Eric Adams plays both hero and villain — but loses public trust in the process


During his first two years and two weeks in office, Mayor Adams has been plagued by a stubborn opponent who thwarts his every initiative and contradicts his every public statement. That stubborn opponent is: Mayor Adams.

Last week, Adams set about reversing his high-profile budget cuts, hoping the city will see him as a hero — but if he’s the hero, it’s only as one fighting against his own worst enemy: himself. 

In November, Adams made apocalyptic budget pronouncements, reversing his rosy picture of just five months before.

“We’re in some serious financial trouble,” he told a group of seniors. “It is a disaster . . . the most painful exercise I’ve ever done.”

Migrant costs, the mayor’s budget advisers told us, were “skyrocketing,” rising so fast that between June and November, the city had to raise its estimates of such costs by $6.2 billion, to a total of $10.8 billion over just two years, and $12 billion over three. 

This created such a dire situation — a $7.1 billion budget gap, or nearly 10% of city tax revenues — that everything was in peril, even the mayor’s signature issues, public safety and quality of life.  

The mayor would ax future police-academy classes, leaving the force at 30-year headcount lows.

He’d cut firefighters, even as people continue to burn up in e-battery fires.

The mayor would slash litter collection on the streets. Students would have no summer programs. Libraries would shutter on Sundays. 

None of this made sense at the time. Nothing, fundamentally, had changed about the city’s fiscal situation — or its migrant situation — between last June and last November.

The mayor’s projections of tax revenues actually rose.  

And, indeed, if you dug deep into the budget documents, even the projected police-officer headcount wasn’t really changing: Hizzoner projected 35,001 cops over the next few years in June — and the exact same figure in November. 

It was a stunt — a stunt directed at an audience of one: President Biden.

The mayor’s gambit was that the White House would so freak out at the prospect of New York, the nation’s biggest and highest-profile city, descending into (more) lawlessness and litter over the election year that it would pony up unlimited billions for our no-bid migrant-contract spending, no questions asked. 

Sadly for the mayor, the president paid no attention. But everyone else did.  

The mayor’s approval ratings fell to 28%, the lowest of any mayor on record.

Adams faces the prospect of becoming the first one-term mayor in three decades, and he knows it. 

Solution: Reverse, reverse, reverse.  

Now, just two months after November, projected migrant spending is mysteriously declining as mysteriously as it rose between last June and November. 

So the mayor gave us three late Christmas presents last week: On Wednesday, we learned from his press release, “Mayor Adams Funding for April 2024 NYPD Recruit Class . . . Firefighter[s].”  

On Thursday, we learned, “Mayor Adams Restores Funding to Keep City Streets and Parks Clean, Fight Rats.”  

On Friday, we learned, Mayor Adams Restores Funding for Community Schools, Makes new Investments in Summer Rising for Young New Yorkers.” 

(The libraries, apparently, will remain shuttered on Sundays — although, there’s always this week for more grand announcements.)

This Tuesday, when Adams officially releases his new budget, we’ll learn the new numbers behind all this sudden good news.  

But the new numbers will be just as meaningless, and unreliable, as the old numbers.

Adams uses numbers the way he uses everything else — to advance his desired daily narrative.

When the narrative changes, the numbers change, not the other way around. 

Last year, the mayor wanted the numbers to show a crisis. The crisis backfired on him, so now, he wants the numbers to show calm.  

Ironically, New York does face real fiscal woes.

The city’s office-building tax base is falling in value, as work-at-home-for-half-the-week becomes a permanent feature of office life.

The city’s tax-paying population is still down about half a million people, relative to 2019.

We have no idea how much the migrants are costing, apparently, but they sure do cost some number of billions annually. 

Left unaddressed, these strains do imperil our ability to police the streets and keep them clean.

But the next time the bad-news mayor reappears to replace the good-news mayor, nobody will believe what either of them has to say.  

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.  

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