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Transcript: Mayor Adams Appears on WABC's "Up Close with Bill Ritter"

January 14, 2024

Bill Ritter: A migrant crisis in New York City? The concept the farthest thing from anyone's mind when Eric Adams was elected the 110th mayor of New York City more than two years ago. Oh, what we didn't know back then.

More than 168,000 migrants have come to the sanctuary city since Spring of 2022, and thousands more come every month. It is a crisis, a costly crisis. So, where to house them, how to provide the services they need, and how to pay for all this?

As Mayor Adams starts his third year in office, we sit down with him to talk about the migrant crisis, the impact it's having on other city programs and services and what he's hoping to accomplish in the rest of his term.

[Video plays.]

Mayor Eric Adams: Don't ever bet against New York. We're resilient, we're strong, we're committed, we're dedicated. And we're opinionated.

[Video ends.]

Ritter: Good morning, everyone and welcome to Up Close. I'm Bill Ritter. Eric Adams has gone from New York cop to New York State Senator to Brooklyn Borough President and then to mayor of New York. No matter whether you agree or disagree with his politics or positions, one thing is for sure: the energy and optimism of Eric Leroy Adams is something to behold.

And it comes out crystal clear when one sits down with him, as I did this week, to talk about New York City and all the challenges it faces. Mr. Mayor, great to see you, and Happy New Year to you.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you, Bill, as well.

Ritter: Let's start with the migrant crisis, because it is still a crisis and will likely be a crisis for some time. This week you did something that really ticked off a lot of parents of school children when you moved 2000 asylum seekers into a high school in Brooklyn, just a few miles from where they were set up in sort of a tent city.

And the school was out for the day during that time, and whatever the reasons were, there wasn't a good communication with having remote learning. The parents were angry, they missed a day of school. And you suggested, you know, when it comes to this and getting people out of the rain, you want to maybe do that again because that was a humane thing to do.

Could it have been done differently, gone somewhere else? Gone to a hotel, you know, because they have gone to hotels before.

Mayor Adams: And you know, that's a great question, Bill. Here's the problem. We don't have the spaces. We received over 169,000 migrants and asylum seekers. We filled those spaces, warehouses. We built HERRCs where we have tents, Randall's Islands, Creedmoor, Floyd Bennett Field.

I stated at the beginning of this year the visualization of this crisis is going to be actualized for everyday New Yorkers. You saw that when a storm hit the city with potentially 70 miles an hour winds.

We've done what we've always done, Bill. When there's a fire and families are displaced, we use our schools. When there's a building collapse, we use our schools. When there's flooding, we use our schools. They're the focal point of how we stabilize emergencies.

Ritter: Right. So, doesn't it then come up with a bigger question and the more complicated question, Mr. Mayor, and that is what are we doing to solve this problem? Because it is a problem and it is an expensive problem and it is a crisis, as you said many times. So, what do we do, and how do you solve this?

Mayor Adams: Well, I think the first order of business is for all of our electeds to have a unified chorus, and that is to call our national government to do its job. This is a national problem that has been dropped in the lap of New York City residents.

And so I know parents are angry. I'm angry. We are all angry. But displaced anger at your mayor is not going to get this issue solved when you're seeing anywhere from up to 4,000 people a week come to our city. I don't have the power to stop the flow of buses to deport anyone. I don't have the power to say we're not going to provide those services.

So, we need to really turn our attention towards Washington, D.C. and state this should not be happening to the people of this city.

Ritter: Well, correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Mayor, and with all due respect. Last when we talked a little more than a year ago, in summing up your first year you said, you know, I'm optimistic. Senator Schumer's going to get some money, the president's going to get some money. And where has that money gone? Has it come? In little teeny bits, but not what you wanted.

Mayor Adams: Oh, no, nowhere near. And I take my hat off to Senator Schumer, Congressman Jeffries, who's really pushing and fighting on behalf of the city, and all of our congressional delegation. But we're dealing with a very hostile congress that really is not looking to solve this problem, in my opinion.

So, I have to make the shifts in the city. I have to navigate us out of this. I'm the mayor of the City of New York, and it's my responsibility just as I did as a police officer to join my other colleagues to fight crime or any other incidents, I have to lead us through this. But we're not getting the help from Washington D.C. We're looking towards the state to also assist us. But this should not fall on the backs of New York City taxpayers.

