As city voters continue to go to the polls this week for early voting and Election Day coming next Tuesday, Nov. 2, PoliticsNY had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with the front-running candidate, Democratic mayoral nominee and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
We asked Adams about some of the major issues that would affect the next mayor of New York City, from the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to school safety, from combating hate crimes to ending the AIDS epidemic. What follows are his answers in full, edited slightly for format and clarity. (Questions are in bold, with Adams’ answers following them.)
We’ve seen the city springing to life every day as the COVID-19 rates continue to drop. Manhattan’s seeing more activity now with Broadway reopening and restaurants, but offices are still slow to fill up. What would you do as mayor to get offices to fully reopen their workplaces to their employees? Would you also seek zoning changes to allow some office spaces to be reused for residential purposes?
Number one, we need to look at zoning changes to open to affordable housing in the city area, something similar to what we did during Sept. 11, after the terrorist attack. We should also look to retrofit some of the retail spaces for on-site childcare. Universal childcare is important to me, and we can do on-site childcare where people don’t have to worry about their children.
I think that some of the retail spaces in Manhattan can be utilized for that. And then we look at what we can do to incentivize people returning. Number one, we need to have a clear standard based on science, how to make office spaces safe.
The state and the city should come up with clear measures that owners of buildings and companies will put in place, that is proven based on the science, and then we start with two three days a week, slowly getting people back into the mindset that it’s safe to come back to work.
And lastly, it is crucial that we have a safe subway system, so people can ride free for those who need health services and have free from crime, making sure our police officers are doing the job they’re supposed to do, that’s keeping the riders safe.
The city’s mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all employees, including police officers and firefighters, many of whom are hesitant or refuse to receive the vaccine. Do you think it’s the right call to mandate the vaccines? What approach would you take to convince the maximum participation in the vaccination effort?
One thing I’m clear on, we can’t go backwards. I was there on the ground [during the height of the pandemic]. Many people, you know, fled. I led from the ground. I know what it’s like to have a hospital and temporary morgues filled with bodies. I know what it’s like to see people check their family members into hospitals never to see them again. Our children, not able to get the education they need. Businesses devastated at the peak of COVID. We witnessed trauma, like we’ve never witnessed before. We can’t go backwards.
I think we can move in the right direction by engaging in a real conversation with union leadership. I would have sat down with the leaders of the unions and worked out a way that we can move together and there may be some contractual issues that we have to discuss. Everything like who’s going to pay if a person gets sick after taking the vaccine. We need to work that out and get clarity on it.
Should people be allowed time off to go get vaccinated? I’m willing to hear the issues that the unions may have, so we can get people in a place where they can get vaccinated. It is proven that vaccinations are our most potent weapon against COVID, and I believe that we can get to that place together.
Throughout the city, there have been several incidents of anti-Asian attacks in the wake of the COVID-19, particularly in Queens. How do you plan to address this issue and keep constituents in “The World’s Borough” safe from these kinds of attacks?
Nothing is worse than having a loved one being a victim of racism, anti-semitism, terrorism or anti-Asian violence. It’s unacceptable, and here’s my plan.
Number one, we’re going to partner with the district attorneys, and ask them to do a no plea bargaining agreement. We’re not going to allow those who are arrested for these hate crimes to see the crime downgraded to a misdemeanor or a disorderly conduct. Too many of these cases downgraded. I say no to a hate crime. We just stick them with the crime.
Second, we need to understand that a child doesn’t just wake up drawing a swastika. They learned it from somewhere. So let’s counter that learning of hate with learning of tolerance and acceptance by infusing in our schools real programs that will foster the beauty of diversity in his city, and do programs like my ‘Breaking Bread Building Bonds’ initiative, having a hundred dinners across the city with 10 people at each dinner all coming from a different ethnic groups and background, and learning the different cultural understandings of each group.
This is how we force a better response, so I think it’s imperative that we do long-term things and immediate things to stop this violence, including putting cameras in certain communities that are targeted, have proper police response, and just really sending the right message that hate will not live in our city.
You have stated that you will stop a de Blasio administration plan to transfer school safety duties from the NYPD to the Department of Education. In that vein, how would you strengthen school safety?
It’s clear that those who were calling for the removal of school safety officers, we see the danger of that. You know, three to four guns found in the school in the last few days, the knifing of a young child in the library in the Bronx and we’ve seen shootings around schools. So there’s a real issue when it comes to public safety and our students.
So I want to make sure we hire the appropriate amount of school safety officers, and I’m open to changing uniforms, maybe a white shirt and khakis so it doesn’t look police-like. I’m also open to looking at some of the new technology that can remove scanners and remove magnetometers from the school. There are new ways of using technology to identify someone potentially carrying a gun, so we don’t traumatize or do things that’s not dignified, and still identify those children who are carrying weapons. But at no cost what I allow our children to be in an unsafe environment.
And lastly, I would have put in place in every school a public safety stakeholder committee made up of teachers, parents and administrators, so that they can come up with suggestions and recommendations based on the uniqueness of this school. A one-size-fits-all-models is not the right thing to do. Having input from those who are impacted sends the right message that we’re listening to each other.
How would your administration fight HIV/AIDS and work to reduce racial disparities in the number of new infections? Would you support the blueprint that was endorsed by Mayor de Blasio and former Governor Andrew Cuomo outlining the plan to End AIDS in New York?
Yes I would and I will go further. It’s all about education.
Each year I partnered with our various AIDS representatives who have made this an emphasis and then we will support our various pride centers in the city. I’ve put close to a million dollars in the Pride Center in Brooklyn. We also supported housing for members of the LGBTQ community.
I think we need to put our money where our mouths are and make sure that we give the right support, and I’m a strong supporter of the needle program so we don’t have to spread [HIV/AIDS] through dirty needles.
Besides forbidding ICE from partnering with the Police Department, how would you make sure New York remains a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants?
Well, to be a sanctuary city is more than what we stop from happening, but also what we encourage to happen. Having a sanctuary city is to expand civil ID programs to get services attached to that. Ensuring that we go out and promote the Metro Plus Health Care Partnership, to sign up people in different languages so people get the adequate health care that they deserve. To also send a strong message that we are going to support those immigrant groups who are the victims of crime, from immigration crimes to predatory crimes, and that they will feel safe to come in and report these crimes. Many of our immigrants are afraid to do so because of the fear of deportation. We want to remove that stigma so that every New Yorker is welcome and will be supported here.