News & Politics

Redistricting rejections and prisoner protests

Rounding up the week’s latest political news.

Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul  at the site of the Bronx fire.

Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul at the site of the Bronx fire. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Two weeks into the new year and it doesn’t look like COVID-19 is quite ready to let everyone have a reprieve. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who just days ago remained adamant that he would keep kids in school, now seems open to at least a partial return to remote learning. Maybe the student walkout demanding for that option really got to him. At the state level, Gov. Kathy Hochul paused elective surgeries for entire upstate regions, an escalation from her previous strategy of targeting individual hospitals as deaths continued to rise. Fingers crossed that the state is reaching its winter peak. Keep reading for the rest of this week’s news.

Evictions are back on the menu

On Jan. 15, the statewide eviction moratorium enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic officially came to an end after Gov. Kathy Hochul declined to extend it, and lawmakers did not take action themselves. That means that a long backlog of eviction cases around the state can begin to proceed, and tenants who were facing imminent eviction prior to the pandemic may find themselves without a home since landlords can now enforce vacate notices. Tenant advocates had hoped the state Legislature would have passed the good cause eviction bill before the moratorium ended, which would restrict the reasons that landlords could kick people out, in hopes that it would help people remain in their homes. But despite protests and rallies from activists, lawmakers did not approve the legislation.

Back to the drawing board

In one of their first acts of the new year, state lawmakers from both parties resoundingly rejected both sets of partisan redistricting maps, sending them back to the Independent Redistricting Commission to make changes. The commission has about two weeks to revise the maps, and hopefully come to a bipartisan agreement on a single set, which they were originally tasked with doing. Realistically, the prospect seems unlikely given the professional animosity between the Democratic and Republican commissioners that characterized the end of their work and was apparent during their final public meeting, with both sides blaming the other for perceived intransigence. If the Legislature rejects the maps the commission sends them a second time, then the task falls to the Democratic lawmakers to draw new district lines themselves, allowing them to engage in gerrymandering the commission was designed to avoid if they so choose. Although the state Senate did approve some things in their first full days of the session, including confirming new Court of Appeals Justice Shirley Troutman and passing a package of voting reform bills.

Discord at Rikers

Issues at the violence-plagued Rikers Island jail complex in New York City are hardly new, but they recently have featured prominently in news coverage. Hundreds of people at the jail have engaged in a hunger strike to protest poor conditions as COVID-19 rapidly spreads among the detained, many of whom remain unvaccinated. Protesters said corrections officers haven’t let them outside in weeks and that temperatures in the jail have been dangerously cold since the start of winter. They also sought to draw attention to violence at the complex, new details of which have come to light thanks to reporting from The New York Times. The paper obtained surveillance videos from the jail that laid bare the extent of the problems as guards simply looked on at a regular “fight night” organized by gang leaders that would force other detainees to participate.

A deadly Bronx blaze

An apartment fire caused by a faulty space heater in the Bronx resulted in 17 deaths, including eight children, making it the deadliest fire New York City has had in decades. Although the space heater caused the initial spark, a door that had not closed properly allowed the fire to spread through the building. The fire resulted in immediate backlash for the building’s owner after city data showed that he had been cited for several recent heat complaints as well as for his position on Mayor Eric Adams’ transition team. The ajar door also drew scrutiny since, by law, all doors in apartment buildings must close automatically to prevent precisely a situation like the one that occurred. At least one tenant in the building had also recently complained about a self-closing door that was not working properly prior to the fire, in addition to a lack of heat.