Eric Adams

5 takeaways from Eric Adams’ State of the City

During his third State of the City speech, the New York City mayor said the city is ‘back from the brink,’ striking a hopeful tone about a drop in crime and job growth despite the ongoing migrant crisis.

Mayor Eric Adams delivers his 2024 State of the City address at Hostos Community College on Jan. 24, 2024.

Mayor Eric Adams delivers his 2024 State of the City address at Hostos Community College on Jan. 24, 2024. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Looking out at an auditorium packed with allies and opponents alike, New York City Mayor Eric Adams delivered a future-focused vision for the new year, painting a picture of an administration that’s made great strides in economic recovery and reducing crime – “bringing our city back from the brink” – while “marshaling” “the entire city government” to respond to the asylum-seeker humanitarian crisis.

“This was a team effort. How did we do it? We stayed focused, no distractions and grind,” Adams said to a swell of cheers. “The state of our city is strong. Far stronger than it was two years ago.”

It was a full house at the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture in the Bronx during Adams’ third State of the City address. While key state leaders like Gov. Kathy Hochul were notably absent, lobbyists, advocates and top city government officials like City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and Comptroller Brad Lander – electeds currently at odds with the mayor over the management of asylum-seekers and a hotly-debated police reporting bill – all attended. The area outside the college was also a flurry of activity ahead of the mayor’s speech. A large group of protesters gathered outside to call for various progressive priorities, including closing Rikers, canceling city budget cuts and ending the war in Gaza.

During his speech, Adams highlighted the progress his administration has made on the “Working People’s Agenda” he rolled out last year, striking a positive tone while steering clear from some of the more dire messaging he has relayed in recent months about the need for sweeping budget cuts and the potential for the migrant influx to wreak fiscal havoc on the city without federal support. Among the new initiatives outlined Wednesday were plans to create a Tenant Protection Cabinet aimed at protecting New Yorkers from malicious landlords, a declaration of social media as a public health threat, a push to speed up internal discipline within the New York City Police Department and a new initiative to regulate and license food delivery workers using e-bikes and other micromobility vehicles.

Fanfare and rosy projections aside, a slew of challenges loom around City Hall. Adams’ address comes as he faces low polling numbers, a federal investigation into his 2021 mayoral fundraising, a contentious veto battle with the City Council, backlash to budget cuts and the ongoing influx of asylum-seekers to the city. His speech also glossed over the fact that a growing number of migrants have been sleeping on the streets as the waitlist for a shelter bed swells.

“Announcing nothing new to improve the lives of new arrivals or longtime immigrant New Yorkers, he had chosen to only recycle his arbitrary, short-sighted strategies that deny shelter and dignity to vulnerable families in need,” New York City Immigration Coalition Executive Director Murad Awawdeh said in a statement following the speech. “We cannot help but ask how forcing people to pointlessly spend their days and nights in the cold winter streets helps them get on the road to self-sufficiency?”

Here’s what you need to know about Adams’ vision for the city in the year ahead.

Jobs up, crime down

Much of Adams’ speech was staked around the message “jobs up, crime down.” Signs outside the building were emblazoned with the mantra. At one point during his address, Adams led the audience in a chant, repeating the words again and again.

“When I say crime down, you say jobs up,” Adams instructed the room, lending the speech the tenor of a political rally. “Finally something 8.3 million New Yorkers can all agree on.”

With his approval rating falling in recent months, the messaging made sense. Adams is a former police officer who became mayor after running on a message about public safety. He’s now gearing up to run for reelection in what could end up being an unusually crowded race for an incumbent mayor. 

The mayor didn’t provide much new information about how he intends to build on public safety wins like seizing over 14,000 illegal guns from city streets, reducing crime in five of seven major areas and launching a $500 million blueprint addressing gun violence. While he did commit to cutting in half the time it takes for the NYPD to process internal discipline cases, much of his messaging touted his administration’s successes. In reality, things are a bit more complicated than the rosy “jobs up, crime down” theme. Overall crime in New York City is indeed down, albeit slightly, but that’s in line with a national trend that has seen crime rates drop across the country. As for economic recovery, New York City has recovered nearly all jobs lost during the pandemic, but that recovery lagged somewhat compared to the rest of the country.

A plea for Albany (but no governor to hear it)

Adams emphasized his top priorities in Albany for the year ahead, but unlike last year, Hochul was not in attendance on Wednesday to hear them. Nor were Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who also received shout-outs in the mayor’s speech. Still, Adams’ Albany wishlist is hardly a secret. He has been vocal about his desire for lawmakers to extend his control over New York City’s public school system, grant the authority to shut down illegal pot shops and provide more flexibility to build new housing in the city. 

Between her $233 billion budget plan and State of the State address delivered earlier this month, Hochul has already signaled her support for all three of those proposals. Whether state legislators will be equally receptive is less certain, especially since Adams is hardly at the height of his political power. A myriad of challenges – including low approval ratings, pushback against budget cuts, and a federal investigation into his 2021 mayoral campaign’s fundraising – hang over his negotiations in Albany. 

