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Adams vows to 'flood' NYC subway with cops, mental health professionals
01:57 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

He’s only been in office long enough to collect one paycheck, but New York City Mayor Eric Adams, the charismatic Democrat elected on a promise to reduce violent crime and rejuvenate a city, is already staring down a challenge that strikes at the core of his campaign’s promise.

Adams began his term under the bright lights of Times Square, taking his oath shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day. The celebrations ended there. Instead, his first few weeks on the job have been marked by an Omicron-fueled surge in Covid-19 cases – which are now, mercifully, dipping – a deadly Bronx building fire and a rash of ghastly attacks on individuals and police officers.

By day 24, with pressure mounting, Adams rolled out his “Blueprint to End Gun Violence,” a wide-ranging series of plans and demands, including some on the state and federal government.

“New Yorkers will see and feel these changes quickly,” Adams, sensing the urgency of the moment, said at a news conference on Monday. Even the notably Adams-friendly New York Post – the city’s influential tabloid – had been demanding action. “We will ramp up enforcement, deploy more officers on the streets and in the subways, and get our courts at full capacity,” the mayor said.

The policy unveiling was spurred in large part by the killing of New York Police Department officer Jason Rivera, 22, who was shot to death, and the wounding of his colleague by an alleged gunman after they responded to a domestic disturbance call in Harlem on Friday evening.

Adams described the incident in stark terms.

“This was an attack on the city of New York,” he said, hours after the shootings, at the hospital where the surviving officer was being treated. “It is an attack on the children and families of this city.”

The deadly attack in Harlem came less than a week after a 40-year-old woman, Michelle Alyssa Go, was shoved to her death in front of a subway car by a man with a history of mental health issues. Her killing on a Saturday morning in Times Square, though it is not being investigated as a hate crime, heightened already serious concerns about violence against Asian Americans, which has risen since the start of the pandemic, and broader concerns over safety in the city’s sprawling subway system.

On January 9, a fire sparked by a faulty space heater tore through an apartment building in the Bronx, killing 17 people – eight of them children. That same day, in Manhattan, a teen cashier at a Burger King was shot and killed during an attempted robbery, according to police. In the weeks leading up to Rivera’s death in Harlem, two other officers had been wounded – one during a drug search and another while off-duty and sleeping in his car. Last week, an 11-month-old baby was struck in the face by a stray bullet.

The rapid succession of headline-grabbing acts of violence and destruction has compounded a broader pall over the city, where green shoots of normalcy were scythed down by the arrival of the new coronavirus variant at the end of last year. Companies planning or beginning to see employees come back to the office have largely paused their returns, a blow to morale and, more concretely, the economic prospects of workers and businesses who rely on commuter traffic.

Adams has sought to bull through the early turmoil, successfully partnering with the city’s largest teachers union to keep schools open, while imploring major business leaders to reverse course and, at one point in early January, suggesting they even consider opening up offices a few days a week. He is ubiquitous in the way mayors tend to be, but his predecessor was not, and is plainly energized and emboldened by the spotlight.

Adams has a rich collection of adages: “Yes, I do hang out with the boys at night,” he likes to say of his work-life balance, “but I get up with the men in the morning.” But beyond the showmanship, the gregarious 61-year-old vegan seems intent on changing the mood, and fate, of the city by sheer force of will.

“When a mayor has swagger, the city has swagger,” Adams said earlier this month. “That’s what has been missing in the city.”

Like so much else Adams says, his promise of “swagger” struck an immediate nerve. The New Yorker magazine, days after the remark, ran a headline nodding to the term, then asking: “What Else Does He Have?”

The question is due an answer, perhaps sooner than many expected. Adams’ appeal to voters last year covered lots of ground – there are no one-note political victories in citywide elections here – but did not, as some of his opponents noted during the Democratic primary, offer a big policy idea, like former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s successful first-term pledge to institute free pre-Kindergarten.

Adams’ early days have also invited controversy. He has been defiant in his support for “punitive segregation” at Rikers Island, over the concerns of advocates who had put in place a ban on solitary confinement (Adams insists the difference is more than semantic), while swatting away at ethics concerns – like those that followed the appointment of his brother to an NYPD job that includes handling Adams’ security detail. (He told CNN the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board is reviewing the issue.)

But for Adams, who ran on law and order – but equitably administered – and embraced the national spotlight when it turned his way after victory, the recent spike in sensational acts of deadly violence poses an immediate and critical threat to his young tenure and political brand.

Adams previewed the next steps on Sunday during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” immediately pointing to plans to “reinstitute a newer version of (a) modified plainclothes, anti-gun unit.” An earlier version of the controversial unit was effectively disbanded in 2020, when about 600 officers were reassigned to new roles across the department.

“I talked about this on the campaign trail. Our team has done the proper analysis. And now we’re going to deploy that,” Adams said, before talking up his partnership with Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who replaced Andrew Cuomo following his resignation last summer and has been especially attentive to the city as she campaigns for election to a full term this year.

Adams and Hochul came together during the new mayor’s first week on the job with the unveiling of a joint effort to address both crime and homelessness in the massive transit system with a combination of beefed up policing and state-sponsored blitz of social workers to aid those in need.

“This is where you don’t need to be siloed or have turf battles, you team together, that’s how it works,” Hochul said at the event. “That’s what’s been missing.”

The message to New Yorkers was clear: the new governor and mayor would not provide an encore of the endless, self-defeating infighting between their predecessors, Cuomo and de Blasio.

Adams’ standing with voters appears solid from early polling. But de Blasio, who left office at the end of 2021 as a widely maligned figure, also enjoyed early support. Adams is unlikely to fallout with New Yorkers in quite the way de Blasio had by the end of his second term, but his ability to deliver now could echo for years to come.