Now, Bill, look at what we have done. Over 50 percent, 57 percent of the people who have arrived here as migrants in asylum seekers, we have been able to get them out of the system and stabilize them. And when we put in programs like our 30‑day program, 80 percent of the people did not return. They went and it was either stabilized through reticketing, staying with family members or finding their own way in this country. So, we have a model that the national government should duplicate.

Ritter: Yes. Correct me, again, if I'm wrong, but when you were first elected, it seemed like there was a real bond between you and President Biden. There was a real bond. And I think it's fair to say, not so much these days. So, what happened?

Mayor Adams: No, I don't agree with that. I think that friends disagree, and I disagree on this issue. But we cannot take away from the fact when I needed the president to come here, when we were surging and trending in the wrong direction in gun violence. Gun violence is down by 26 percent because of some of the support we received from him. Homicides are down by 12 percent. This city has recovered more private sector jobs than the history of this city. Bond raters have increased our bond rating. We have showed fiscal responsibility.

And so the president has been a partner on many of these issues. We disagree on this issue, but he has navigated this country out of Covid and other crises. And I'm still a supporter of the president, but I need the national government to address how this is impacting our city.

Ritter: And he helped you with the guns and the crime. And there have been huge, you know, you made huge strides in that, certainly with shootings and murders. However, when's the last time you talked to him?

Mayor Adams: Last time I spoke with him was earlier last year at an event. We have not communicated directly on this incident. I have communicated with the White House. Even my last trip there, I sat down and spoke with the White House. I did not leave with any optimism. I left with the feeling that this is going to be a new norm and I must expand the coalition and that's what I have done.

I reached out and I've been communicating with the mayor of Chicago, the mayor of Denver. We are hearing that the governor of Massachusetts, you're hearing mayors and local municipal leaders all over this country say this is a national problem. This should not be happening to El Paso, Brownsville, Texas, New York City or any of those other cities that I mentioned.

Ritter: Could you be involved with the governor of Texas along with your fellow mayors and say, look, the federal government's not doing it. There's too much division in Washington. Let's come up with a new policy. Have you thought about that?

Mayor Adams: And yes, we can. And I am willing to sit down with any of our local leaders because I've raised my voice stating that this should not happen to any municipality. And I believe that we can create a decompression strategy that will allow Americans to do what we've always done.

This is a country of immigrants. All of us have come from somewhere. But the difference now than how we handled the Ukrainian refugees, how we handled those from Afghanistan and other countries, we allowed them to work. Why are we treating this population any differently?

And some people say they're illegals. No, they're not. They were paroled into the country. And if we're going to parole people into the country, we need to give them the foundation and the precursor to experience the American dream, and that's the right to work.

And that's what I'm really calling on the federal government to do: fund this crisis and give people the right to participate in the American dream.

Ritter: $12 billion the city spent so far. It has helped not at all with our problems economically. And I want to move to that as a next subject, the budget that you have had to tell every city agency earlier...late last year, that they're going to have to cut their budgets by 5 percent and maybe another 5 percent next month or the month after and maybe another 5 percent. And suddenly, we've gotten income. Can you explain what happened in the last couple weeks?

Mayor Adams: No, it's not that we got income. We're still in very much a financial crisis and we don't want to send the wrong message. We did an analysis from the November cuts that we had to do, we did an analysis of some of the issues such as police. You know how I feel, public safety is the prerequisite to prosperity. I need my police on patrol.

We were able to add a class. We have two classes that's in now, we're going to have two more classes that are going to be this year, two started last year. Those are four classes. So, we continue the success of driving down crime as we've always stated.

But we also looked at this cleanliness of our city. I want to be the safest, cleanest, big city in America where I can invest in public spaces, I can invest in people, and I can invest in public safety. That's the cornerstone of what I ran on and what we're delivering on.

Ritter: Just to be clear about this, Mr. Mayor. You said this week that you're going to now bring more people, not cut staffers on the New York Police Department and not cut staffers on the fire department of New York.

Mayor Adams: What we did, there was something called the fifth man…

Ritter: Right.

