“We have an amazing nightlife in this city. And I like to say I’m a nightlife mayor, so I have to test the product,” the city’s “celebrity mayor” told the YES Network.
It’s the type of swagger and outside-the-box thinking that swept the dapper Democrat into office as he cobbled together support without espousing the “defund the police” mantra from liberals.
Still, New Yorkers are showing signs that they’re dimming the lights on his after-party. They point to crime and quality of life issues as signs that the city is locked in the doldrums despite the mayor’s 24-hour booster campaign.
Voters gave Mr. Adams a 43% to 37% approval rating in a Quinnipiac University Poll this month, a downturn from the 46% approval and 27% disapproval in a similar poll from February, shortly after he took the reins from Bill de Blasio on New Year’s Day.
“There’s significant slippage. It has to do with the sense that things are still out of control and crime is still increasing. There is a general sense of disorder, and he did not provide — early — what he said he would,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime political consultant who has worked on 20 citywide races. “The problem is the expectations were so high because he was replacing someone that people detested.
“He’s performed very well as the chief booster for the city. That New York swagger has become much more pronounced,” Mr. Sheinkopf said. “Now he’s got to focus more in a granular way. He’s got to focus more on government management issues, which include crime.”
The mayor is seeking the right balance on public safety. He rejects the “broken windows” policing that has been panned as discriminatory while assuring residents that he can address frequent shootings, including a mass attack on a Brooklyn subway platform in April.
The homicide rate is down by nearly 12% from this point last year, but other major crime categories are up, including a 43% spike in robbery, according to CompStat data from the New York Police Department.
“Mayor Adams gets a positive score on his job performance, but it’s tepid. The biggest weight on his numbers: crime. It’s by far the most urgent issue, and voters are holding him accountable,” said Quinnipiac University polling analyst Mary Snow. “In the wake of April’s mass shooting on the subway along with an increase in major crimes, confidence slips in the mayor being able to reduce gun violence.”
Mr. Adams has said state officials need to fix a revolving-door criminal justice system.
“Arrests are up, but letting guys out is up also,” he said at a recent event about efforts to combat untraceable “ghost guns.” “Let’s make sure people serve their time. That’s what we’re missing.”
The mayor’s office says New Yorkers are rightly worried about crime but the city has made progress. The administration restored anti-gun police units that Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, disbanded after complaints about police brutality. Mr. Adams rebranded them as neighborhood safety teams.
“The mayor launched the new anti-gun unit to focus on getting dangerous guns off the streets, he helped deliver public safety reforms in Albany that many thought were impossible, and he has worked with partners in the federal government to stem the tide of dangerous guns flowing into New York City from other states,” said Adams press secretary Fabien Levy. “But reducing crime in the city won’t happen overnight. We are seeing movement, and the crime numbers from last month reflect that with homicides, shootings, rapes and hate crimes all down. Mayor Adams is laser-focused on reversing the failures of the previous administration while fighting back against failed reforms to the state’s justice system and irresponsible laws that flood our city with out-of-state guns.”
Even if public safety remains a work in progress, no one can accuse Mr. Adams of hiding from the spotlight.
The mayor had to quarantine during the fallout of the April subway shooting because of a COVID-19 diagnosis, but he kept a marathon media schedule during isolation. He gave back-to-back television updates, with a few coughs, about the investigation.
The mayor’s office said he visits the subways or homeless shelters unannounced after evening festivities so he is attuned to city needs. However, critics say he has failed to make the Big Apple attractive to everyone.
“His first four months, he’s worked very hard to establish himself as the swagger mayor, there’s no doubt. The customized suits, the Ferragamo shoes, the nightlife,” Curtis Sliwa, the Republican who lost the mayoral contest to Mr. Adams, told The Washington Times. “But that’s not why he got elected. The Swagger Man never had a plan to deal with crime, and that’s become extraordinarily evident to all.”
Fixing crime is just one piece of Mr. Adams’ bid to restore the city’s swagger after a pandemic bruising. He wants to restore foot traffic to key business zones, though it hasn’t been easy.
A survey by the Partnership for New York City, a business group, found that only 8% of Manhattan workers were returning to the office five days per week. About 78% of workplaces are using a hybrid model that offers a mix of remote and in-person labor, a jump from 6% before the pandemic.
At the same time, surveyed companies do not expect their city footprint to crumble. The partnership said 39% of employers expect to increase their New York City office-based workforces in the next five years, only 8% expect a drop in their office employee head counts and 18% expect their numbers to remain the same.
Two-thirds of New Yorkers are very or somewhat confident that the city’s economy will bounce back from the pandemic, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
“There’s a silver lining tucked in a somewhat bleak snapshot of the city. Despite concerns over crime, half of voters expect tourism in New York City to increase over the next year,” Ms. Snow said.
City officials this week told New Yorkers that they should wear masks again as sublineages of the omicron variant cause another virus surge, though the mayor stopped short of a mandate.
“We’re staying prepared and not panicking. When I look at the hospitalizations and deaths, the numbers are stable,” Mr. Adams said. “Variants are going to come. If every variant that comes we move into shutdown thoughts, we move into panicking — we’re not going to function as a city.”
Mr. Adams is balancing efforts to deal with crime and the virus with initiatives based on his personal experiences. He frequently extols the benefits of a plant-based diet and has struck a partnership with London Mayor Sadiq Khan to measure how food supply chains and consumption habits impact emissions and climate change.
“I have talked about this for years. It’s in our food. Not only is our food harming our mothers and fathers, but it’s harming Mother Nature. And it’s time for us to be honest about this conversation and unafraid of where the facts take us,” Mr. Adams said.
Mr. Sliwa said efforts to take on issues such as diet and dyslexia are commendable but will be long-term projects.
“Again, the electorate is like, ‘Wait a second, that’s nice, that’s garnish — but you haven’t dealt with the meat and the potatoes,’” he said. “And that’s crime, quality of life, and our ability to come in to work and enjoy the benefits of the city.”
Mr. Sheinkopf said the mayor’s honeymoon with New Yorkers isn’t over but the clock is ticking.
“New Yorkers are reasonably tolerant. They’ll give him to the end of the year,” he said. “After that, every day will be a knock-down, drag-out fight.”
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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