New York City Mayor Eric Adams finds himself on hazardous terrain. Earlier this month, the FBI raided the Brooklyn home of his 25-year-old chief fundraiser, prompting Adams to rush back to the city from Washington where he’d already arrived for key meetings, including at the White House, on the migrant crisis.
It soon emerged that investigators were exploring whether his 2021 campaign worked with the Turkish government to funnel foreign contributions to him, and whether City Hall prodded the FDNY to fast-track safety approvals of a high-rise for the Turkish consulate near the U.N. Agents seized Adams’ cellphones and an iPad as he left a public event.
It seems part of a pattern.
Back in September, Adams’ buildings commissioner, former Councilmember Eric Ulrich, was indicted and charged with taking bribes during his short, ill-advised tenure. Six fundraisers also are charged with seeking to manipulate the city’s public campaign finance program to beef up funding for the Adams campaign.
Adams hasn’t been charged. But the probes distract public attention from the multiple governmental crises he faces. On Long Island, and the rest of the state, the city’s fortunes always reverberate — especially on matters of transportation, jobs, the financial sector, and public safety.
The city confronts immediate fiscal challenges. Adams’ proposed spending cuts could hinder services across the city’s $107-billion-plus government. Among the scary measures floated: cutting library services, eliminating FDNY overtime, and putting off the next five NYPD academy classes, shrinking the force to which he once belonged to its lowest head-count in decades. Even if these steps add up to a bargaining position to shock the City Council into finding alternative savings, city projections do look grim. Federal COVID-19 funding is drying up and Wall Street profits, a key source of city tax revenue, are not what they were.
Adams emphasizes the billions in extra spending on asylum-seekers and migrants. But a recent opinion piece co-authored by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli states that the cost of caring for new arrivals is “only one significant contributor” to an operating deficit that could reach $13.8 billion next year. DiNapoli and the Citizens Budget Commission’s Andrew Rein fault “years of added and expanded city programs” stuffed into the budget.
Government can only be as adept as the public officials running it.
If Adams loses credibility to scandals, other players will need to shore up this fiscal struggle. The usual posture for the City Council, like the State Legislature, is to reflexively restore popular programs. But in this case, the city’s progressive Council leaders, comptroller, and public advocate (next in line of mayoral succession) may have to work counterintuitively — with Democratic state allies — to make city operations more efficient and avoid counterproductive tax hikes.
A very tall order may await them all if Adams falters. The management challenges aren’t going away. Any loss of credibility at the top cannot help.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.