Mayor Adams: ...and the best way to explain the fifth man in the Fire Department, when you get to a fire you want to you want to get water on that fire right away. When you have that fifth man in the various firehouses that we've looked at you are able to get water on fire faster.

And that is why we pushed to look at any all of these safety measures, particularly now that we're looking at the e‑bikes batteries that are the lithium batteries that are causing a real problem. So, we saw that if we can find revenue to get that fifth man back in the firehouse, we should do so, and that's exactly what we did.

Ritter: How about the cuts in the other agencies, you know, closing libraries on Sunday, for instance, that kind of stuff that a lot of people are talking about.

Mayor Adams: And they are. Bill, I cannot say it enough. Trust me, I get an earful.

Ritter: I'm sure you do.

Mayor Adams: As the mayor, whenever something goes wrong I get an earful. I always joke about the guy that got divorced, and he said, it's your fault, Eric. You know, and particularly when you're mayor like me that rides the subway, walks the streets, interacts with people every day. You know, I'm on the ground and I feel the pain of New Yorkers.

And trust me, this is not the budget I would like to pass. The budget I passed, invested in our older adults, our children, largest number of summer youth employment of 100,000, 110,000 in our Summer Rising programs. This is the type of budget I want.

But I need New Yorkers to understand the financial crises that we are facing. And I need all of my colleagues that are elected to office offer to join the chorus to tell the national government to do its job: 169,000 people were dropped in our city. That's 1.5 the size of Albany, New York, an entire city in our city that we have to give them all their basic needs.

Ritter: And I think that's one of the great things about New York. You know that, you talk about it all the time, you know, the sort of melting pot. If we had done...if other places in the world do what...have done what we do here in New York where we want people to rise up and level the playing field for opportunity, you know, there's some problems in the world we could talk about that may not have been problems.

Mayor Adams: Well, and listen, well said, Bill. And we see it all the time. Just think about it for a moment. Out of that 169,000, 57 percent of them we were able to self‑sustain and get going with their lives, participate in the American dream. 25,000 people, we were able to get, file the TPS status and get their work authorization.

You're seeing a system that national and international leaders look towards New York City and saw what we accomplished. You are not seeing that in other cities. You don't see people who came here sleeping on our streets not being able to see the vision of what the future has to offer.

And as I stated, this is a city of immigrants, and immigrants contribute to the building of this city, the birth of the city, and all that the city has to offer. We saw that during Covid. It was hospital workers who are a large immigrant population and other groups who were there for us and we need to be there for people in the city.

Ritter: Two years in an office you've gone through so far, two more years to go, two straight years of a drop in shootings and murders. And yet many people in New York still feel we have a big problem. It's a little like what's happening with Mr. Biden where the economy has in fact grown but a lot of people don't feel the economy is doing well. Are you in that kind of position, and what's is your goal now for this new year to try to keep fighting crime?

Mayor Adams: Well, you know, I always use football analogy: this is halftime. You know, you go inside and you come up with your plan. You learn, you look on your bench and see who you have. You look at your players and see, you know, what they want to do and what they want to accomplish.

And then you adjust. I am so excited about this next two years. You know, the last two years, in spite of what we have gone through, you look at the wins, everything from NYCHA Land Trust, turning the corner on NYCHA, decrease the cost of childcare from $55 a week down to less than $5 a week, invested in foster care, private sector jobs.

When you look at the W's, in spite of Covid. I inherited Covid when I became mayor. In spite of Covid, in spite of 169,000 migrants, we're still moving forward. We have almost the fourth largest tourism in the history of this city. People are coming back to this great city. And so I'm excited about what the next two years have to offer.

Ritter: Well, we'll talk about that in a couple of minutes, but I want to keep on this line. You've said the polls don't much matter, but you can't be happy with the last month's Quinnipiac poll looking at your approval rating, which was which was fairly low.

And I know you said, hey, look, we've got a long way to go, I don't care about polls right now, I care about doing a good job. However, I know somewhere deep inside you, Mr. Mayor, you're upset about that.

Mayor Adams: No, Bill I would not lie to you. Listen, no one wants those who are looking at you working, getting up 4:00 a.m. in the morning, meditating, exercising, drinking my green smoothie and then giving this city everything I have. No one wants people to believe that you're not doing a good job, because our W's are not often broadcast because we live in a day of sensationalism.

