I have covered Mayor Eric Adams for roughly 15 years since he was a state senator and through his borough presidency to his election of mayor. Anecdotally, I would characterize the mayor to be politically shrewd, and inspirational as a person, friend and orator. He has shared qualities of three previous mayors that he looks up to – David Dinkins for his being a humanitarian at a very high level, Michael Bloomberg for his practicality and being a data driven person and Ed Koch for his classic New York City thick skin in dealing with over eight million opinions while being tasked with running the city.
The following interview with the mayor took place on Friday morning, April 8, at City Hall.
amNY/PoliticsNY: Good morning Mayor Adams. OK, it’s been 100 days. What are your top five accomplishments/initiatives so far in office?
Mayor Adams: Number one, we inherited a COVID nightmare, where there was just a feeling of uncertainty, uncertainty in the city. We had to stabilize it. Starting with our schools. Parents were unsure if the schools will be open or closed. We immediately came in and we stated our children will be in school. It was the safest place for children in the school building and we were successful in doing so while other schools were closing down across the country. New York City led the way by giving 20 million test kits to children and families to test to make sure that we test in place. We were extremely successful in doing so.
Number two, we started to lay the foundation of our recovery. Tourism is returning. We see in Broadway 21 shows we announced yesterday are going to be up and operated. We’re seeing people come back to the office and we’re seeing the revitalization of our business districts. That is so important.
Number three, we’re laying the foundation for public safety. These are generational problems that have created a level of violence in the city and we lead from the front. If the result of the current [state] budget is accurate, no one was talking about the reforms I was pushing and people said it was impossible. But now it appears as though those things that I pushed come through. We’re going to start seeing the results of some of them coming out of the current budget. I commend the lawmakers and the governor on what they’ve done. We have more to do but we looked at some of those things that I raised, brought it back on into the conversation in Albany and we are pleased with that.
Number 4, for what we’re doing around an issue that feeds crime and poverty – foster care children. We rolled out an important initiative at Kingsborough Community College that talked about leaning into our foster care. It’s a pilot project that we’re going to continue to expand on because our foster care system is a broken system that feeds crime to poverty, a lack of education and a host of other things.
We rolled out a blueprint to end gun violence. We rolled out a blue blueprint for our economic recovery. Over 70 items that we’re going to implement in the upcoming months. We’re redesigning 1,000 streets, and intersections to make them safer for traffic, Rolling out our anti gun unit, our transit plan. You’re going to start to see the results of those foundational things that we’re doing.
amNY/PoliticsNY: When you campaigned for mayor you often mentioned you wanted to de-silo city services and agencies. That they often worked in a vacuum, and you wanted to coordinate the agencies to work more closely together from a management perspective. How is this initiative going?
Mayor Adams: The beauty of that is I anticipated the challenge, you know what my mother used to say? You must inspect what you expect or suspect. And so what I have introduced is a real time system of using a [shared] Google Doc, I did it in Borough Hall, but now I’m using an Excel document sharing. So what does that look like?
I announced that in two weeks we were going to be moving the [homeless] encampments off our streets and in our subway system. We immediately had a team put together made up of HRA (Human Resources Administration), the NYPD, mental health professionals and the Department of Sanitation.
And we all operated off of one document that everyone viewed. We had our police in this sectors, canvass their sectors and identify where the homeless structures were. They immediately communicated to the Patrol Bureau and the Patrol Bureau spoke with the task force of all the agencies. Sanitation went to do the clean up and to do the notification. Homeless services went out and notified people beforehand. Agencies came in to communicate and let people know what services and what housing they have available. We saw the de-siloing of that operation, and we were able to take down approximately 230 of the 244 encampments that we identified. It shows how you collaborate and work as a team and we’re going to continue to do that throughout all of our agencies.
amNY/PoliticsNY: Speaking of the homeless encampments, I have two questions. Firstly a lot of the homeless say they don’t feel safe in the shelter system, and yet you are breaking up the encampments. So in a chicken or the egg scenario, which comes first, the cleaning up of the shelter system or getting the homeless off the streets?
