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Interview: Mayor Adams on East Village migrant crisis, Washington Square drug scene, e-bikes, outdoor dining, closing Rikers Island

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | We asked. The mayor answered.

The Village Sun recently had a virtual interview with Mayor Adams as part of his ongoing series of weekly Q&A’s with different members of the city’s ethnic and community media. The Zoom lasted around 25 minutes, during which we were able to ask a handful of questions and follow-ups.

To summarize Adams’s answers: He says it’s time the community step up and help address the migrant crisis; Hizzoner hopes soon to pitch a “Plan B” for the future of Rikers Island; He blames criminal-justice changes by lawmakers for an “erosion” in quality of life on the city’s streets; And, as Adams tells it, the fate of a residential conversion tax for artist lofts in Soho and Noho currently hangs in limbo.

Most of the interview is transcribed below. You can also listen to the full audio recording here.

Migrant crisis

The Village Sun first asked the mayor about complaints that there is just one reticketing and reapplication center for migrants in the entire city — namely, at the former St. Brigid School, at E. Seventh Street and Avenue B in the East Village. At the center, single migrants can either extend their 30-day homeless shelter stays or get a free plane or bus ticket out of New York. But there are lines outside the center each morning and the migrants also fill the southwest corner of Tompkins Square Park. Local advocates say another such center is sorely needed, for the sake of the migrants, as well as the neighborhood. We also asked the mayor if the city would fund local groups currently helping migrants, such as Earthchxrch — which is running a warming center for them — and EVLoves NYC, and if the city would help create additional warming centers.

Over all, though, Adams said now is the time for the community to step up because the city has “done more than enough.”

“Hats off to the volunteers, to churches, to community residents that realize the city can’t solve this on their own,” he said. “I think this is the response that we need…

“No one has to wait outside,” he countered. “We set up ways for people to know when to come [to the center], ticketing. … It is not economically feasible for the city to keep finding new ways to spend money. We have to have a 20 percent decrease in the cost [for migrants]… . Over 60 percent of those who came in our care are now self-sustaining or they’ve moved on with the next leg of their journey. … Every new building we open, every new location we open is going to add to an already large dollar amount that we’re spending.

“We’re looking at the proposal of a new site,” he acknowledged, “but we don’t want to commit to that because we have to live up to the 20 percent decrease in migrant and asylum seeker costs… . But I need to be extremely clear, no one has to wait on line, we have a system in place to let people know when they’re going to be notified.”

Adams said, though it had not been as visible before, people are now really starting to see the impact of the city’s migrant crisis.

“We’re going to start seeing the visualization of this crisis,” he said. “Everyone needs to lift up and step up. … Government can’t do it alone — done more than enough. It’s time for the community to step up, and it’s time for us to point our anger and frustration at Washington, D.C., who has created this crisis in New York City.”

In addition, the Sun asked Adams about the beef of landlord Bob Perl, who argues the city should fund the Earthchxrch’s volunteer migrant support work — partly since his building pays six figures in annual property taxes.

“I appreciate what he’s doing,” Adams responded of Perl. “The team is willing to say, ‘O.K., let’s see how we can give him some type of tax break.’ There are things we can do to be creative. But I cannot emphasize enough, we’re looking at a $12 billion deficit. It is time for New Yorkers to do what New Yorkers do. And he doesn’t have to be the only building. He doesn’t have to be the only warming center. If you walk around that community, you will see there are a number of churches. You know — why aren’t we asking our churches to assist? You see a number of civic groups. Why aren’t they assisting? Block associations… .”

Adams noted he had recently met with the German ambassador to the U.S. and consul general and that he admired how that country’s citizenry has helped meet the challenges of its own migrant crisis.

“I sat down earlier this week with Germany, and in Germany they received a million people and residents stepped up without government assistance,” he said. “It’s time for all of us to step up. I cannot get that any clearer: Government cannot do this alone.”

Toward the end of the interview, the Sun circled back and asked the mayor about the Roosevelt Hotel in East Midtown having previously also been used as a center where migrants could reapply for homeless shelter stays. But he said it’s better to split up the uses at different sites. Specifically, the Roosevelt Hotel is now a migrant intake center and migrants also live there, he said.

“We don’t want to just put everything in one area,” he explained. “This crisis must be shared in small doses around the entire city.