But if you live by the cheers, you would die by the boo's. Be committed and dedicated. Wake up and give it everything you have. And there's only one thing I can commit to New Yorkers: I'm going to leave every ounce of me on the field of battling for this city.

And I did that as a police officer when I put on that bulletproof vest and protected children and families. I'm going to do that as the mayor of the city of New York. And then the people will decide who they want to move the city in any years to come.

Ritter: The secret... I'm writing this down. The secret is green smoothies. I'm running that down and I'm going to… [Laughter.] I'm going to post that later.

You know, I do want to ask you a couple questions about something that was news and hasn't been much news yet as of this new year anyway. What's the status of the investigation into your campaign?

Mayor Adams: Well, the investigators are going to do their job, and that's what they're supposed to do. As a former law enforcement person, I know that inquiries happen, and we need to do the inquiries to determine if anything inappropriate happened.

I've been clear from the beginning. I follow the law. I follow the rules. I did not protect the people and prevent unlawful behavior, then [be]come a mayor and break the law. That's not going to happen.

I sleep well at night with my little teddy bear. We go to sleep. I feel good every time I get up in the morning because I know I don't have to look over my shoulders because I follow the rules and I follow the law.

Ritter: And the green smoothie helps as well, so I know that. [Laughter.] Real briefly, has the FBI said you're under investigation, you're a target of this?

Mayor Adams: Listen, we have not received, as people were saying, a target letter, don't quite know what that is. No, we're going to allow the federal authorities to do their job. That's what they are there for and I'm not going to speculate. I'm going to allow them to do their job. And at the end of the day, I follow the rules. And I feel comfortable about the career that I've had in government of following the rules.

Ritter: Mr. Adams, Mr. Mayor, Eric.

Mayor Adams: Yes.

Ritter: I don't know if you'll remember this or not, but one time we had a conversation after one of the debates, the last debates and after the election. And you, it was clear to you that you felt like this was your opportunity. You thought you were going to win the election, and you did.

And it was so clear to me observing you over the years that you believe that 100 percent. And I think when I talk to people about you and they say, what's he like, I said, I think he's a passionate guy. You know, he might not have all the answers, but he believes in New York. Have you changed, have you wavered even slightly on any of that?

Mayor Adams: [Laughter.] No, and that's a great question, Bill. And I speak with you and others who have been and covered me for years. This is an over 30‑something year dream to come here and see how do we change how we have betrayed everyday working class people like my mom and other families that live on my block.

I wake up every day with so much enthusiasm and so much energy. I love the city so much, and it's just a city where I think there's great opportunities. And when I look at my wins, and what I have done with foster care children, and what I have done around public safety, and how I've sat in hospitals with people who are victims of crime, and what we've done in the subway system, over four million riders are back on our system.

What I ran on I was able to deliver. This little boy from South Jamaica, Queens, dyslexic and had to find a way. This city is a city of opportunities. And I'm so excited for the next two years. And no matter what we go through, don't ever bet against New York. We're resilient, we're strong, we're committed, we're dedicated. And we're opinionated. New Yorkers will tell you how we feel.

Ritter: So, final question in the last minute we have, I do want to get your take on this. All that aside, what do you really want to have happen in the next two years? What are you going to focus on? And don't forget, there's always a migrant crisis of some sort or something else that's going to come and block it. But what would you like to happen in the next two years?

Mayor Adams: Well said. I think all mayors had maybe one defining moment. Mayor Bloomberg had 9/11 he inherited; Mayor de Blasio had Covid. Who would have thought we would have had these majors of Covid and the migrant crisis? I want this city to be safe. I want every day New Yorkers to see the livability of it, to improve our housing crises, and people to believe not only in the city again, I want New Yorkers to believe in themselves again.

We've been broken by Covid. We've been broken because of the crime trends. We've been broken because we've seen what's happening with the migrants. I want us to believe in ourselves again. A dark place is not a burial, it's a planting, and we need to see the fruits of our harvest.

Ritter: The 110th mayor of New York City, Mayor Adams. Thank you for joining us. Good luck to you, sir.

Mayor Adams: Thank you.


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