Before taking over as mayor of New York City, Eric Adams repeatedly said that his top priority was to serve as a cheerleader for the city and promote its recovery.
Mr. Adams quickly began to honor this vow. In his first week in office, he moved to support the city’s health system during the surge in hospitalizations due to the coronavirus. He fought to keep schools open even after they closed in other cities like Chicago.
And on Sunday, he faced a devastating new challenge when the city was hit by the deadliest fire in decades, and at least 19 people died, including nine children. He held two press conferences at the site of the fire in the Bronx and called for unity at a time of horrific loss. “During a tragedy,” he said, “we’ll be here for each other.”
Mr. Adams, a Democrat and former police chief, faces the most difficult challenges facing his mayor since Michael R. Bloomberg’s inauguration shortly after the September 11 attacks. New York City was beginning to recover from the economic devastation of the pandemic this fall, but the Omicron rush in December resulted in some Broadway shows canceled and offices emptied again just as the new mayor took office.
Much of his first week focused on keeping public schools open for in-person instruction and sending the message that the city was ready to move on. He said he decided shortly before taking office that he would do everything in his power to keep the school system open after reviewing low school transfer rates.
“It was clear to me that regardless of the heat and pressure, unless the doctors said, ‘Eric, it’s dangerous to have these kids in school,’ then I’m going to push ahead and be very clear so that parents who won’t have a level of uncertainty,” He said in a recent interview.
But to do so, Mr. Adams needs the numbers to back up his optimism. So every day, he holds an 8:30 a.m. video briefing with his top health advisors to review the latest data on Covid.
“We say, ‘Where are we, give us the stats, have the hospitals settled, what the numbers look like, what are the deaths. Mr. Adams said, How many schools were closed the day before? Then we decided, shall we continue the path? How do we pivot? “
His administration has distributed more than one million home testing kits for the coronavirus in recent days so that students can test at home after exposure and go back to school. He filmed a video of him taking a home test on Thursday to show families how to do it. The day before, he announced additional funding for hospitals to support staff.
In his first week, Mr. Adams seemed to be everywhere – Ride an electric bike In Manhattan, announcing 17 arrests in a gang campaign in Brooklyn and Slide on a pole At a fire station in Queens. On Sunday, he made remarks at a church, held a press conference with Senator Chuck Schumer, visited a Burger King where a person was killed during a burglary, and twice drove to the Bronx to the scene of the fatal fire. One of the owners of the Bronx Building is Camber Property Group, a developer whose co-founder, Rick Gruber, was a member of the Adams transition team on housing issues.
By doing so, the mayor displayed an indefatigable energy that many found lacking in his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, leaving Gracie Mansion at dark dawn to hold a 6:45 a.m. news conference about a Friday blizzard, and visit hospital staff at 9:30 Evening to thank the nurses working the night shift on Tuesday.
He also traded barbs with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after she fell out with caller chefs and Dunkin’ Donuts “low-skilled workers”, then found himself on the defensive over making two maneuvers: Philip Banks III, a former chief of police, named him as Vice President Municipal Public Safety, despite ethical concerns about Mr. Banks’ past as an unconvicted conspirator in a federal corruption investigation; He also took steps to give his brother a position as deputy police commissioner to run the mayor’s security unit.
Mr Adams, Black’s second city mayor, said on Sunday he wanted his brother to oversee his security over concerns about white supremacy and hate crimes. He said his brother qualifies for the job, adding, “I need someone I can trust.”
The mayor said Mr. Banks has admitted wrongdoing, but has not been charged with a crime.
“I need the best person for the job,” Mr. Adams said on CNN, on one of two appearances on a national news program on Sunday. The mayor also returned to another one of the first week’s themes: he intends to keep schools open.
But with coronavirus cases and hospitalizations on the rise, some elected officials, union leaders and health experts urged Mr Adams to do more to stop the spread of the virus.
The city has been recording more than 40,000 cases a day, and more than 5,700 people have been hospitalized with the virus, including 740 patients in intensive care units – the highest levels since the spring of 2020. Some working-class neighborhoods like southern Jamaica in Queens, where Mr. grew up Adams, test-positive rates were alarming above 40 percent.
The teachers’ union has called for a temporary return to distance learning. The largest municipal union has called on non-essential employees in the city to work from home.
Instead, Mr. Adams pushed to reopen the city, urging private employers to bring workers back to offices, even on a part-time basis.
“I met a number of business leaders,” Mr. Adams said in the interview. “Instead of going to a five-day week at once, let’s go two days a week or three days a week – let people get over their fears that they might come back.”
Asked about criticism that his optimistic tone did not match the hard realities on the ground, Mr Adams said the Omicron variant was less severe and was “just as dangerous not to unlock the city”.
“I would really think differently about this if this thread was a streak with a high level of mortality,” he said, noting that those vaccinated often had “cold-like symptoms.”
Dennis Nash, an epidemiologist at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, said Adams should try to do more to curb the virus.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New Administration
“I definitely agree that we need to learn how to live with Covid – and that’s what New York City is doing just as much, if not more, than any other city in the country,” said Dr. Nash. “But from an epidemiological perspective, we don’t have to learn to live with the wild increases in societal transmission that overwhelm the health care system, like the one we’re going through right now.”
Mr. Adams’ push for New Yorkers to return to their offices led to his first public altercation with Ocasio-Cortez, the left-leaning congresswoman who backed Mr. Adams’ rival, Maya Wiley, in last year’s Democratic primary. Mr Adams said the city should remain open because “low-skilled workers” cannot work remotely.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and like-minded ally, Tiffany Caban, a new member of City Council, criticized his choice of words.
“The suggestion that any job is ‘low skill’ is a myth perpetuated by wealthy interests to justify inhumane working conditions, little/no health care, and low wages,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez Posted on Twitter.
Mr. Adams said he should have used the term “low-paid worker,” noting that he himself was washing dishes, polishing shoes, and working in the mail room. He said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was acting like a “word police” and that he sometimes made mistakes.
“I would rather be real and make mistakes than be automatic and not be honest in what they do,” he said, adding, “I know they are perfect, and there is not much I can do about it. I can only aspire to one day be Perfect as they are.”
Mr Adams said he nonetheless wanted to work with progressives like Ms Ocasio-Cortez on issues such as housing and “ending the prison cycle”. But he encouraged them to communicate with him directly.
“I can sit there and work with any group,” he said. “But you don’t work with a group just by tweeting.”
With Mr. Adams newly elected and at the height of his political power, Democratic leaders seemed largely reluctant to engage in a public quarrel with him. Michael Mulgrew, a teachers union president who often plays the mayor’s opponent, showed extraordinary respect for the mayor.
The mayor also moved to quickly establish a positive relationship with Governor Cathy Hochhol, putting an end to the feud that had marked the tenures of their predecessors, former Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Mr. Adams and Mrs. Hochul appeared together again Sunday evening at the site of the fire and pledged to work together to help the victims.
Dana Rubinstein and Jeffrey C.