neighborhoods of parts of Brooklyn and Harlem for example. “That UCL report clearly pointed out [that] building housing that is combined with market rate does not displace tenants. When are we going to go based on facts and not our opinions?”
The 61,000 people in city shelters speaks to the severe lack of permanent real affordable housing. The issue came to a head this month when another crisis shone a glaring light on this one. Adams declared a state of emergency and said the city’s resources were stretched to breaking point, as Texas Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott seemed to be making a political point by sending dozens upon dozens of buses filled with Southern-border asylum seekers to Sanctuary City New York.
Twenty-thousand migrants have arrived in the city, including almost 6,000 students enrolling in the school system. Housing has been a headline issue for weeks. The city seems reluctant to divulge broad locations of where migrants are being sent, minus assessment centers like Randall’s Island tents and Manhattan’s Row NYC. Adams said that despite the fact that neighborhoods like Brownsville and the Bronx have over 25 shelters a piece, while Bayridge and Bensonhurst have zero—as Councilman Charles Barron has pointed out—“We’re going to put them all over the city. Everybody. Staten Island said we don’t want some of the migrants. We said no. Everywhere in this city where we have space, it doesn’t matter if it’s Bayridge, it doesn’t matter if it’s the East Side of Manhattan, this is a crisis. Everywhere we can house people we are going to. I’m not accepting any calls from anyone telling me no please don’t build it here. No. This is a crisis. Everyone is calling for us to house people. Everyone has a shared responsibility.”
Even though that does not seem to be the case currently?
“We are looking for places in Bensonhurst and Bayridge, and any councilperson who is complaining that it’s not in Bayridge or Bensonhurst, we are telling them give us a location that you found that we didn’t find. Give us a location. Some have done that in Manhattan. People have called to say, ‘Hey we found hotels in Manhattan,’ and we’re going to them. So, I’m saying the same thing to those who are saying there’s none in Bayridge, ‘Hey councilperson, let me know a location you know there so we can get some people over there.’ We went through those areas to find emergency hotels that we could use, we couldn’t find any. So, if they have some, let us know we’re gonna do it.”
“The City Charter’s Fair Share rule says that you cannot over-saturate one area with shelters, and that is what we are seeing,” Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron told the Amsterdam News. “Brownsville and the Bronx have over 20 shelters a piece, but majority-white neighborhoods like Bensonhurst and Bayridge have none. They said they can’t find any appropriate space there, but they always manage to find space in the Black and brown communities. We just want an equitable distribution of the shelters.”
The mayor toured the Randall’s Island Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center on Tuesday. Despite some well-publicized opposition to it, and the city council berating the plan, he was, as of press time, standing by his decision. There are 1,000 beds, showers, TVs, games, and culturally sensitive food, but it is still a transit desert, and prone to flooding or ponding with, the city says, an evacuation plan.
“There are better options that New York City should explore to provide healthier and safer conditions for people who have already experienced so much trauma,” City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said, voicing concern as soon as the idea was announced. At the beginning of the month, before this week’s drastic drop in temperatures she stated, “Given its own flood risks in the middle of hurricane season and colder temperatures from exposure to the East River as winter approaches, Randall’s Island is inconsistent with humanitarian relief.”
Reports state that the Orchard Beach tented facility cost $325,000 to disassemble, and Randall’s Island took the same amount of city funds to put up. Adams said that the “humanitarian crisis” is costing NYC 1 billion dollars, and as of now Gov. Kathy Hochul has sent 100 National Guards members but no dollars.
Mayor Adams said he is unwavering. Randall’s Island is happening, even though the original tent site, Orchard Beach, succumbed to heavy rain and flooding on Oct. 1 through 3, days after it was built, and just before it was due to open.
“It wasn’t flooded,” Adams retorted, “people are using the wrong terms. It was puddling, and we could have fixed it. But Commissioner Niccum said, ‘Listen we have an incline on Randall’s Island, why don’t we do it there?’ Now we could have easily just kept going and been bullheaded and stubborn, and said it’s going to be too humiliating to go in another direction. I’m not doing that. I don’t care about people saying you tried something, and it didn’t become ideal. We can’t be afraid to try during a crisis.”
Then there’s the Department of Education, and Adams’ controversial move to cut $300,000 from the school budget. He told the Amsterdam News: “We did not cut 300 million dollars in the budget. The City Council voted on the budget. All that information they had in front of them. This is the first time in history that a council voted on a budget then protested the budget that they voted.”
