Exclusive Interview: One-On-One With New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams

Gonzalo Duran
Published on May 31, 2024, 11:59 pm
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Today, New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams sat down with me for an exclusive one-on-one discussion to address many of the pressing issues facing New Yorkers. Normally, I formulate questions based on press conferences, but for this interview, I gathered questions directly from New Yorkers across the city. Due to understandable time constraints, I was not able to ask them all.

The questions I did ask were ones I believe the Mayor could answer without limitations. Often, in a press room or at an event, we are all contending for responses, but many of the questions posed are either outside the Mayor’s full control or are tightly regulated. This exclusive interview aimed to break those barriers and provide you with the in-depth answers you seek.

1. Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP)

Question: In your briefing on employment initiatives, there was a remark about receiving an estimated 100,000 applications for the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and announcing 100,000 positions for 2024. Are there plans to expand the program or make any adjustments in requirements, employment fields, or the program’s timeline?

Mayor Adams: Well, we are real clear that advocates, including Jumaane Williams, have been calling for 100,000 summer youth jobs. It was capped at 75,000 in my first year in office. We immediately gave them exactly what they asked for. Additionally, we retained the Summer Rising initiative, allowing children to have school year-round, benefiting 110,000 young people. This program was initially going to sunset because the previous administration used stimulus money to keep it open, a permanent idea using temporary money.

When you consider what we have done for young people, including those involved in our internship program with thousands of children coming through and entering our agencies and our pathway programs into many tech industries, there is a real focus on young people. If we can find more dollars, we would love to increase the number of Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) employment opportunities. There has been real admiration for what we have done that advocates have called for years. Our goal is to expand as much as possible. We do not want any child to go without something to do over the summer, and we have managed to expand the programs to where they are now, including children with disabilities, LGBTQ+ youth, students in temporary housing, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents, and many other outreach initiatives.

Follow-up comment: I shared with Mayor Adams that I am a product of the summer youth program, as I was in the SYEP program as a youth. I was surprised when he exclaimed that he was too and stated, “You know, I remember summer youth and what it did for all of us in our family.”

2. Community Safety

Question: Many New Yorkers express concerns about safety, citing high crime rates despite city statistics indicating otherwise. What steps will you take to improve citizens’ outlook on community safety?

Mayor Adams: Well, you are right. We say not only as a model or bumper sticker but in reality, crime is down, and jobs are up. Our crime numbers are extremely impressive, with overall crime down by 5%. We have seen major drops in murders, shootings, burglary, and car thefts, even in the transit system. We know that random acts of violence play on the psyche of New Yorkers, and we are fighting against that.

They say, “If it bleeds, it leads.” So, when everyday New Yorkers are reminded of any type of criminal action, it tends to play on their psyche. But the New York City Police Department (NYPD) is doing an amazing job: 15,000 illegal guns removed from our streets, double-digit decreases in shootings and homicides. We want people not only to get the stats of safety but to feel safe. We immediately deployed our officers into the transit system. After a slight uptick in January, we saw a double-digit decrease in February, March, and April. We are utilizing cameras in the subway system and on street level to go after shoplifters. The goal is to stop random acts of violence and deal with repeat offenders.

I always point to the fact that the murderer of Officer Diller, Jonathan Diller, was arrested twenty times, and his accomplice was out on a gun charge. If we do not go after repeat offenders, it will always feel unsafe. But the Police Department has stepped up. We have a real recidivist problem. Think about it: 542 people were arrested over 7,600 times in our city for shoplifting. That is a recidivism problem, not a crime problem. We want people to be safe and feel safe, and we will continue to drive down crime.

Follow-up question: I asked the Mayor to expand on the fact that the killer of Officer Diller was a repeat offender and, since crime is down but we have repeat offenders, where is the break in the chain? How can we fix that problem?

Yes, we have a small number of people committing a disproportionate number of crimes. Let us look at our subway system: 38 people who assaulted transit employees were arrested over 1,100 times. When you break down the numbers, you see the same people going through a revolving door court system. It is a small number of people our criminal justice system is not holding accountable. We also have severe mental health issues. On the same day, Detective Diller (Posthumously promoted to Detective) was shot, someone was pushed onto the subway tracks by a person with a history of severe mental health illness. That is why we have to use involuntary removals to take people who are a danger to themselves and others and compel them to get the care they need.

