By MICHELLE L. PRICE – Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Many New Yorkers just want their city to feel orderly, functional, and fun again after two years of plague and social disruption. Your new mayor, Eric Adams, has promised to deliver.
The question is, in the face of repeated setbacks, can the Democrat, who has vowed to bring back New York’s “swag,” gain momentum?
Adams’ optimism remained high even as he marked his 100th day as mayor on Sunday by quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.
Adams, 61, a hands-on politician and nightlife enthusiast, contracted the virus after a tumultuous week typical of his person and tenure: attending the Gridiron dinner in Washington, attending a New York gala and had posed with Robert de Niro at a film festival, attended the Yankees opener and a series of events at the state capitol.
“I will continue to try to be as visible as possible as we weather COVID and many of the other crises we face,” Adams said Monday, promising to resume his busy schedule after recovering from the virus had recovered.
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In his first 100 days in office, Adams has projected an aggressive confidence as he implemented policies aimed at combating an image of New York City hampered by the pandemic and beset by rising crime.
He has dropped many COVID-19 precautions and is reluctant to bring them back even as virus cases have been steadily rising.
He has ordered homeless camps to be removed from public spaces, despite complaints from activists that the sweeps are inhumane.
Over objections from progressives, Adams, a former police captain, brought back an NYPD anti-gun unit disbanded by the previous mayor, saying that with better oversight it would lose its former reputation for using excessive force.
Critics say Adams is embracing the worst tendencies of past mayors, known for their hard-edged approach to policing and social services.
Adams says he doesn’t like chaos, as noted by Saturday Night Live in his early days in office. Instead, he tries to take advantage of the city’s lively dynamics.
“That, I think, is our failure in our city… We threw up our hands and said this city is unmanageable. That’s just not true,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, before testing positive for COVID-19.
He said he starts each morning by poring over a series of spreadsheets filled with data on his key initiatives.
Inspecting his efforts to clear tents and temporary shelters erected by the homeless, Adams scrolls through hundreds of color-coded rows listing individual camps that have been reported to the city — some that the mayor himself has called.
He checks to see if anyone in his administration’s entries are shaded blue, indicating that city officials have posted notices that they will clean up the area. It checks if the blue entries later turn yellow, which is coded as “successful cleanup”. When too many days go by and the colors don’t change, he calls to find out why.
At a news conference last month, he said the city cleared 239 camps in the first 12 days. Although the city did not provide details on how many people lived in the camps, only five accepted offers to move into shelters.
Adams said he believes the number will increase, as has been the case with efforts to reach homeless people on the subway system.
The mayor also reviews daily spreadsheets containing data on crime, the city’s sprawling transportation system, affordable and supportive housing units, and hiring and promotions in his government.
He compared himself to a pilot who sits down and checks his instruments before taking off, calling the city a “complex piece of machinery”.
“You have to keep checking what you’re expecting or it’s suspicious,” Adams said, using one of his favorite catchphrases.
Adams, a former New York City police captain, legislator and borough president-elect of Brooklyn, had to deal with unrelenting crises in his first month in office.
A fire swept through a high-rise apartment building, killing 17 people; a baby was injured by gunfire; two police officers were fatally shot while responding to a phone call; A woman was pushed to death by a stranger in front of a subway train.
“Other than 9/11, I don’t know if any other mayor was inundated with so much at once,” Adams noted.
The crime that has been increasing in cities across the US has become one of his main concerns.
It’s by far the most sensitive issue Adams has taken up, said Jon Reinish, a Democratic political strategist in New York City. But 100 days is early, Reinish said, and a better barometer of progress would be a year into office.
“I think he’s navigated that well so far, but Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said.
New York City public attorney-elect Jumaane Williams, a progressive Democrat who serves as the city’s ombudsman, praised Adams for partnering with him on issues such as food insecurity, black mothers’ health and summer jobs for young people. But he said he was concerned that too much emphasis was being placed on policing and not enough on mental health.
Adams, who is black, points out that as an officer he spoke out about racist and unjust practices in the department. He says police can learn from past mistakes while using new tools like body cameras to help them be held accountable — but neither can the city return to its days of high violent crime rates.
“I know I don’t want to go back to violence or abuse. Some people just talk about not going back to abuse,” he said.
Critics have also called Adams’ moves to clear homeless camps short-sighted, especially when some people living on the streets say they don’t feel safe in the city’s shelters and there isn’t enough affordable housing to support a long-term solution to offer.
“It sounds to me like we’re going to do the last thing first,” Williams said.
Claiming that it is inhumane to accept people sleeping on the streets, Adams defends his plan by citing a city law that guarantees any homeless person who needs it a right to a place in emergency shelter.
But he also notes that when a camp is cleared, “It’s just amazing how visually it just changes your attitude towards your neighborhood. And that’s part of the goal. Because we are dealing with an actual problem and the perception of a problem.”
Awareness, he said, is also why he posts photos and videos on social media of him shoveling snow during blizzards or meeting people across the city, visiting restaurants, nightclubs and glitzy events.
“We need to get the city running again and a lot of New Yorkers are starting to do that. And they have to see me doing it,” he said. “While I’m dealing with the crises, I also need to be on the red carpet. Because Broadway is an important economic factor for our city.”
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