There’s a new way for New Yorkers to express their hatred of rats.
The city Sanitation Department is selling white T-shirts capitalizing off its viral vermin extermination plan announced last month. The shirts, which were listed at $48 on Only NY’s website, featuring a rat running scared, feature a phrase made famous by Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch.
Standing outside City Hall on Oct. 17, Tisch unveiled a proposal to shorten the amount of time trash bags sit on the street in hopes of giving city rats less garbage to feast on. But before getting into specifics, she had a clear message for rodents across the five boroughs.
“The rats are going to absolutely hate this announcement,” she said. “But the rats don’t run this city. We do.”
The soundbite went viral on social media, taking on a life of its own on TikTok. Users flooded the video’s comments section with their takes on the feral phrase.
“Dad letting the whole house know that he’s not putting the heating on for the whole of winter,” wrote user @puwtok. Another video using the soundbite was posted by user @kaitlynfabry and read, “Cooks getting ready to tell servers something is 86’d.”
In an interview with Gothamist, Tisch said she could probably guess why the quote went viral enough to be worthy of an Only NY T-shirt.
"I knew it was a good line, but I certainly didn't expect it to go viral on TikTok,” she said. “I think that that line went viral because it's become a mantra for standing up against things that people won't accept anymore in their lives. For me, it's taking on rats, but to each their own.”
The 100% cotton shirt was designed by Sanitation Department worker Sebastian Mejias, who serves on Brooklyn’s Community Board 5. It depicts an animated rat with a terrified look on its face, crossed out by a red prohibition sign. Around the rat, the shirt reads, “The rats don’t run this city. We do. NYC Sanitation.”
The shirt was created by the city’s official merchandise licensing vendor, NYC&Co. A Sanitation Department spokesperson said the $48 price tag matched those of all other Only NY shirts – which are printed in New York City.
The proceeds from all licensed NYC agency merchandise go to the city’s general fund, the spokesperson said.
“Given that the current administration is investing more in sanitation than ever before, those funds will end up back supporting street cleanliness as well as other essential services,” department spokesperson Joshua Goodman said, adding that preorders for the shirts were already “off to a good start.”
The shirt is available for preorder until Sunday, Dec. 4, with deliveries expected by Friday, Dec. 23.
On the streets of Manhattan on Tuesday, Gothamist asked New Yorkers if they could see themselves sporting the sanitation swag.
“I think it’s super funny. It’s a little goofy. It looks like a cartoon rat. It’s a little goofy,” said 21-year-old Simrin Hajarvanis.
She added that she would love to buy the shirt as a gag gift for a friend, but the cost made her think twice.
“We laugh about it all the time,” Hajarvanis said. “I don’t know if it’s worth 50 bucks.”
Tamim Alhourani, 21, said that while the shirts were funny, the sound of rats scurrying the city's streets were no laughing matter.
“I think they need to be focusing on actual work instead of selling a T-shirt," Alhourani said. "The city needs someone cleaning up so I hope they get their act together.”