Mayor Adams: I believe that much of what the homeless are saying and even advocates are saying is based on the old model of homelessness. Of course, if you had a terrible experience inside a homeless shelter, you’re going to believe that is what you will always encounter and I’m saying to them, that’s why we printed brochures to show them. This is where we are asking you to go so that we can dismantle the belief that you can’t have a safe place to live and sleep as you find permanent housing. It is not safe nor is it dignified to live in a tent or a cardboard box with human waste, drug paraphernalia, unable to take a shower, not knowing where your next meal is coming from. In our shelters you get three meals a day, shower facilities and a bed, and we have our safe haven beds. We’re going to open 500 safe haven beds. No one in this city that states they want a place to sleep is turned away. And so when you hear people say there’s not enough beds, ask them who’s turned away. Every New Yorker that wants to bed we find them a bed so they can sleep with dignity. And I’m not going to succumb to the belief that it is okay for people to live in an undignified environment. These are fellow New Yorkers and I’m not going to abandon them.
amNY/PoliticsNY: The second part is you showed media dozens of syringes taken from the encampments indicating there are a lot of hardcore homeless drug addicts. Your predecessor opened free injection sites just before he left office, I believe in Harlem. Do you want to expand, keep as is or get rid of this program?
Mayor Adams: Two things when you look at the free injection sites. Number one, we can’t oversaturate communities. We have totally destroyed the 125th Street strip from river to river. When you walk through that strip, you see open drug use, you see loitering. I mean the conditions just decimated the business. You’re seeing shootings in the area. We had a meeting with the community leaders and Congressman Espaillat and we had the commissioner and her top brass attend. Other agencies attended. We’re going to focus on that area. They have too many drug treatment locations in this area from private to public, and you can’t over saturate the area in that manner.
I believe in the concept of free injection sites with services to get individuals off drugs. Not to say that this is a permanent lifestyle that you could come in here and inject for the rest of your life. No, it must have services there on-the-ground drug treatment, get people off drugs, put them into permanent housing, permanent employment. Those wraparound services are crucial. And I don’t believe we’re doing a good enough job in doing that now,
amNY/PoliticsNY: An extension of mayoral control over city schools was not included in the recently passed state budget. Are you concerned that not passing an extension of mayoral control over the city’s schools is hampering more rollouts of your education initiatives?
Mayor Adams: I was disappointed that it was not in the budget. I’m going to continue to partner with the lawmakers that are there to get more accountability. Think about this. This is the first time in history where you have a black mayor, you have a black Chancellor, and they were both public school students.
amNY/PoliticsNY: Your predecessor had an adversarial relationship with charter schools, yet parents in lower socio-economic neighborhoods do seek choice on where to send their kids. What do you see as the role for charter schools in public education?
Mayor Adams: I’m big on scaling up excellence wherever it is. And I’m not going to engage in the only public school or district schools or only charter schools because they are both public schools. Many people don’t realize that. I am saying wherever we find excellence, let’s scale it up. We have excellent district schools and excellent charter schools, but we pin the two against each other. When I visit a charter school and they’re doing the right thing I want to incorporate what they are doing in my district schools. And the same as when I see a failing Charter School. I want to look at the successful things we’re doing in district schools to assist them such as in Staten Island. We have a dyslexia focus school on Staten Island that we can learn from and help charter schools and district schools as we scale up what they’re doing and give them the resources that they need. Thirty percent of our inmates in prisons in the country are dyslexic. And we want to stop that. Let’s do dyslexia screening. Let’s identify how children learn differently and give the support that they need. This way we can start turning around the feeders of crime.
amNY/PoliticsNY: On a personal level, I came here from Chicago to make my mark in music and was a subway musician for about 20 years, both as a member of the MTA’s Music Under New York program and as a platform musician, where I sometimes had run-ins with the transit beat cops. Many people come here from all over the world for a career in the arts and some take to the streets, parks and subways to perform. How do you reconcile possibly cracking down on street art with encouraging artists to continue to come to the Big Apple to make it?
Mayor Adams: My desire is on every corner to have a poet, a musician, a drummer, you know, spoken word. We need to become an exciting and unique place. Just as we had those circles inside the subway system with Music Under New York, I would like to see those circles in our parks and open spaces or in our various places where people assemble. We can open the city up and music and culture is important. We have an initiative that we’re going to roll out and this may be breaking news. We’re going to use office spaces, government office buildings. We’re looking at the possibility of having local struggling artists in the lobby of those office buildings display their art and play their music, as people go in to deal with the brokenness of their lives. To allow music and art to be part of the healing process.
amNY/PoliticsNY: Finally, I know it’s still a bit early in your administration, but what would you like your legacy as mayor to be?
Mayor Adams: I want a city that’s healthy and safe because public safety and justice are a prerequisite to prosperity. You can have all the money you want, but if you’re not safe to go to your parks, to visit your family, to know that you’re home safe, then what is it all for? I believe when we turn around the city and make it a safe place, we’re going to enjoy the beauty of the greatest place on the planet and that’s New York.