Ten of Eric Adams’s Worst Policies, Scandals, and Lies

Eric Adams has had so many scandals and strange public declarations since he took office that it’s easy to lose track of them. To make sure you keep them straight, we’ve rounded up ten of the New York mayor’s greatest hits thus far.

New York City mayor Eric Adams as Shakira performs live at TSX In Times Square on March 26, 2024 in New York City. (Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for TSX Entertainment)

When FBI agents asked New York City mayor Eric Adams’s security detail to step aside so they could enter the mayor’s SUV and confiscate his two cell phones and iPad in November 2023, the federal investigation into the city’s highest elected official, centered on his 2021 mayoral campaign (specifically, whether it was fueled by foreign campaign money) seemed to be heating up. After all, how could the FBI seize the mayor’s electronics — treating him like a common criminal, don’t they know he’s a police officer — if they didn’t have anything on him yet?

But five months later, Adams has yet to be accused of any wrongdoing, even as a growing number of aides and associates around him are subject to their own investigations. (For a great look at a major player in this web of graft, read David Freedlander’s “The Eric Adams Smash-and-Grab,” perhaps the article that captures the Adams era, and check out Hell Gate’s remarkably comprehensive interactive feature.) The mayor, like New York’s prior governor Andrew Cuomo, is facing a civil charge, filed under the Adult Survivors Act’s one-year window, which allowed individuals to bring lawsuits for sexual predation that would otherwise have been beyond the statute of limitations.

Yet the problems keep piling up. Eric Adams’s approval rating is at a dismal 28 percent — the lowest of any New York mayor since 1996 — and he cannot go a day without doing or saying something that is bad for the poor and working-class people of this city (usually for the sake of the wealthy, particularly those in the financial and real estate sector, or for his most prized constituents, the city’s police and correctional officers).

To help harried New Yorkers keep track, here is a nonexhaustive list of our mayor’s scandals, lies, reprehensible policies, and fuckups. It’s safe to say that by the time we publish this piece, there will already be a new controversy unfolding. Perhaps this column will have to become a regular installment.

1. Shrinking the New York Public Library Budget

When Eric Adams became the mayor of New York, the city’s libraries were open seven days a week. In November 2023, the Adams administration instituted its first budget cut to the libraries, slashing $23.6 million and causing three of the city’s library systems — the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library — to close the doors on Sundays.

As one reading enthusiast told Hell Gate at the time, “A library is a cornerstone of human connection and development. I was homeless twice. And the library was home — maybe I cannot sleep in it, but I can definitely grab a book and escape, go and develop business ideas. I’m a freelancer because the library inspired me to do so.”

He’s not alone. I grew up going to the library at least once a week, and I kept up the habit in my teens and twenties: it’s how I learned about politics, about what words could do. It’s what led me to become a writer. Countless people across the country have similar stories, and in a city where surviving every day seems to require a small fortune, public libraries are doubly important as a rare cost-free oasis.

Entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library in Manhattan. (Wikimedia Commons)

Now, the Adams administration is again trying to cut libraries’ budgets, which will force most locations to close their doors on Saturdays too. As he did last year, Adams cites the influx of migrants in the city as the reason for the austerity, but revenues have been higher than expected, and many in the city, including city councilors, have contested the math behind the proposals. As New Yorkers have pushed back on several of the items on the chopping block — nine thousand fewer garbage cans on the city’s streets, reduced park maintenance — Adams has reversed course. Yet libraries remain a target for our mayor as the city budget’s June deadline approaches.

Only half of New York’s third through eighth graders are proficient readers, yet rather than addressing that gap, now no parent will be able to take their child to pick up books on the weekends, as my dad so often did for me. No longer the many other services libraries provide: literacy assistance, community fridges, public bathrooms, or a warm, dry space to sit. There will be no cost-free escape from cramped apartments and loud streets, a retreat from the stresses of life in New York City.

2. Cutting Back on Pre-K Funding

The establishment of universal pre-K for all of New York City’s four-year-olds (and the subsequent expansion of the public preschool program to three-year-olds) is one of the most popular accomplishments of Bill de Blasio’s mayoral administration, so Adams has sought to accomplish the opposite. According to New Yorkers United for Child Care, the mayor has cut almost $400 million from the city’s 3-K and pre-K programs since 2022 and is proposing to cut them by another 14 percent next year. Bloomberg’s headline from last year says it all: “Eric Adams Is Starving New York City’s Universal Pre-K Program.”

Parents have been rallying against the proposed cuts, which despite Adams’s propensity to speak of himself as a mayor for “working-class New Yorkers,” will hit poor and working-class parents hardest.

Other elected officials in the city are thinking bigger about how to make New York livable for working-class people, rather than adopting Adams’s backward mindset. Writes Liza Featherstone of the counter-bloc on childcare,

City Council member Jennifer Gutiérrez, who represents Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick, and Ridgewood, has introduced a bill to create an office of childcare, which would be charged with establishing free childcare to all New York City residents. So far, the bill has twenty-nine sponsors, including Tiffany Cabán and Alexa Avilés, the two members backed by Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), as well as other left councilmembers like Chi Ossé, Shahana Hanif, and Lincoln Restler.