“Not every councilmanic district is sharing the burden. Everyone must share part of this burden of having an entire city [of people] dropped within our city. … There are very few real shelters in that area,” he said of the East Village. “There are very few other services that are being delivered in that area. And so, having a reticketing center is far different from having a center where people are living there 365 days [of the year].”

Scofflaw e-bikes, micro-mobility vehicles

As the newspaper did two months ago, The Village Sun once again queried Adams on what he plans to do about reckless riders of e-bikes, mopeds and micro-mobility vehicles. And, once again, he responded that’s always a hot topic at community meetings he attends all around the city. Speaking after Adams’s recent State of the City address — where the mayor announced creation of a new Department of Sustainable Delivery — Councilmember Robert Holden scoffed at Adams saying he is not familiar with his bill, which calls for licensing and registering all e-bikes. Adams, however, reiterated that he has still not read Holden’s bill, noting there are a lot of bills. Instead he favors one by Councilmember Gale Brewer that would require delivery apps to ensure the e-bike delivery workers complete a bicycle safety course designed by the Department of Transportation. Adams added that the new Department of Sustainable Delivery also would help the situation. But Holden just shrugged regarding the new department, saying nothing else matters unless all e-bikes are first licensed and registered.

Adams also pointed the finger at consumers.

“Part of the issue…post-COVID, everyone is getting everything delivered,” he said. “And so the same people who are saying, ‘We’re tired of these delivery bicyclists,’ they’re ordering on Amazon for toothpaste. Everything, we get delivered. So now we have to regulate without being heavy-handed, that’s the goal.”

In addition to saying he supports Brewer’s bill, Adams also noted the city has removed “thousands of illegal mopeds and dirt bikes and other illegal micro-mobility vehicles from our streets.”

“We’re not sitting on our hands,” he assured. “But everybody must play a role in how we regain control of our streets.”

Rikers Island ‘Plan B’

As for the fate of Rikers Island, Adams was a bit guarded about what he shared, but he clearly feels there are problems with the current plan approved under his predecessor, Bill de Blasio. That scheme calls for the Rikers jails complex to close by Aug. 31, 2027, and for it to be replaced by four, smaller, borough-based jails — including one to be built at The Tombs, in the heart of Chinatown. As for Rikers, it would be turned into a renewable energy site.

However, Adams said the Rikers closure plan simply does not jibe with current realities.

In short, he described it as “idealism collides with realism… . And nothing, I think, personifies that more than the borough-based jails plan. We are close to 6,000 inmates at Rikers Island,” he said, noting the borough-based jails plan has space for only around 3,500 total inmates — meaning the city’s jail population would need to be slashed significantly.

“But there are those that are still pushing forward with what I believe is an unrealistic deadline,” he said. “But I want to be clear — no matter how I feel about it, we will follow the law. And there are going to be repercussions for following the law if we don’t get it right.”

More to the point, he stressed, 50 percent of Rikers detainees suffer from mental illness while 20 percent have severe mental illness.

“We have a mental health problem in the city and we should be focusing on decreasing that population and put them in adequate facilities to take care of their mental health problem,” he stated. “But the City Council passed that law. That’s the other arm of government. I’m going to respect laws that are passed. But I need to be honest to New Yorkers — I believe the law is detrimental to our public safety. … So we have to think about public safety and how to get it right. But right now, the date is told. If we can’t convince the City Council to move in another direction, we’re going to fulfill our obligation the best way we can.”

As for what he personally would like to do regarding Rikers Island, he avoided specifics.

“I think there are a host of things we can do,” he said.

He shared that his team is crafting a revised plan, which they will present “in the immediate future,” but added, “I don’t want to get ahead of an announcement.

Meanwhile, he and his team have been having conversations with the Independent Rikers Commission and the City Council, he said.

“If we’re able to roll out a plan, we’re gonna do so,” Adams said. “But we realize that we need to present something that’s different [from the current plan]. And it’s up to the Council and our partners in government to state if they’re going to move in the direction that we suggest.”

Outdoor dining

Regarding outdoor dining, the mayor said hospitality is a key industry for the city’s economy, but that he hopes to find “a sweet middle ground” with local residents on the contentious issue. The city’s thousands of roadside dining sheds are supposed to be removed by this summer, to be replaced by somewhat less-enclosed structures and movable chairs and tables.

“You don’t get 100 percent agreement on anything in this great city,” Adams said of the hot-button issue. “We’re probably one of the most opinionated places on the globe and I think that’s what makes New York exciting.

