“The Job Is Not Hard”: An Ever-Confident Eric Adams Speaks to His First Year as New York City Mayor

Eric Adams won the 2021 Democratic primary for mayor of New York City—and, because this is a one-party town, he essentially won the general election too—by a mere 0.8% over Kathryn Garcia. But Adams, in his first year in office, has carried himself with the confidence of a man who won by a landslide. That’s all the more striking considering the challenges Adams has encountered at City Hall: a sluggish postpandemic economy, a spike in crime, record-setting homelessness numbers, a surge in migrants arriving from Central America, and a crippling shortage of moderately priced apartments. Oh, and an explosion in a population that Adams has long obsessed over: rats. There have also been self-inflicted controversies, including attempting to hire relatives and friends for high-paying taxpayer-funded jobs. 

The mayor certainly appreciates the gravity of the issues he’s facing—hours before talking with Vanity Fair, Adams had raced to a Brooklyn hospital emergency room to check on a cop who’d been shot trying to make an arrest. Yet the mayor has also popped up everywhere from the Met Gala to downtown clubs and traveled far and wide outside the city. He seems to be thoroughly enjoying the job. “No, I don’t think it’s fair to say that,” Adams says. “What you should be saying is that I love the job.”

Vanity Fair: What’s one thing you’ve learned this year about doing the job of mayor?

Eric Adams: When someone says, What was the surprise?, it’s difficult to point to something because I knew city government. But I will tell you this: The job is not hard. It’s the volume. All day, every day, there is something to deal with. No matter what other job you have in the city, you are drinking from a garden hose compared to the mayor. You drink from a fire hose. You got everyone around you—some of them for good reasons, some of them from bad reasons. You have to have your instincts up.

In recent weeks you have announced ambitious goals to build thousands of affordable housing units and to get mentally ill people off the streets and into care. But mayors have been announcing these kinds of agendas for decades, without delivering on a real plan. Why should we think you’re going to follow through and get it right?

A great question. I’m a big believer in you have to inspect what you expect or it’s all suspect. I’m a computer programmer by nature. And I know that you have to build systems that allow you to see, are you moving in the right direction? Now, trust me, it’s not going to be easy because there’s just so many naysayers. They look for reasons to get in the way of where we could go. Back at the beginning of the year, I said we’re getting all of the encampments out of our subway system. We put a system in place, we monitor it every week. We’ve been able to narrow it down to the stubborn people we’re having a problem with, and we need to get them more services. That is how you get to a destination, through that inspection.

When crime rates were rising through the spring and summer, you placed much of the blame on New York state’s elimination of cash bail, even though there’s little evidence of a connection between the two. Are you going to try and push for bail changes again when the new state legislative session starts in January?

Everyone says, Eric, you’ve been unsuccessful with Albany because of just bail. But anyone that knows Albany knows you never get everything you want, particularly in the first year. I wanted to continue mayoral control [of public schools]. I got it. I wanted the earned income tax credit increased. I got it. I wanted a NYCHA trust fund. I got it. If we just fixed bail, and still have a recidivism problem that’s really producing the crimes we’re seeing, that’s a big problem. I need to go after the entire system.

So I’ll take that as a no on advocating for tougher bail laws.

No, that’s on my list! I’m going back to Albany to say, can we talk about [giving judges more discretion on] dangerousness again? I don’t stop talking about it just because there’s a philosophical difference. I need to come up with more data.

You have said many times—including earlier today—that fighting crime isn’t just about cops, it’s about giving young people, in particular, opportunities for education and jobs. How does that square with you trying to cut tens of millions of dollars from the school and library budgets?

With the library cuts that we’re doing—which we don’t want to do—we’re facing an out-year budget deficit of $10 billion. That money has to come from somewhere. This is additional money we gave them; we’re not digging into operations. Same thing with schools. Not one dollar came off the fair student funding. We were propped up with COVID money, and it runs out. And we have to be honest that the school population has shrunk. We cannot run a city that is dysfunctional in the area of economics.

Your out-of-town travel has drawn a lot of attention and criticism. What’s one tangible benefit to the city from a trip you’ve taken? 

Going to Athens allowed me to create an international relationship to show that New York, which has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel, is serious about antisemitism. While I was in LA, I moved around the city to look at their encampment problem, their homeless problem, on the ground. I knew when I got back here, we are not going to turn into that. If you don’t get on the ground and see what’s happening in these locales, you’re not going to get the full picture.

How will the Adams family be celebrating Christmas?

Hopefully doing nothing. I want to sit down and keep on my pajamas.

It will be your first Christmas living in Gracie Mansion.

Yeah, there’s ghosts in there, man.

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