Eric Adams’ early days: fighting Omicron, then a deadly fire


Before taking office as mayor of New York City, Eric Adams repeatedly said his top priority was serving as the city’s cheerleader and promoting his recovery.

Mr. Adams quickly began to fulfill this wish. In his first week in office, he moved to bolster the city’s health care system amid an increase in hospitalizations for coronavirus. He fought to keep schools open even as they closed in other cities like Chicago.

And on Sunday, he faced a devastating new challenge when the city suffered its deadliest fire in decades and at least 19 people died, including nine children. He held two press conferences at the Bronx fire site and called for the unit at a time of dire loss. “During a tragedy, we are going to be there for each other,” he said.

Mr Adams, a Democrat and former police captain, faces the most daunting challenges for a mayor since the inauguration of Michael R. Bloomberg shortly after the 9/11 attacks. New York City had started to recover from the economic devastation of the pandemic this fall, but the Omicron surge in December resulted in the cancellation of some Broadway shows and offices emptied once again as the new mayor has taken office.

Much of its first week focused on keeping public schools open for in-person instruction and sending a message that the city is ready to move forward. He said he decided shortly before taking office that he would do everything possible to keep the school system open after examining the low transmission rates in schools.

“It was clear to me that no matter the heat and the pressure, unless the doctors said, ‘Eric, it’s dangerous to have these kids in school’, then I was going to move on. and be very clear that parents would not have a level of uncertainty, ”he said in a recent interview.

But in order to do that, Adams needs numbers to back up his optimism. So, every day, he calls a video briefing at 8:30 am with his best health advisers to review the latest data related to Covid.

“We say, ‘Where are we, give us the numbers, are the hospitals stabilized, what are the numbers like, what are the deaths. How many schools were closed the day before? ‘ Said Adams. “Then we decide, do we stay the course? How do we rotate? “

His administration has distributed more than one million coronavirus home test kits in recent days so students can test at home after exposure and return to school. He filmed a video of himself taking a home test on Thursday to show families how to do it. A day earlier, he announced additional funding for hospitals to bolster the workforce.

In his first week, Mr. Adams was apparently all over the place – ride a Citi electric bike in Manhattan, announcing 17 arrests in a Brooklyn gang crackdown and slide on a pole in a Queens fire station. On Sunday, he delivered remarks at a church, held a press conference with Senator Chuck Schumer, visited a Burger King where someone was killed in a robbery, and then visited twice in the Bronx at the scene of the deadly fire. One of the owners of the Bronx building is Camber Property Group, a developer whose co-founder, Rick Gropper, was a member of Adams’ transition team for housing issues.

In doing so, the mayor displayed a tireless energy that many found lacking in his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, leaving Gracie Mansion in the dark before dawn to give a 6:45 a.m. press conference on a blizzard. Friday, and visit the hospital workers at 9:30 a.m. to thank the nurses working the night shift on Tuesday.

He also traded beards with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after she took issue with him calling the cooks and employees of Dunkin ‘Donuts “low-skilled workers,” then found himself on the defensive for having made two staff moves: he appointed Philip Banks III, a former police chief, as deputy mayor for public safety, despite ethical concerns over Mr Banks’ past as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal investigation into corruption; he also took steps to give his own brother a post as deputy police commissioner to head the mayor’s security service.

Mr Adams, the city’s second black mayor, said on Sunday he wanted his brother to oversee his safety amid concerns about white supremacy and hate crimes; he said his brother was qualified for the job, adding: “I need someone I trust.”

The mayor said Mr Banks had admitted to making mistakes, but had not been charged with a crime.

“I need the best person for the job,” Adams said on CNN, in one of two Sunday appearances on a national news program. The mayor also returned to another of his themes from the first week: he intends to keep the schools open.

But as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations increase, some elected officials, union leaders and health experts have urged Adams to do even more to stop the spread of the virus.

The city has recorded more than 40,000 cases per day and more than 5,700 people are hospitalized with the virus, including 740 patients in intensive care units – the highest levels since spring 2020. Some working-class neighborhoods like southern Jamaica in Queens, where Adams grew up, have alarming positivity rates of over 40%.

The teachers’ union has called for a temporary return to distance learning. The largest municipal union has called for non-essential municipal workers to be able to work from home.

Instead, Adams lobbied for the city to reopen, urging private employers to bring workers back to their offices, even part-time.

“I have met a number of business leaders,” Adams said in the interview. “Instead of going down to a five-day week all at once, let’s do two days a week or three days a week – let people get over their fear that we might come back.”

Asked about criticism that his optimistic tone did not match the harsh realities on the ground, Mr Adams said the Omicron variant was less harsh and that it was “just as dangerous not to open the city”.

“I would think really differently about it if this strand was one that had a high level of death,” he said, noting that those who were vaccinated often had “cold-like symptoms”.

Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, said Adams should try to do more to contain the virus.

“I certainly agree that we have to learn to live with Covid – this is what New York City has done as much, if not more, than any other city in the country,” Dr Nash said. “But from an epidemiological standpoint, we don’t have to learn to live with unbridled surges of community transmission that overwhelm the health system, like the one we are going through now.”

Mr Adams ‘pressure to return New Yorkers to office led to his first public feud with Ms Ocasio-Cortez, the left-wing MP who backed Mr Adams’ competitor Maya Wiley in the Democratic primary Last year. Mr Adams said the city must remain open because “low-skilled workers” cannot work remotely.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez and like-minded ally Tiffany Cabán, a new member of city council, criticized her choice of words.

“The suggestion that all work is ‘low-skilled’ is a myth perpetuated by wealthy interests to justify inhumane working conditions, little or no health care and low wages,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. posted on twitter.

Mr Adams said he should have used the term ‘low-paid workers’, noting that he had been one himself, washing dishes, shining shoes and working in a mailroom. He said Ms Ocasio-Cortez acted as a “word police” and sometimes made mistakes.

“I’d rather be genuine and make mistakes than be robotic and not be sincere in what they do,” he said, adding, “I know they’re perfect, and I can’t not do much about it. I can only aspire one day to be as perfect as them.

Mr Adams said he nevertheless wanted to work with progressives like Ms Ocasio-Cortez on issues such as housing and “ending the cycle of incarceration”. But he encouraged them to contact him directly.

“I can sit there and work with any group,” he said. “But you don’t work with a group just by tweeting. “

With Mr Adams newly elected and at the peak of his political power, Democratic leaders seemed largely reluctant to engage in a public row with him. Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers’ union who often acts as the mayor’s antagonist, showed unusual deference to the mayor.

The mayor also decided to quickly cement a positive relationship with Governor Kathy Hochul, ending the feud that characterized the terms of their predecessors, former Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mr Adams and Ms Hochul appeared together at the fire site together on Sunday evening and vowed to work together to help the victims.

Dana Rubinstein and Jeffery C. Mays contributed reporting.


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