“Our nightlife industry is a multibillion-dollar industry,” he emphasized. “That is why I spend so much time promoting, visiting, talking to my waiters, my cooks, my bartenders, because [these businesses] employ, in many cases, people who are struggling to find full-time employment. Whatever we can do to bolster that economy, I’m willing to do so — without taking away from the quality of life of New Yorkers. And though I hear in communities people don’t like the outdoor dining, I also hear from people in the same communities that really enjoy it. So there is not a one-size or one-opinion-fits-all.

“We have to make sure we regulate the dining industry correctly, make sure that it’s clean. That goes in line with our [garbage] containerization plan, so that we can deal with the rodent issue. And make sure that we get rid of those unsightly sheds. But we have been taking them down by the hundreds. And so we can find a sweet middle ground.”

Hard drugs in park, on streets

Asked about the open use of hard drugs, like fentanyl and crack, in Washington Square Park’s northwest corner and the surrounding area, Adams said he is not O.K. with it and blasted legislators for changing certain laws, which he said has harmed local quality of life.

“The decisions we make in our legislative chambers impact the quality of life on our streets,” he stated. “I don’t think there’s any secret about how I feel about quality of life issues. … We’re not responsible for the other arms of the criminal justice system and we’re not responsible for the laws that are made and passed around public safety. That is just the reality. Those residents…that live around the park, visit the park, they have to raise their voices to their local electeds and tell them some of the decisions we’re making are impacting the quality of life. Eric Adams cannot be the only one that thinks that. … Residents who are impacted by these issues must come out and raise their voices.

“We are really limited on what we can do,” he conceded, “outside of sending in our outreach workers, our social workers and try to talk people into the care they deserve, which we have been having success on. But the overall quality of life, we’re witnessing an erosion of that, based on, I think, decisions that are made in many of our legislative environments. And we need to refocus attention on the quality of life of New Yorkers.

“And you don’t have to be heavy-handed, but you have to send clear messages. I don’t believe people should be allowed to inject themselves with drugs in public view. I don’t believe that people should be allowed to be loitering for the use of drugs. I don’t believe that — but I do not make the laws, I only enforce the laws through the Police Department.”

Soho/Noho artist loft conversion tax

Finally, The Village Sun asked Adams about the status of the Soho/Noho artist loft conversion tax as it relates to the new City of Yes “home occupation” proposal. Residents of Soho and Noho’s unique Joint Live-Work Quarters for Artists (J.L.Q.W.A.)-zoned lofts call the residential flip tax a punitive measure that former Councilmember Margaret Chin worked into the 2021 Soho/Noho residential rezoning to stick it to them for opposing the rezoning, thereby decreasing the value of their homes in the event they want to sell to non-artist buyers. However, one idea under Adams’s proposed City of Yes is to allow commercial and maker-type uses in residential apartments all around the city — yet without any tax penalty involved for flipping between types of uses. Councilmember Christopher Marte recently noted this discrepancy and brought it to the administration’s attention. In fact, the Soho/Noho conversion flip tax reportedly still has not actually been set up and has not been used yet.

Adams said he’s looking for guidance on both issues from Dan Garodnick, the chairperson of the City Planning Commission.

“Dan Garodnick, who’s in charge of our planning…the councilman brought it to my attention,” he said. “And we’re doing an analysis to see if we’re going to keep that in the plan or if we’re going to move it out.”

Asked if he was referring to the artist flip tax or the City of Yes home occupation proposal, Adams said both.

“He was the brainchild behind the plan,” he said of Garodnick’s idea of home occupation. “And when this [issue of the unfairness of the Soho/Noho artist flip tax] was brought to my attention, I had a conversation with his team, and he’ll determine how to move forward from there.”

9 Comments

  1. Long-time Resident Long-time Resident February 12, 2024

    Incredible how the Mayor expect the East Village community to shoulder the crisis. Yes, we have proven throughout history how resilient we are, but come on, that’s a tall order.

    FYI, the European government funds the integration of migrants with tax dollars.

    Of course they don’t have corporate welfare the way we do here and they also tax wealth.

  2. Sara K Sara K February 11, 2024

    Thanks, Village Sun! Great interview. I might add — that it took 10 years to build a new middle school in the area (and it was a NY State-approved building/site). How will NYC build 4 new jail buildings by 2027?! And yes — e-bikes, etc., lic and registration along with education (and eventual fines for non-compliance!)