These random acts of violence, severe mental health issues, and recidivism are overshadowing the success of this city. We are the safest big city in America, but those issues are what people focus on.

3. Future Initiatives

Question: With your fourth year as mayor approaching, are there any specific programs or initiatives that you plan to focus on or fully invest in next year? Are there particular areas or issues you believe require more attention and resources to achieve your administration’s goals?

Mayor Adams: Yes. You know, I think that if one gives an analysis of what I ran on and then looks at that checklist, you will have to say, wait a minute, this is what the guy ran on. He ran on reducing crime. We have done that. I ran on recovering our economy. We have recovered our economy two years ahead of time. We have more jobs in the city of New York than at any other time in its history. We recovered all of our pre-pandemic jobs and have exceeded that. We have started more small businesses in this city than ever before.

Then we went after big projects, and just five of them come to mind. For years, people were trying to fix Willets Point, and they could not get it done. We got it done: 2,500 units of affordable housing, a soccer stadium, a new school, new green space—all in an area where 100% of the units will be affordable. It is an extremely successful project. People tried for years to get the Brooklyn Marine Terminal done. We got it done; the state is turning it over to the city. Thousands of jobs will be created. We are going to build an entirely new neighborhood with amenities and open space. We are going to use a modern maritime port and build mixed-use communities where people can live and enjoy the waterfront. Then there is Science Park and Research Campus (SPARC) Kips Bay. This is a huge, huge initiative—$25 billion in economic impact, 10,000 jobs, and 1.5 million square feet of new state-of-the-art teaching and commercial facilities.

This will feed the pipeline of success. And Kingsbridge Armory: $200 million investment, 1,800 jobs, and $10 billion in economic impact. People have been trying to land that plane for years. We were able to land it with Congressman Espaillat. And what I think is really significant is what is happening on Staten Island, often nicknamed the Forgotten Borough. We are making a $400 million investment in 20 acres of public open space with 7,500 family-sustaining jobs and 2,400 units of housing. These are the things we are focusing on: recovering our economy, ensuring public safety, building more affordable housing, and financing more affordable housing in one year than ever before. We have also transitioned more people out of shelters into permanent housing in one year than ever before.

We are also seeing more people using Family Homelessness & Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS) vouchers than ever since the program started. The things I ran on, like improving our reading scores, are coming to fruition. We are outpacing the state in reading and math in the city. I said we would not ignore NYCHA, and not only did we include NYCHA in our housing plan, but we also managed to get the NYCHA Land Trust done when no one else could. We got free high-speed broadband for every NYCHA resident—something many had tried to do but were unable to accomplish. We have done everything from dyslexia screenings to improving the food our students eat in schools to boosting our tourism to 65 million visitors last year, the fourth largest in history. All the things I pointed to, we have been able to move on in this administration. That is what we are going to run on: a solid record.

Follow-up question: And is there anything from that original checklist that you have not accomplished yet but want to push forward for the rest of your term?

Automation and our My City Card initiative. We want a one-stop shop using technology. We are doing it now for signing up for childcare and for small businesses. But we believe a New Yorker should not have to reintroduce himself or herself every time they need access to city services. They should be able to do it one time. That unique identification number should come up. We should not only know each time they have interacted with the city, but we should also know what services they have available based on their data. We should be able to tell them, “Listen, sir, you may be calling because you are trying to find out where your child’s school is located. But guess what? Based on your data, you are eligible for Women, Infants, Children Program (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and free healthcare.” So, we cannot have all of these services sitting on the table. We have to move to let people know what services are available to them. We have to find New Yorkers instead of having New Yorkers find us.

4. Education

Question: In a past briefing, your staff highlighted improvements with New York City Public Schools, including resolving union issues, teacher contracts, and increased anti-bullying initiatives. However, community feedback often points to concerns about transparency in school spending. How does your administration plan to improve standards without increasing the budget, particularly in areas like literacy?

Mayor Adams: So, yeah, think about what we were up against. And this is such an emotional issue because you are talking about children, and, you know, we all get emotional when we talk about children. I think about it when I talk about my son. We had billions of dollars in sunsetting dollars. Our pre-K program, the dollars were sunsetting. Our Summer Rising program, the dollars were sunsetting. The previous administration boosted all of these programs that they knew were sunsetting in 2024. And that is hard in a normal year. But add on to that $4 billion we had to spend on migrants and asylum seekers. Where did that money come from? It is not sitting around somewhere.