That’s a visionary, much-needed reform — the opposite of what Adams is up to.

3. Making Homeless Kids Needlessly Suffer More

The number of New York City public-school students who live in homeless shelters is rising fast. According to NY1, it grew by 39 percent last year — nearly 120,000 children were homeless in 2023 — and is expected to continue climbing. As one small measure meant to help those children, one hundred community coordinators began working in the city’s shelters in 2023, helping kids enroll in school or get MetroCards.

As NY1 reports, “One coordinator helped a child who had outgrown his wheelchair into a new one. Another realized a teenager was skipping school due to his dirty clothes and got him a laundry card and detergent.” These are essential tasks, the minimum the city can do for some of the victims of its housing crisis.

Seventy-five of the positions are funded with federal money set to expire in June, and twenty-five are paid with city money, but none of those positions are in Adams’s proposed budget. Mark it down as yet another way Adams only mentions the homeless when he is fearmongering about them (for instance, by likening them to a “cancerous sore”).

4. Using an Errant AI Bot for City Administration

In October 2023, Adams boasted of a plan to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the city’s government. The administration rolled out a tool as part of that initiative, a chatbot that is supposed to assist business owners. Five months after the launch, the Markup found that the tool provides dangerously inaccurate information.

When the Markup asked the bot, “Are buildings required to accept Section 8 vouchers?” or “Do I have to accept tenants on rental assistance?” the bot “said no, landlords do not need to accept these tenants.” But that’s not true: it’s illegal for New York City landlords to discriminate based on a tenant’s source of income, with minor exceptions. The chatbot likewise erroneously said that business owners can make their establishments cash-free (wrong) and take their workers’ tips (no), among many other incorrect responses.

When asked by reporters about the inaccuracies, Adams said, “It’s wrong in some areas, and we’ve got to fix it,” though the city did not respond to further questions about how, exactly, it will be fixed. The chatbot remains live. I’m using it to answer my questions about how to start a small business providing answers to questions posed by other AI chatbots.

5. Misallocating Contracts for Migrant Care

Late last year, City Comptroller Brad Lander revoked Adams’s emergency powers to sign deals without prior approval with contractors providing housing, food, laundry, and other services for asylum seekers. The move followed a report by Lander’s office that found myriad deficiencies in the 292 new emergency contracts from January 1, 2022 to September 30, 2023, totaling $1.73 billion, $1.38 billion of which concerned services for asylum seekers.

Of particular concern was a $432 million no-bid contract with DocGo, a private medical services provider, to provide emergency housing and other services for migrants — services that the company had no experience in providing.

Soon enough, migrants alleged that they were being threatened and deceived by these providers, and the state’s attorney general opened an investigation into DocGo. As the New York Times reported, the allegations state that the “company gave inaccurate information to migrants about employment opportunities, made ‘explicit or implicit threats,’ and took ‘other actions that may jeopardize migrants’ ability to obtain asylum,’” as well as “‘enrolled migrants in a healthcare plan for which they are not eligible.’” The comptroller’s office has since decided not to renew DocGo’s contract.

6. Bringing (Robo)Cops Into the Subways

If Eric Adams has one real passion, besides himself, it is turning the city’s subway system into an underground jail. I can see the vision, much as I disagree with it, but the execution is sorely lacking. The mayor likes to throw additional police officers into the subways in response to every high-profile crime — the latest was the deployment of one thousand members of the State Police and National Guard, whom Adams and New York governor Kathy Hochul tasked with searching riders’ bags.

One imagines that Adams will only be satisfied when there are so many cops on the subway platform that there is simply no room left for anyone else to stand, resolving the crime problem instantaneously as ridership drops to zero (until, that is, the cops get sick of playing Candy Crush and start attacking each other).

But it isn’t only cops. The mayor has taken his enthusiasm for untested technology to the rails, with wonderfully incompetent results. He debuted a four-hundred-pound robot in the Times Square subway station (after a photo op, of course) as a crime-fighting measure. Five months later, he quietly retired the contraption, which never appeared to do anything and couldn’t even handle stairs. His latest kick is for metal detectors, an “innovation” he has touted since 2022’s deadly subway shooting and which he is pursuing in earnest since another shooting last month.

I highly recommend watching the press conference where Adams demonstrates how to use the “gun detectors.” “This is our Sputnik moment, like when Kennedy said we’re going to put a man on the moon,” Mayor Adams said nonsensically, while walking through a metal detector.

There is little evidence that additional cops or ill-considered technology will reduce violent crime on the subways, but Adams is the city’s fearmongerer in chief, and woe to anyone who thinks the facts will get in the way of that commitment.

