New York City Mayor Eric Adams settled quickly into a new role as supplicant, joining mayors from across the state on Wednesday who took turns pleading their financial cases before Albany lawmakers under the budget tradition known as “Tin Cup Day.”
“It feels like a Virginia Slims moment—you know, we’ve come a long way,” joked Adams, an ex-state senator, at the top of a virtual hearing that featured more than three hours of grilling from state legislators.
There were few surprises in his testimony, which hewed to his focus on public safety and bail reform while also calling for significant expansions in funding to help New Yorkers recover from the pandemic. Before his appearance before some of his former colleagues in Albany Wednesday, Adams had faced questions over whether he had performed sufficient outreach to establish the relationships that will be critical to getting his agenda passed.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins said she had “not yet had an opportunity to engage” with Adams about the issue since he took office in January. “He did call a couple of weeks ago saying that he was going to come up,” Stewart-Cousins said. On Wednesday, Adams said he planned to make a trip to Albany next week.
He asked for increases in money for the mentally ill and childcare subsidies. He also asked lawmakers to allow the city to expand the earned-income tax credit (EITC), a widely supported policy that would put more money directly into the pockets of the working poor. Under the plan, the city would boost its matching portion of the federal tax credit from 5% to 30%. Additionally, the mayor is asking the state to increase its contribution by another $250 million.
James Parrott, an economist with the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, said Adams’ proposal was significant, given that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed tax relief programs do not target low-income New Yorkers.
“The mayor’s proposal is an important balance,” to the governor’s budget, Parrott said.
Increasing the city’s EITC program had been among the priorities Adams outlined during the campaign—although at the time, he called for a $1 billion annual commitment. The latest proposal would spend around $500 million annually, up from the current $100 million, according to Parrott.
As many expected, Adams’s demand to revise parts of the state’s bail laws faced heavy scrutiny from progressive Democrats who say there is no proven link between the rise in crime and the new laws. In 2019, the state legislature eliminated bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, saying the practice resulted in the poor being disproportionately jailed. Adams has urged lawmakers to allow judges to consider a defendant’s “dangerousness” in deciding whether to set bail.
The mayor has also called for a change in the state’s 2017 Raise The Age law, which allowed minors to be processed in family court with the exception of violent felonies. Under current law, minors who “display” firearms are still charged as adults. Adams, a former NYPD captain, has sought to change the standard by trying young people as adults for possessing guns, not just displaying them.
Wednesday’s hearing offered a taste of the kind of opposition the mayor will face in Albany. Thus far, Democrats have appeared tepid or non-committal about making such changes to criminal justice reforms. Hochul has said she wanted to see more data on the impact of bail reform before considering new amendments. At a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, she declined to take a stance.
“I think we’ve established one principle of my public comments: I will not be negotiating in front of a press conference," she said. "It’s not how we get a successful result, which is a budget that meets the needs of New Yorkers.”
In the sharpest clash of the hearing, Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat who helped spearhead the passage of New York’s bail reform law, pushed back against Adams’s description of his proposals as merely “tweaks,” and challenged him to a debate on the issue.
“Dangerousness is not a tweak, but it is a wholesale change to our bail system,” she said, arguing that such a standard would be subjective and vulnerable to racial bias.
Adams responded by pointing to recent gun shootings in New York City. “I don't think you should debate me,” he said. “You should debate the 11-month old baby's mother. You should debate the two police officers that we lost.”
Walker cut him off, saying that she herself had lost a 19-year-old brother to gun violence. She accused the mayor of politicizing the issue of bail reform.
Gustavo Rivera, a state senator representing the Bronx and the same neighborhood where the 11-month-old was shot, implored the mayor to “proceed with caution,” arguing that some of his statements about crime have been used by people to fearmonger.
“Please sir, be very cautious,” Rivera said, “because the process that we will undergo for the next couple of weeks and months has to be ultimately about public safety. Communities are safer when they have more resources, not when they're over-policed.”
Throughout his testimony, Adams emphasized the importance of public safety to the city’s overall recovery. He pointed to San Francisco and Chicago, two other major U.S. cities where he said crime was resulting in businesses threatening to flee.
“We can’t allow this to happen to New York,” he said.
Crime is still relatively low in New York City and nowhere near peak levels of decades past. The city reported 485 murders last year, compared to nearly 2,000 a year during the 1980s and 90s. Chicago, which is roughly a third the size of New York, had more than 800 murders in 2021, the most of any U.S. city.
State Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who chairs the finance committee, warned Adams about his messaging around crime, saying there is “danger that perception becomes reality.”
“Even though we have problems, we want to make it clear we're one of the safest cities in the world,” she said.
Other than the debate on bail reform, Adams received a mostly warm, if not effusive reception from some lawmakers, many of whom have known him for years.
After voicing his concern for parental input on city schools, State Senator John Liu of Queens, who endorsed Andrew Yang in the primary last year, praised Adams for campaigning throughout the city, specifically in Asian communities.
For three-and-a-half hours, Adams fielded an array of questions from lawmakers across the state. He was asked for his stance on freezing rents for the city’s roughly 2.3 million rent-stabilized tenants; the mayor said he was in favor, but wanted Albany to help small homeowners. He was also asked to weigh in on the governor’s plan to redevelop Penn Station: “We support the concept,” the mayor replied, but added that he wanted to ensure that the terms would be favorable to the city.
Perhaps one of the easiest questions of the day came from Long Island Senator Kevin Thomas. The first Indian-American to serve in the state senate, Thomas asked Adams whether he would support New York City making the Indian festival Diwali an official public school holiday, which some Long Island school districts have already done.
Adams, a longtime booster of cultural diversity, readily committed to the idea, saying, “We should never have allowed Long Island to beat us.”
Jon Campbell contributed reporting.