Post intense COVID-era protocol, in the wake of months of protests from education activists, parents, and students decrying the reduction or lack of school services, Adams rejects the critique. Declaring instead that his administration said that they “were going to protect 100% of fair student funding. We’re never going to cut anything. The number of students that [schools] have, we’re going to make sure they get the money they’re supposed to. We have federal dollars that are going to run out. We have a 10-billion-dollar projected budget deficit. The City Council said we know that the student population dropped, we know that we were propping up the budget with federal dollars that’s going to run out, give it to us anyway. And we said no. We’re going to wean you off those federal dollars by 25% now. Next year we’re going to wean you off by 50%, and then the year when it runs out completely, we’re gonna wean you off completely because there’s no more federal dollars. This was all COVID money. So, if we’re going to act like the class sizes remain the same and we’re gonna give you the same dollar amount, that’s very irresponsible.”
Not addressing directly the city’s $8,300 million reserve bumped up by the Wall Street $51 million unexpected windfall which gave the city a projected $ 5 million, Mayor Adams determined, “This is a responsible budget, with a 10 billion dollars budget deficit.”
Twenty-thousand new New Yorkers including almost 6,000 children, but Adams said for some the Big Apple was not their final destination. “Thousands have left to go where they wanted to go. We’re interviewing the migrant and asylum seekers and we’re saying where did you really want to go, because they compelled them to get on the bus to come to New York, and we’re seeing people say I want to go to Miami, I want to go to Maine, I want to go to this place. We’re assisting them to get in contact with their families. So, although 20,000 went through our system, a substantial number went to where they really wanted to go. And those who are staying here, we have a legal obligation to make sure that they are in our education [system]. We can’t tell people, no matter what their classification is, that their children can’t go to school.”
Six thousand new children in the school system, would that make him add some money back to the school budget?
“Yes, remember there’s fair student funding, for every child you have there’s a dollar amount attached to that child. So, now we put an additional 500 students in the school, we’ve got to give them the additional money for those 500 students. That is why we say we are not going to spread the money out all over the place. People are talking about equality; it should be equity. Give schools and students what they need. We keep a pot of money for these emergencies to do this evaluation. If you need more; you have a higher number of children with dyslexia; if you have a number of homeless children; a high number of children from domestic violence, living in a shelter, we need to be there to give you the money that you need. Not just say you’ll give every school the same dollar amount, the needs are different.”
Asked about the continued steady flow of the migrant buses, Adams said, “Not necessarily. The city administrator of El Paso is saying that because of the decompressive strategy that the president put in place based on what we asked for, they basically can stop sending those number of buses that we were getting. We know it’s probably gonna take a few days before it normalizes, but we believe that we’re going to see a smaller number, and eventually there’s no reason to be continuously sending these buses here.”
Crisis after crisis after crisis
Ten months in, is he doing as well as he wanted to do?
“Yes, yes. Do you know what I inherited?” he laughed.
What grade would he give himself?
“I’ll give myself an ‘I’—an incomplete, and we’re moving towards completion. We had COVID. We had monkeypox. We had crime, with an economy that was in the pan. We were dealing with crisis after crisis after crisis. And people don’t reflect on all those crises that we were dealing with because we navigated them without people knowing it. You don’t remember what the energy was like at the end of the year? People tried to tell me to close schools—I kept schools open. People said I would never be able to get NYCHA Land Trust passed.”
As Adams’ press secretary Fabian Levy repeatedly reminded the mayor that he had a room full of people awaiting him, utilizing the last few seconds of the scheduled interview, the AmNews pressed, speaking of the New York City Housing Authority, is he privatizing NYCHA?
“No, see those are all those rumors.” That’s it. And yet policies and buildings on the sites beg to differ.
Does he regret firing municipal workers who did not get the COVID jab, only to allow athletes to play in the city with or without the shot?
“We made it fair,” Adams swerved, “entertainers from other cities were able to entertain you without the mandate. We evened the playing field. Why am I going to tell New Yorkers that you can’t entertain, but I’m allowing other people to come into the city and entertain.”
But what about the essential workers who were fired? “The essential workers did the right thing. Remember those people who were let go, they were holding up slots of who we could hire. They made a determination. We got through COVID because of mandates, we need to be clear on that, if we didn’t have those mandates we would not have not gotten through COVID, and Black and brown people were the most who were losing their lives.”
Answering if those essential workers will be rehired, Adams said as he left the Blue Room, “It’s in the courts. The courts will decide.”