New York lawyer Olayemi Olurin recently confronted Adams on POWER 105.1 FM’s the Breakfast Club about the issue, pointing out how the mayor’s rhetoric has contributed to New Yorkers’ perceptions that violent crime is rising, as well as feeding into some of the crimes that are occurring on the city’s transit system, one of the few areas that has seen a recent spike in crime. For instance, it’s not hard to see how such fearmongering played into Daniel Penny’s decision to kill Jordan Neely last year. The mayor offered Olurin little in the way of a defense.

7. Failing to Close Rikers (and Getting Baptized There, for Some Reason)

As mentioned, Adams is facing a lawsuit brought under the Adult Survivors Act (ASA). The woman who filed the civil suit was an administrative aide with the transit bureau in 1993, when Adams was a police officer. She hoped he could help her get a promotion. As NY1 reports, the lawsuit alleges that “after work one night, under the guise of helping her, Adams drove her to a vacant lot in Manhattan where he demanded oral sex, according to the lawsuit. When she said no, according to the lawsuit, Adams forced her to touch him, then allegedly touched himself in front of her.”

The majority of the lawsuits brought under the ASA window were filed by people who were formerly incarcerated at Rikers Island, an astonishing fact (I’ve written about those allegations previously). Rikers continues to be a lawless outpost inside New York City, and despite the city’s legal obligation to close it down by 2027, Adams has shown little initiative in doing so. Indeed, his latest bizarre stunt was to get baptized at Rikers by the Reverend Al Sharpton on Good Friday. I pride myself in obsessive Adams-watching, but even I didn’t see this one coming. I’ll do better going forward.

Meanwhile, the city continues paying out millions of dollars in wrongful death lawsuits to the families of those killed on Rikers. Just three weeks ago, fifty-one-year-old Roy Savage became the thirty-first person known to have died in city jails or under Department of Corrections (DOC) custody since Adams took office. Savage died at Bellevue Hospital and is the third person to die in DOC custody in 2024, with the prior two people, Manuel Luna and Chima Williams, dying at Rikers.

“Instead of working to address the horrible problems on Rikers and shutter the deadly jail complex, Mayor Adams has done everything in his power to keep Rikers open,” wrote the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice in a statement following Savage’s death:

He has worked to increase the population through regressive policing and slashing the budgets of alternatives to incarceration programs. He’s blocked or otherwise sought to hinder oversight and transparency efforts by both the city and federal watchdogs. Violence and dysfunction continue to reign supreme in city jails, including sexual abuse against women detained in city jails.

8. Being a Crypto Bro

One of the first things Adams did after winning the mayoral election was fly to Puerto Rico on cryptocurrency billionaire Brock Pierce’s private jet. The two partied at Zero Bond, Adams’s favorite high-end members-only Manhattan hangout, on election night, and the next morning the mayor-elect said he’d take his first three paychecks in Bitcoin. The cryptocurrency crashed mere hours later. What’s going on with all of this?

9. Making Up a Story About a Dead Friend

Does anyone remember learning that a story Adams often tells, of carrying a photo of Robert Venable, a police officer killed on the job, is a lie? And not just a lie, but a breathtakingly elaborate one?

According to the New York Times, the mayor told employees to create a photo of Officer Venable, so they found a picture on Google, printed it in black-and-white, and made it “look worn as if the mayor had been carrying it for some time, including by splashing some coffee on it.” This is just one of about one thousand tall tales I could include on this list, as Adams is a compulsive liar. (My favorite is that going vegan brought back his vision in his left eye. While I’ve asked a couple doctors about this claim, both of whom are very skeptical, I admit that I have yet to get an ophthalmologist on the horn, though it’s on my to-do list.) No one should trust a word that comes out of his mouth.

10. Continuing to Obsess Over Crashing Airplanes

One of our mayor’s stranger fixations is on airplanes crashing. (This isn’t really a scandal or fuckup, I’m just doing textual analysis.) In December 2023, when WPIX-TV host Dan Mannarino asked Adams to sum up a “very eventful” year in one word, Adams responded with “New York.” Nailed it.

He continued:

This is a place where every day you wake up you could experience everything from a plane crashing into our Trade Center through a person who’s celebrating a new business that’s open. This is a very, very complicated city, and that’s why it’s the greatest city on the globe.

Absolutely! New York is wonderful because any day could be 9/11. (Maybe this is just his fearmongering about crime flipped on its head, magically transforming crime into a good thing that really makes you think about how complicated this great town is?)

But that wasn’t the only time Adams revealed his hang-up on plane crashes. At a town hall shortly after said interview, he responded to criticism by saying, “I am the pilot, and you are all passengers. Pray for me to land the plane, cause there’s no parachutes on this plane, we’re all going down together.”

Now, while uncharitable observers might say that Adams is fantasizing about killing his critics, these comments make me wonder what the mayor thinks of Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who in 2009 landed a plane on the Hudson River after his plane struck a flock of Canadian geese, which caused both engines to fail. I bet Adams is a big fan of Sully. Perhaps he even sees himself as Sullenberger, in which case the plane is New York City, and the housing crisis and police violence and subway crime are Canada geese, and any day now he could crash us into . . . the Trade Center. Hopefully someday his office will grant me an interview so I can get some clarity on this one.