The message, arriving as New Yorkers were growing more concerned about crime, was simple: Eric Adams, a former police captain, was the only candidate for mayor in 2021 who could rein in a sense of disorder that had seeped into the city during the pandemic.
Voters bought the message and sent Mr. Adams to City Hall, where he immediately began to step up police patrols while vowing to stop the “bad guys” with guns who were terrorizing the streets. Public safety, he often says, is a “prerequisite for prosperity,” the foundation beneath his push to improve the city’s economy and get people back to offices and restaurants.
But running a city with eight million people and a $100 billion budget is a complex endeavor, and Mr. Adams quickly faced criticism on many fronts: cronyism in his administration, painful budget cuts at some schools and a seeming lack of urgency in addressing New York’s affordability crisis.
The challenges continue to mount. The city’s financial forecast is grim, as federal pandemic aid ends and tax revenue falters. An influx of nearly 32,000 migrants from the country’s southern border has overwhelmed agencies’ ability to respond. A new policy to remove mentally ill homeless people from the streets involuntarily has drawn fierce resistance. Nineteen people have died after being held in the city’s troubled jail system this year.
From his first day in office, Mayor Eric Adams has made combating crime a top priority of his administration.Credit…Dave Sanders/The New York Times
As his first year as mayor came to a close, Mr. Adams argued that he was starting to deliver on his campaign pledge to reduce crime, pointing to a 13 percent drop in homicides in 2022 and a 17 percent drop in shootings as of Dec. 27. In a recent interview, he said he had provided New Yorkers with a “level of stability” after the disruption of the pandemic.
Yet the mayor’s critics question whether he is an efficient manager. A staffing crisis in the municipal government has slowed the work of critical agencies, and the city is missing targets for building affordable housing, bus lanes and other projects.
These critics also point to his lack of a signature policy achievement comparable to the universal prekindergarten program introduced by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio — something Mr. Adams acknowledged in the interview.
He suggested that he should be evaluated instead on an array of initiatives: an expansion of a tax credit for poor New Yorkers, a new funding plan for public housing that state lawmakers approved and a focus on dyslexia screenings for children. All are part of what the mayor calls an “upstream” approach to helping the city’s residents before they wind up in crisis.
In the final weeks of his first year, Mr. Adams, a Democrat who has embraced a motto of “Get Stuff Done,” announced two major policy initiatives: the plan for clearing mentally ill homeless people from the streets and a streamlining of housing development regulations to help spur the creation of up to 50,000 new homes in the next 10 years.
“So de Blasio’s upstream initiative, which is commendable, was 3-K and pre-K,” Mr. Adams said, referring to programs that now serve more than 90,000 young children a year. “I’m listing off several upstream initiatives that we did in one year.”
What to Know About Affordable Housing in New York
A worsening crisis. New York City is in a dire housing crunch, exacerbated by the pandemic, that has made living in the city more expensive and increasingly out of reach for many people. Here is what to know:
A longstanding shortage. While the city always seems to be building and expanding, experts say it is not fast enough to keep up with demand. Zoning restrictions, the cost of building and the ability by politicians to come up with a solution are among the barriers to increasing the supply of housing.
Rising costs. The city regulates the rents of many apartments, but more than one-third of renters in the city are still severely rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent, according to city data. Property owners say higher rents are necessary for them to deal with the growing burden of taxes and rising expenses for property maintenance.
Public housing. Thousands of people are on waitlists for public housing in buildings overseen by the New York City Housing Authority. But the city’s public housing system, the largest in the nation, has become an emblem of the deterioration of America’s aging public housing stock and is desperately in need of a financial rescue.
In search of solutions. Mayor Eric Adams has presented a plan to address New York City’s housing crisis that includes expanding affordable housing through incentives for developers and preserving existing below-market units. But the mayor’s critics say the budget still falls short of what is needed.
Mr. Adams has certainly enjoyed the theatrics of the job, serving as a cheerful antidote to Mr. de Blasio, who appeared to take pride in being dour. Mr. Adams was seemingly everywhere in his first year as mayor: smiling on the red carpet at the Met Gala, waging a war against rats, patrolling the subway in Police Department apparel and visiting the Rikers Island jail complex on Thanksgiving.
His calendar was often filled with ceremonial appearances that felt like holdovers from his time as Brooklyn borough president, including at least 17 flag-raising events. In November, around the time his son was competing in an “American Idol”-style contest in Albania, the mayor held a flag-raising ceremony for the Balkan country in Lower Manhattan and an “Albanian Heritage Celebration” at Gracie Mansion.
Mr. Adams said it was important for him to honor immigrant communities and that his absence from City Hall did not mean he was not working. He said he conducted many of his meetings on Zoom calls, a pandemic-era convenience that most prior mayors did not have.
“Trust me, when I go to that flag raising at Bowling Green, I’m going to have a Zoom on my way down there and a Zoom when I come back,” he said.
