The Disappearance of Mayor Adams

Halfway through Eric Adams’s term as mayor of New York, many of the headlines he generates aren’t about the city; they’re about his personal problems. The F.B.I. raided the home of his chief campaign fund-raiser. Agents seized his cellphones and iPad. Government officials are looking into whether he received illegal campaign donations from foreigners.

These problems are his own making, the result of his well-documented penchant for transactionalism and insularity. But they are particularly damaging because he can’t balance them with evidence that he is improving life in New York.

Each one of Mr. Adams’s predecessors over the past four decades would have been able to fall back on his first-term accomplishments to compensate for a grave demerit, but Mr. Adams’s policy victories are scant. That’s a problem for him, but more important, it’s a problem for the nation’s biggest city. He hasn’t just disappointed his 750,000 voters; he has led the city into a costly stagnation.

There’s never a great time for New York to be in the hands of an unfocused, distracted mayor, but now is a particularly bad moment for the city to be leaderless. Among the country’s largest cities, New York is second only to San Francisco in pandemic population losses, including higher-income taxpayers who help fund our public and social services. According to data from the state comptroller, the state lost 6,502 tax filers who earned $500,000 or more in 2020 and an additional 3,883 in 2021, well above the 1,623 who left in 2019.

Indeed, New York City’s failure to thrive after Covid and its related upheavals has long-term implications for the nation. New York and San Francisco aren’t the only cities struggling to attract workers back to downtowns, to remake downtowns to increase the number of residents compared to commuters, and to control violent crime and lower-grade disorder. If New York gives up on its prospects of making progress, what are the chances for postindustrial cities without its deep and rich tax and population base, from Chicago to New Orleans?

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