New York City
What’s Eric Adams’ plan for Albany in 2023?
Last year’s state legislative session was a mixed bag for the New York City mayor. Jan. 1 gives an opportunity for a better session.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams had a rocky relationship with Albany lawmakers during his first legislative session as the city’s top leader. After spending seven years in the state Senate representing parts of Central Brooklyn, Adams was familiar with the legislative process and traditions. But that wasn’t enough to solve all the mayor’s problems.
Adams saw mixed results in achieving several of his top priorities during the last legislative session. The mayor has been vocal about wanting to roll back the state’s 2019 bail reforms, and at times attributed the city’s increased crime rate to those laws – though experts have not found a direct correlation between the two. Though Adams received pushback from several state lawmakers, the Legislature did ultimately pass amendments to the bail reform law, allowing judges to have more discretion in deciding bail, but it didn’t go as far as Adams hoped. While the mayor scored additional big wins with an increased earned income tax credit and funding for childcare subsidies, Adams did also suffer some notable losses. The Legislature only granted Adams a two-year extension of mayoral control of city schools when he wanted longer, and let the 421-a tax program expire when he wanted a replacement. Experts and lawmakers agree Adams has his work cut out for him to improve his relationship with lawmakers and secure additional wins next session.
Allies and enemies in Albany
Relationship building is a key element for anyone hoping to advance political interests in Albany. Adams was able to have some of his priorities in the last session met with the help of Roberto Perez, head of the city’s intergovernmental affairs office, who was key to helping Adams foster a working relationship with state lawmakers. Perez left his role in September for the private sector and City Hall hasn’t yet announced a successor, but outgoing state Sen. Diane Savino is joining the administration and would be expected to play a role. Former Albany staffer and City Hall’s director of state legislative affairs, Christopher Ellis Jr., was also influential in helping the mayor with his priorities in Albany, as was Tiffany Raspberry, Adams’ senior advisor of intergovernmental and external affairs, who oversaw the operation and acted as the main point of contact between City Hall and many legislators.
Lawmakers who earned Adams’ endorsement in their 2022 races will likely be inclined to continue working with Adams next session, including state Sen. Kevin Parker and Assembly Members Eddie Gibbs and Brian Cunningham. During the June primary, Adams faced a political blow when a number of the candidates he endorsed for seats in the state Legislature lost. The mayor made a habit of endorsing incumbents who were facing progressive challenges, or moderate candidates hoping to unseat more progressive incumbents, such as Miguelina Camilo, who was taking on state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, and Conrad Tillard, who was challenging state Sen. Jabari Brisport. This risky move was viewed by political pundits as a way for the mayor to further his moderate political agenda – a move that didn’t pay off well since Rivera and Brisport were able to fend off the challenges.
“(Adams) continues to fail to get his austerity agenda amplified by the state Legislature,” Brisport told City & State. “He was unsuccessful in a lot of measures when reaching out to the state Legislature this year, and picked this strategy this summer of endorsing a bunch of state senators that he hoped would do his bidding in Albany, but they lost,” Brisport said.
Luckily for Adams, his primary endorsements might not hurt relationships that were never personally close in the first place. And there are still incentives for collaboration among legislators and the mayor. In a statement to City & State, Rivera said he is willing to work with the mayor to address the issues facing his constituents. “The mayor and I can collaborate on increasing affordable housing access, building a stronger public health infrastructure, and empowering the community to determine how we transform the Kingsbridge Armory into a true neighborhood asset that directly benefits our community,” Rivera wrote.
George Arzt, a Democratic consultant who serves as president and CEO of George Arzt Communications, underscored the different types of people who are willing to work with Adams within the state Legislature. “(Adams' administration) has people who want to help them because they support his politics. There are people who want to help them because they're his friends. There are people who want to help them because they see their job (as) helping the city of New York,” Arzt said.
Looking ahead to the 2023 legislative session
Bail reform will likely still be a top priority for Adams heading into the next legislative session and the mayor will have to find a way to get progressive lawmakers to revisit additional changes. While the Legislature passed notable bail reform rollbacks, the mayor’s proposed “dangerousness standard” for judges was ultimately not included in the reforms. After the end of session in June, Adams pushed for lawmakers to return for a special session to discuss additional rollbacks throughout the summer. Several lawmakers were opposed to the idea, including Assembly Speaker Heastie.
Adams will not pivot from his crime platform because, as he says, he was elected to address crime in the city. Arzt pointed to Rep. Lee Zeldin’s emphasis on crime during his gubernatorial debate as an indication that New Yorkers are still very concerned about crime. Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul met privately in mid-December to discuss addressing the bail laws heading into the next session, recidivism and more discretion for judges to set bail were among the topics, Politico reported. The mayor further emphasized his stance on recidivism in an interview with the outlet. “We have a real recidivism problem. There’s a pocket of people in this city that have made up their minds: I don’t care how many times you arrest me, I’m going to commit a crime; your criminal justice system is a joke,” Adams said.
But some experts are not optimistic that Adams learned his lesson during the last session about linking crime and bail reform, including Stanley Fritz, movement political director with Citizen Action. “Eric Adams is not really looking to change or make any smarter adjustments. He's gonna come back with the same repeated talking points that have already been disproven, and it's not going to matter,” Fritz said.
With the expiration of the 421-a affordable housing tax incentive program last session, housing is also slated to be a top legislative priority for Adams, who has been showcasing his commitment to addressing the city’s housing crisis for the past several weeks. The mayor will likely continue working with the governor to address creating affordable housing next session – as Hochul prepares to make increasing housing production a key aspect of her upcoming State of the State address next month.
Earlier this month, the Adams’ administration published the “Get Stuff Built” housing report, complete with 111 recommendations, to streamline the development of housing units during the summer. The mayor also announced a plan to build 500,000 homes over the next decade to address the housing crisis plaguing the city and announced the development of affordable housing units with Hochul in East New York. The mayor has also been vocal about making it easier for homeowners to create smaller apartments by legalizing basement apartments and other accessory dwelling units.
In a statement to City & State, a spokesperson for the mayor underscored the administration is looking forward to working with the Legislature and plans to prioritize crime, housing and other key issues affecting New York City during the next session. "From housing, to supporting people living with serious mental illness, to continuing to making our city safer and more just, we have already outlined a number of our priorities and will have more to share in the weeks and months to come,” read the statement.
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