And so, all the financial experts looked at what we did and raised our bond ratings because they realized how successful we were in making these tough choices. And with that, as I stated, we are outpacing the state in reading and math. We have an 80% graduation rate. Pre-Mayoral accountability was down to 50%. Last year, our students’ math and proficiency rates increased by 12 percentage points, and the English Language Arts Test (ELA) rates increased by three percentage points. Our New York City Reads initiative is now being adopted by the state. This is something that is increasing literacy among our schools. It has been adopted by the state, and I think it is going to be adopted by the entire country. And so, we are the first in the nation for dyslexia screenings, as I stated, and we invested $600 million towards career training and brought in partners like Google and Northwell Health. We are building out a whole pipeline for the health profession with Northwell Health. So, when you look at what we have done with our school system in two years and six months, that is the interesting thing.

In two years and six months, we have witnessed a complete reversal in our educational institutions, and we are going to continue to do even more in the years to come.

Follow-up question: And just to follow up once again, when I was in the meeting with the board and the chancellor, you resolved the union issues, you got the teacher contracts at the highest in the nation, you increased the anti-bullying initiatives among other different factors and counselors in there, but at the budget director level, like a month ago, not raising taxes makes it hard to get more money for the city. Are there any outlooks on how you are going to maybe get more money for those programs that we just talked about?

Yes, and you are right. Our goal was not to do what other cities did when they had sunsetting CoViD-19 dollars. We said no new taxes because taxpayers were already being overburdened, and we said no layoffs because that would aggravate our safety net system as many of our civil servants are Black and Brown constituents and predominantly women of color. And we accomplished that task. We did it by finding efficiencies from day one. We told each agency we have to find efficiencies and we have to make sure we do not have major or drastic impacts on services. And we are hoping to continue, like we did with the migrants and asylum seekers, to find savings. We found $7 billion in efficiencies in our city agencies in the last 2 1/2 years, $7 billion. And because we did that smartly, we were able to address this unprecedented wave of humans that came to the city fleeing draconian measures in their particular countries.

And so, we have to continue to manage our budget in a real way, make tough choices, really communicate, and partner with the City Council so that we can accomplish the tasks we are looking for.

5. City of Yes Initiative

Question: Previous briefings have shown strong support for the City of Yes initiative, but there is significant opposition from various groups. Are there any discussions about revising parts of the initiative? With the second phase heading to city council for review and the third phase circulating in community boards, are there any potential changes being considered?

Mayor Adams: Well, we are going to listen to our partners in the City Council and hear what their concerns are. As you stated, there are three phases to the City of Yes initiative. We want to ensure that our businesses, particularly small businesses, can operate better in the city. These antiquated rules have really hurt many of them.

But we also have a real housing shortage—a 1.4% vacancy rate. That is the lowest since 1968. And you know, to quote one of the philosophers, “The rent is too damn high.” And that has a lot to do with the inventory. It is too low. Low inventory creates a demand for housing, and you can raise that. And so, we wanted to build a little bit more housing throughout the entire city so that we are not overburdening one community. Just imagine this: 59 community boards, and ten of them have built more housing than the other 49 combined last year. That makes no sense. And so, the goal is to really get the City of Yes proposal passed and get rid of the mindset of “not in my backyard.”

We want to say “yes” in our backyard, yes to allowing our clergy to build, and yes to ensuring that we have opportunities for everyone.

Final Question: On his way out, I tried to squeeze in a light-hearted question after the seriousness of the over twenty-minute interview.

I quickly asked, “Who won the rap battle, Drake or Kendrick?” The Mayor declined to answer and decided to stay neutral, not wanting to “lose any fans.”

Having met the Mayor many times during events and press conferences, but never getting the full depth of answers like today, we hope to provide you with more insights from his administration and other politicians in the future.


Featured image credit: DepositPhotos.com

Gonzalo Duran
As a seasoned professional in both the military and civic realms, Gonzalo Duran brings a wealth of experience to his role as the Chief Executive Officer of Devil Dog USA Incorporated. A former United States Marine Sergeant, he not only leads a non-profit dedicated to supporting Veterans’ reintegration but also holds key positions in Bronx County’s political landscape, including Vice Chairman of the Bronx County Conservative Party and (C) District Leader for the 79th Assembly District. With over a decade as a CEO, Gonzalo is a multifaceted contributor to his community, excelling as an access producer, talk show host, columnist, chaplain, and advocate.