NEW YORK – Many New Yorkers just want their city to feel orderly, functional and fun again after two years of plague and social disruption. Their new mayor, Eric Adams, has promised to deliver.
The question is, can the Democrat who pledged to bring back New York’s “swagger” gain momentum in the face of repeated setbacks?
Adams' optimism remained high even as he marked his 100th day as mayor Sunday by going into quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
A hands-on politician and nightlife enthusiast, Adams, 61, caught the virus after a whirlwind week typical of his persona and time in office: He had attended the Gridiron dinner in Washington, gone to a New York gala, posed with Robert de Niro at a film festival, attended the Yankees opener and a slew of events in the state Capitol.
“I’m going to continue to try to be as visible as possible as we get through COVID and many of the other crises that we’re facing,” Adams said Monday, promising to resume his busy schedule after recovering from the virus.
In his first 100 days in office, Adams has projected an aggressive confidence as he’s implemented policies aimed at combating an image of New York City as hobbled by the pandemic and beset by rising crime.
He dropped many COVID-19 precautions and is reluctant to bring them back, even as virus cases have steadily risen.
He’s ordered homeless encampments removed from public spaces, despite complaints from activists that the sweeps are inhumane.
Over the objection of progressives, Adams, a former police captain, brought back an NYPD anti-gun unit disbanded by the previous mayor, saying that with better oversight it will shed its past reputation for using excessive force.
Critics say Adams is embracing the worst tendencies of previous mayors known for their heavy-handed approaches to policing and social services.
Adams says he doesn’t like chaos, as “Saturday Night Live” noted in his first days in office. Instead, he is seeking to harness the city's tangly dynamism.
“That is what I think our failure is in our city ... We have thrown up our hands and said this city is not manageable. That is just not true," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, prior to testing positive for COVID-19.
He said he starts every morning poring over a series of spreadsheets filled with data on his key initiatives.
When inspecting his efforts to clear tents and makeshift shelters set up by homeless people, Adams scrolls through hundreds of color-coded rows listing individual encampments reported to the city — some that the mayor has phoned in himself.
He checks to see if the entries are shaded blue by someone in his administration, indicating city workers have posted notices they’re about to clean the area. He checks to see that the blue entries are later turned yellow, coded as a “successful cleanup.” If too many days pass and the colors don’t change, he’ll make a call to find out why.
At a news conference last month, he said the city cleared 239 encampments in its first 12 days. Although the city didn’t offer data about how many people were living at the encampments, only five accepted offers to move to a shelter.
Adams said he thinks the number will grow, as it did with efforts to reach out to homeless people in the subway system.
The mayor also checks daily spreadsheets laying out data on crime, the city’s sprawling transit system, affordable and supportive housing units, and hires and promotions in his government.
He likened himself to an airline pilot who sits down and checks his instruments before taking off, calling the city a “complex piece of machinery.”
“You have to constantly inspect what you expect, or it’s suspect,” Adams said, using one of his favored catchphrases.
Adams, a former New York City police captain, state lawmaker and elected borough president of Brooklyn, had to deal with unrelenting crises in his first month in office.
A fire ripped through a high-rise apartment building, killing 17 people; a baby was wounded by gunfire; two police officers were fatally shot while responding to a call; a woman was pushed to her death in front of a subway train by a stranger.
“Outside of 9/11, I don’t know if another mayor was just inundated with so much at one time,” Adams remarked.
Crime, which has risen in cities across the U.S., has become one of his chief concerns.
It’s by far the thorniest issue Adams took on, said Jon Reinish, a Democratic political strategist in New York City. But 100 days is still early, Reinish said, and a better barometer of progress would be a year into the administration.
“I think that he has navigated that well so far, but Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said.
New York City’s elected public advocate Jumaane Williams, a progressive Democrat who serves as a city ombudsman, praised Adams for partnering with him on issues like food insecurity, Black maternal health and summer jobs for young people. But he said he’s concerned about too much emphasis on policing and not enough focus on mental health.
Adams, who is Black, points out that he spoke out about racist and unjust practices in the department while he was an officer. He says police can learn from the mistakes of the past while using new tools like body cameras to stay accountable — but the city also can’t go back to the days of high rates of violent crime.
“I know I don’t want to go back to the violence or the abuse. Some people only talk about not going back to the abuse,” he said.
Critics have also called Adams' actions to clear homeless encampments short-sighted, especially when some people living on the street say they don’t feel safe in the city’s shelters and there’s not enough affordable housing to provide a long-term solution.
“It sounds to me like we’re doing the last thing first,” Williams said.
Adams contends it’s inhumane to accept that people sleep on the street, and defends his plan by pointing to to a city law guaranteeing a right to space in a shelter for any homeless person who needs it.
But he also notes that when an encampment is cleared, “It is just unbelievable how visually, it just changes your mindset of your neighborhood. And that is part of the goal. Because we’re dealing with an actual problem and the perception of a problem.”
Perception, he said is also why he’s posting photos and videos on social media of himself shoveling snow during snowstorms or is seen meeting people all over the city and hitting up restaurants, night clubs and glitzy events.
“We have to get the city back up and operating and many New Yorkers are starting to do so. And they need to see me in the process,” he said. “As I deal with the crises, I also have to be on that red carpet. Because Broadway is a major economic driver for our city.”