If you were looking for more evidence that the Christmas spirit seems to be bypassing New York this season, that the mood of the city has been decidedly downcast, you needed only to hear directly from the mayor. Asked this week during a television interview to describe in a single word the year that we were putting behind us, Eric Adams replied, “New York.”
Leaving aside that the answer did not syntactically comply with the question, he went on to further confound everyone with an incoherent explanation. What he meant was that New York is “a place where every day you wake up, you could experience everything from a plane crashing into our Trade Center to a person who’s celebrating a new business that’s open.”
Locating the city you oversee at the nexus of tragedy and transaction isn’t bound to inspire or uplift anyone — even if you’re speaking at a moment that cries out for uplift and inspiration. The emotional breakdown over the war in Gaza that has played out on city campuses, in cultural institutions and offices, at potlucks, galas and among friendships of many years has shared the company of so many other fractures.
Roughly 122,000 migrants have come into New York’s shelter system this year, according to the mayor’s office. Media layoffs have been rampant. Covid, the flu and RSV are on the rise again. And this does not even get us to the federal investigation into the mayor’s campaign financing and his 28 percent approval rating, the worst of any mayor in a Quinnipiac poll since the mid-1990s.
It would have been hard to imagine 23 months ago, when he came into office riding around on a bike with a rose-colored helmet, talking about swagger and nightlife and ending an eight-year run of earnestness and earth tones in City Hall, that it would be Eric Adams cast in the role of Scrooge while Bill de Blasio, newly separated, out there dating a married woman and wearing cobalt blue, brought the heat. On some level, the promise of Eric Adams was that he would restore energy and charisma to a city emerging from a pandemic, that New York would become more fun. But in many ways it has seemed only more Dickensian.
Consider the candlelit vigil held last week, eight days before Christmas, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to mourn the final day of Sunday service for the local branch of the library. Budget cuts, ordered by the mayor, which he maintains are unavoidable in light of the burdens inflicted by the migrant crisis, have meant that nearly all libraries around the city will be closed on Sundays. They have also been forced to reduce spending on books, programs and building repairs. Emily Gallagher, a member of the State Assembly who attended the funereal gathering, called the reductions “cruel and unnecessary.”
This week, a report from Columbia University’s Center for Justice outlined the dangers of solitary confinement, which has been pervasive in the city’s jail system. Despite promises to end it, the report stated, the Department of Correction simply rebranded the practice as “structurally restrictive housing.” It still isolated inmates for 23 hours a day, just in slightly larger cells. In one instance, the study noted, jail guards forced a detainee to make sexually explicit comments while he sat naked in a squatting position, then placed him in solitary for several months in an effort to cover up their abuses.
The report urged the City Council to pass a law that would ban solitary confinement and allow people in custody at least 14 hours a day out of their cells, with limited exceptions after eruptions of violence. On Wednesday, the law was passed. But Mr. Adams opposed the bill all along and has threatened to veto it, arguing in a radio interview after the vote that the value of a disciplinary tactic the United Nations has designated as torture has essentially been misunderstood by a “far left” indifferent to public safety.
There is no question that the steady flow of migrants from the border into a city that is mandated to provide shelter for all has exponentially complicated the matter of governing it. Mr. Adams has repeatedly said that the crisis is unmanageable in the absence of more funding and strategic help from the federal government. This week he called on New Yorkers angry about billions of dollars in proposed budget cuts to direct their outrage at Washington, march there and demand more money, a gesture political observers immediately registered as overly aggressive in that it would be likely to further alienate the Biden administration.
In the meantime, migrant families subject to a 60-day limit on shelter services, established by the Adams administration in October, will have to look for new housing at the start of the new year. The city did extend the period so that they would not have faced eviction during Christmas. Still, protesters gathered outside City Hall on Tuesday calling for an end to the rule. The signage directed at the mayor was clear: “Don’t Be a Grinch, Mayor Adams.”