Hochul is once again proposing a four-year extension of the city’s polarizing mayoral control system, but lawmakers are perhaps even more critical of the way Adams has handled education and schools than they were in 2022, when they only approved a two year extension of mayoral control. 

As for cracking down on illegal pot, Adams’ close ally Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar is sponsoring a bill aimed at giving the city greater authority to shutter unlicensed cannabis shops. 

Adams’ requests for housing – which include replacing the 421-a developer tax break to incentivize affordable housing development, increasing housing density and providing greater flexibility for office conversions – will likely be hot topics amid the city and state’s housing crisis.

Social media, the latest public health threat 

There’s a new public health hazard in New York City leaders’ sights: social media. 

Adams, who has previously urged social media companies to quell hate speech and blamed online trends for a rise in subway surfing, announced that Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan has officially declared social media to be a public health threat. "We are the first major American city to take this step and call out the danger of social media like this,” Adams said. “Just as the surgeon general did with tobacco and guns, we are treating social media like other public health hazards and ensuring that tech companies take responsibility for their products.”

Speaking to reporters after the speech, Vasan and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom said that the advisory is a way to set out guidelines and start a conversation with parents, teachers and others.

“The top line is that we are advising parents, caregivers – anyone who is regulating the devices and the social media platforms on them – to delay initiation until age 14,” Vasan said, noting that the age is a time of big transition. “I'm a parent who is fighting these fights every day. I’m checking screen time, I’m getting into disagreements with my daughter about turning it on or off.”

Council Member Lynn Schulman, who chairs the council’s health committee, said that she was happy to hear the mayor speak about concerns with social media. “A lot of school kids are getting their information off of social media that has no context to it,” Schulman said.

Regulating the wild west of street deliveries

Among the new initiatives announced on Wednesday is the creation of a brand new agency dubbed the Department of Sustainable Delivery to handle the regulation and management of micromobility devices like e-bikes and cargo bikes. 

“We have a lot of new modes to get things everywhere, all the time, but we also have a sense that our bike lanes now are bursting at the seams,” Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi told reporters after the speech. “We need to bring order to the bike lanes, so it’s about giving the authority to an agency to license, register and require safety conduct be met for all of the new vehicles that we’re seeing – the cargo bikes, the e-bikes, the mopeds.”

Adams, who talked up his interest in bringing efficiency to New York City’s entangled bureaucracy, loves creating new offices. Or rejiggering existing offices. He even appointed a chief efficiency officer at the start of his term. Asked about how the city will set up a new department amid a hiring freeze, Joshi didn’t clarify if new staff would be added, but said that they will rely on other existing assets, like the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s existing licensing and inspection facilities.

“While we welcome the mayor’s attention to micromobility, the five boroughs are in need of a much more comprehensive look at how all cyclists and other micromobility users get around,” Open Plans Co-Executive Director Sara Lind said in a statement. “If the city is going to have an entity dedicated to micromobility, it should be tasked with encouraging the safe and convenient adoption of micromobility for everyone – not just creating structure and rules for commerce.”

A crowd full of friends and frenemies

The State of the City is an opportunity for the mayor to hammer home his administration’s accomplishments to his supporters. And the Hostos Community College theater had no shortage of Adams acolytes eager to cheer the mayor on. Loudest among them were representatives of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, who got to their feet when the mayor mentioned “getting stuff done” and settling new union contracts. HTC President Rich Maroko was even featured in a pre-speech hype video, alongside Rajkumar and Reps. Adriano Espaillat and Greg Meeks, who each took turns singing the mayor’s praises. 

While plenty of the mayor’s supporters were in attendance on Wednesday, other city leaders with whom he’s on frostier terms also turned out, as is typical. Despite an ongoing veto fight over two law enforcement related bills – with the council and public advocate on one side and the mayor on the other – the mayor had nothing but love to share for his fellow Bayside High alum, Speaker Adams. “Speaker Adrienne Adams, I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it,” the mayor said, as the camera cut away to show the speaker appearing to return the sentiment. Williams, the public advocate, did not get such a shout-out, however.

Still, the mayor’s magnanimous words to a lawmaker who hasn’t been shy about criticizing him lately is indicative of the celebratory vibe that Adams and his supporters brought to the Hostos theater on Wednesday. An Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble and the Xianix Barrera Flamenco Repertory Company opened for Adams with colorful and energetic performances as guests shuffled into the packed auditorium. A rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Brooklyn High School of the Arts students ahead of the mayor’s speech brought a tear to Speaker Adams’ eyes. 

But anybody expecting the mayor to go in the weeds about the city’s ongoing challenges in sheltering asylum-seekers or about his pressing political fights would have left disappointed. “I think that the tone of the speech was primarily positive. I think there were some good things there, particularly the discussion around social media, making sure we're lifting it up as a public health crisis,” Williams told reporters after the speech. “Ostensibly missing, I think folks know, (was) the discussion around the vetoes that are occurring.”