Two months ago, in front of a garbage truck parked in front of City Hall, New York City Mayor Eric Adams laid out the three major planks of his plan to make the five boroughs a “livable city.”
“Fighting crime, fighting inequality,” Adams said, “and fighting rats.”
The mayor’s longtime obsession with rats has been a part of a policy platform that appears, in part, designed to appeal to quality-of-life issues that resonate with everyday New Yorkers.
His war on rodents has become a major talking point since taking office this year — at least judging by his public rhetoric, especially in recent months. Since mid-October alone, Adams has said the word “rat” or “rats” at least 80 times in his public press conferences (some of which were entirely focused on rodents) and interviews, according to transcripts of his events regularly provided by his press office.
Take a look for yourself:
Last month, he signed four rat-focused bills into law, including one that paved the way for his plan to fine people for putting their trash on the street before 8 p.m. the day before collection, or 6 p.m. if trash bags are in a secure container. The current rule is 4 p.m. the day before collection; the new rule takes effect April 1, 2023.
The new laws will also require the city to name “rat-mitigation zones” by April 1 — particular trouble spots where the city will crack down on rodents — and report on their effectiveness each year. The measures also will allow the city to require buildings that are cited at least twice for rodents to use secure containers for their trash for a period of two years.
For years, Adams has publicly espoused his fear of rats and his desire to eradicate them from the streets of New York. On top of announcing a job opening this month for a so-called “rat czar,” Adams mounted his own personal fight against rodents by claiming to spend $7,000 for rat mitigation at a Brooklyn brownstone he owns.
Perhaps the most notable example came in 2019, when Adams, then the Brooklyn borough president, held a news conference to tout a type of trap that drowned rodents in an alcohol solution, leaving behind what, at the time, Gothamist called a “revolting dead rat soup.”
Adams’ vermin vendetta comes as rodent sightings are becoming more frequent in New York City. Rodent-related complaints have risen considerably in recent years, with data from the city’s 311 system showing more than 39,000 in 2022 through Dec. 7 — a 49% increase from the same period in 2021, which continues a recent trend.
Since the fall, Adams has held at least two rat-focused news conferences: One in which he first proposed further limiting the amount of time that garbage can be left on the street, and another when he signed it into law (along with the other rodent-fighting bills). In August, he announced a push to knock down abandoned outdoor dining sheds, calling them a “haven for rats.”
The mayor is also looking to hire a rat czar, complete with a made-to-go-viral job listing requiring applicants to have a “general aura of badassery.” The successful applicant will be tasked with overseeing the city’s plan to eradicate vermin.
And, all the while, Adams fought City Hall on a rat issue of his own, successfully getting a $300 ticket dismissed after he was cited for signs of rodents at the Brooklyn brownstone where he claims to have personally spent significant sums of money on rat mitigation.
“That's how much my invoices show that I spent in dealing with the rat problem on the entire block,” Adams said in an interview with 1010 WINS last week. “I spent $6,800 because every New Yorker knows by now, I hate rats and I'm looking to kill and get rid of rats in the city.”
At least one expert on these urban creatures has misgivings about Adams’ approach to rodents, particularly when it comes to the “rat czar” job listing — which, matching the mayor’s rhetoric, emphasizes killing rats and labels them as “enemies that must be vanquished by the combined forces of our city government.”
Michael H. Parsons, who published research on rat control as a visiting research scholar at Fordham University, said he was “horrified” by how the job listing was written. He said the focus shouldn’t be on rats — it should be on human behavior.
The focus is on the wrong enemy. We are our only enemy.
“This is not a rat problem, it's a social problem,” he said. “It's a hygiene problem. It's about giving rats too many opportunities to thrive, and it's about not cleaning up after ourselves using poor hygiene, not using best practices. And so the focus is on the wrong enemy. We are our only enemy.”
Parsons also said he’s not convinced that Adams’ strategy of banning trash on the streets before 8 p.m. will work, either. Rats are nocturnal, he said, and “they’re still going to get their food.”
But at the same time, Parsons gave Adams credit for trying something.
“I like to see action,” he said. “I like to see that he's trying a few things because that sets the stage for new ideas. If he tries those things, he's open-minded to trying other things.”
Parsons continued: “So I'm heartened by that a little bit, but I'm also horrified by the fact that he wants to kill, kill, kill, kill.”
Animal rights activists haven’t been keen on Adams publicly reveling in killing rats. But the mayor has made it clear that he doesn’t care.
“When we started killing them in Borough Hall, some of the same folks are criticizing us now called me a murderer because I was killing rats,” Adams said on Oct. 17. “Well, you know what? We're going to kill rats. Rats have no place in this city and we're going to use every method that's needed to do so so they're not harming families and our quality of life.”