  3. Jay Crockett Jay Crockett February 11, 2024

    Regarding regulation of e-bikes & the like, how can Adams say he favors Brewer’s bill and then admit he never read Holden’s? He claims to be so concerned about this issue but doesn’t even read the bills presented to rectify it? Really!!!!

  4. Susan Goren Susan Goren February 10, 2024

    Thank you for your interview of NYC’s mayor.
    I had high hopes for Eric Adams. Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize he is
    unable or uninterested in solving our city’s problems.
    E-bikes must be licensed. Many who use them are trying to make a living; however others who use them are facilitating crime.
    And they should be required to have insurance.
    I’ve loved Washington Square Park since adolescence and spent considerable time enjoying the music and performances and feeding the squirrels. Unfortunately, the overpriced Bloomberg redesign; the overdevelopment of NYU and the arrival of the park conservancy (which the former Manhattan borough Parks Dept. commissioner told me to my face would never exist) have turned a magnet for tourists and locals into a local nightmare. Now it is dangerous and, as I am aging in place and disabled, I no longer go there.
    The mental health crisis is real and the migrant crisis had worsened it.
    I support outdoor dining, but the Central Village is filthy and we need sanitation to step up. And there are now often as many as two illegal smoke shops on a single street — taking revenue from the legitimate ones.
    Turning over enforcement to the sheriff without adding staff is a joke.

    I could go on and on, but I’ve made my point. It’s time for the Mayor to run the city instead of changing his suits multiple times a day and going to restaurants and bars.
    I was not a fan of Bloomberg, but at least he had managerial skills and could run NYC.

  5. Josh R Josh R February 9, 2024

    >”However, Adams reiterated that he has yet to read Holden’s bill. Instead he favors one by Councilmember Gale Brewer that would require delivery apps to ensure the e-bike delivery workers complete a bicycle safety course designed by the Department of Transportation.”

    The food delivery companies don’t even ensure that the people actually doing the deliveries are a) legally authorized to work, b) are actually the people that own the account, c) have a licensed scooter. So we are to believe that these same app companies are going to ensure e-bike delivery workers have taken a safety course? Do they really believe that the scofflaws that ride their e-bikes on the sidewalks and don’t follow any rules of traffic are doing so because they haven’t been given a safety course? These politicians are a bunch of clowns.

  6. Peggy Friedman Peggy Friedman February 9, 2024

    Mayor Adams should remember that President Truman had a sign on his desk: “The buck stops here.”

  7. Brian D Brian D February 9, 2024

    Mayor Adams, we have been raising our voices now for more than THREE years, and few IF ANY electeds are doing anything about open-air drug use and the horrible quality-of-life, crime and safety issues we are experiencing in the Village. Trust us, this will change when it’s time for those who aren’t listening to be voted out. Village Sun – THANK YOU for this article.

  8. Lia Lia February 9, 2024

    Thank you, Village Sun!!

    Re: Delivery & E-Commerce:

    1) Really discouraging to see so many healthy and affluent people ordering everything — and not bothering to walk a few blocks to a local stores. I know that these days many stores don’t have full inventory — but what’s the point of being in a walkable community and not bothering to support it?

    Not to mention that NYC keeps looking more like an urban serfdom and assisted living for the young and healthy — folks get to be at home while low-paid workers are schlepping the stuff in the cold and rain at all hours.

    We have neighbors who get multiple deliveries a day!
    Another neighbor, age 35, is single and would like to meet someone. She orders her dinner delivered every day! (She’s not going to meet someone at home.)

    2) Really unacceptable that the City has supported restaurants (free street shacks) but done nothing for local shops facing high rent, e-commerce, street vendors and crime.

    Incredibly the City is doing more to help ecommerce with the Dept of Transportation’s plan to implement E-Commerce Loading Zones. The City is providing support to ecommerce — but not to local shops.

  9. JSS JSS February 9, 2024

    More blowing of smoke. His answer to virtually every question is, “I can’t do anything about it.” Maybe press him on these questions??? He doesn’t explain what local decisions/ordinances/laws are getting in the way of achieving quality of life results — such as on open drug use in Washington Square or the related pervasive mental health illnesses plaguing the city.

    A real leader would know exactly what is preventing improvement to the processes, and boldly highlight it in stark detail so the community and local media pressure can be applied to remove that impediment.

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