Still, his man-about-town persona has led to scrutiny over the clubs he frequents, his occasional meals of fish despite an avowed adherence to a vegan lifestyle and some of the company he keeps. Critics have questioned whether Mr. Adams is focused closely enough on policy and whether he has assembled the right team to introduce solutions.
“I’m a progressive, and my priorities are going to be very different from the mayor,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Democratic political strategist and former City Council speaker. “But I’m also concerned about the management side and whether the city is providing the basic services that New Yorkers rely on.”
In one possible sign of a lack of a focused message beyond crime, Lorraine Grillo, the departing first deputy mayor, recently cited “capital process reform” — a task force initiative involving issues like construction change orders and electronic bidding — as her proudest achievement this year.
The mayor’s office provided a 16-page list of his “year-end accomplishments” that included the police making slightly more gun arrests in 2022 than they did in 2021: 4,509, up from 4,497.
“I ran on going after crime, particularly gun violence,” Mr. Adams said. “Even the critics have to say, ‘Listen in the midst of all of this, the guy brought down shootings, brought down homicides, raised the amount of guns taken off our streets.’”
The crime issue is complicated. While shootings and homicides are down, major crimes, including assaults and robberies, rose 23 percent overall in 2022 as of Dec. 27. There were at least 10 killings on the subway, up from roughly two per year before the pandemic. And with his constant focus on crime and the state’s bail law, Mr. Adams has been accused of helping to feed a Republican campaign narrative that the city is a den of lawlessness.
He has sought to reduce disorder by focusing on quality-of-life concerns, prompting a spike in summonses for low-level offenses, even as crime remained well below the historic highs of the 1980s and ’90s. Civil rights advocates are concerned about police stops of Black and Latino men, and would prefer that Mr. Adams had done more in his first year to usher in police reforms.
Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, said that many of the mayor’s solutions to the crime problem were shortsighted and too reliant on law enforcement. Mr. Williams sponsored a bill to end solitary confinement at the Rikers complex, which Mr. Adams opposes but which is expected to be supported by a veto-proof City Council majority.
“It’s easy to say more law enforcement and more incarceration, but that hasn’t worked in the past,” Mr. Williams said. “At best, it’s a stopgap.”
Another example of Mr. Adams’s emphasis on tackling disorder is his administration’s focus on trash. In recent months, the city has increased garbage collection on holidays, adjusted the hours when trash can be put out for pickup and created a new position: director of rodent mitigation.
“I think the mayor gets that the city needs to look good to feel good,” the city’s sanitation commissioner, Jessica Tisch, said in an interview.
Escalating violence at Rikers Island has been another major challenge, and 2022 is expected to be the jail complex’s deadliest in nearly a decade. Mary Lynne Werlwas, the director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project, said the mayor’s response to the jail crisis had been too slow and timid.
“They’ve been unwilling to make the bold changes that they need to make to bring both competence and decency to the jails,” she said of the Adams administration.
The administration has fallen behind on other key metrics. The city started development of 16,000 below-market-rate homes in the fiscal year that ended in June, nearly half the average in recent years. The city also fell short of its goal of creating 20 miles of bus lanes and 30 miles of protected bike lanes this year, and expects to have built fewer than 12 miles of bus lanes and 25 miles of protected bike lanes.
Mr. Adams said he was proud of new housing developments approved by the City Council that will offer affordable units, including Innovation Queens in Astoria and a project in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. He said he was committed to building bus and bike lanes more quickly while insisting on more outreach to local communities to get their support for such initiatives.
“In 2023, we’re going to make up,” the mayor said. “We’re going to move at a steady pace.”
Asked to identify one area where he had faced a learning curve, Mr. Adams cited technology and a delay in introducing an app, “MyCity,” that New Yorkers will be able to use to gain access to public services like food stamps. He said the app, which he proposed during the mayoral campaign, should be available in early 2023.
“We could rush it out now, but I really want to kick the tires,” he said.
The mayor was unapologetic about his administration’s hiring decisions, including bringing roughly a dozen of his friends and political allies into city government at high salaries. He argued that regular New Yorkers did not question the moves.
“I have to staff my office with people who I trust, who have the capabilities to do the job and who have the passion to get out there every day, all day, and deliver for New Yorkers, and that’s what I’ve done,” he said.
As the year ended, Mr. Adams faced rocky waters ahead. More migrants are expected to arrive. The mayor has increasingly butted heads with leaders of the City Council. He has warned that further budget cuts could be needed, including at public libraries.
Yet Mr. Adams has struck an optimistic tone, calling 2022 his “rookie season” at a recent news conference, giving himself a B-plus grade for the year and promising that “our best stuff is still in the pipeline.”
“2023 is going to be an Aaron Judge year for me,” Mr. Adams said, referring to the Yankees outfielder who was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2022. What Mr. Adams did not mention: Mr. Judge was the league’s Rookie of the Year in his first full season.
Dana Rubinstein contributed reporting.