Mayor Adams: Requiring pre-approval of migrant contracts ‘defies logic’

The Adams administration lashed out at Brad Lander after the city comptroller stripped City Hall of its power to enter into emergency contracts.

First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright and Mayor Eric Adams attend an off-topic press conference at City Hall on Dec. 5, 2023.

First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright and Mayor Eric Adams attend an off-topic press conference at City Hall on Dec. 5, 2023. Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander’s recent decision to strip the mayor of his power to spend freely on migrants “defies logic,” according to Mayor Eric Adams. The mayor said Lander, freshly returned from advocating for new arrivals in D.C., should spend less time criticizing and more time “standing together” with other city leaders to come up with real answers to the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

“We have to make these quick decisions on dealing with these contracts and dealing with placing people in housing, so I’m a little disappointed that when he returned from D.C., he didn't come back with any real answers,” Adams said at his weekly Tuesday off-topic briefing. 

Until recently, Adams had the authority to enter into and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on emergency contracts related to the influx of asylum-seekers. But after warning in September that he may limit Adams’ power if the city continued choosing too many unqualified vendors, Lander reportedly notified city agencies last week that he had revoked Adams’ approval to enter emergency contracts for migrant services from Nov. 30 forward. All future spending, he said, would have to first be approved by the comptroller’s office. 

A report released by Lander’s office Thursday found that city agencies submitted 84% of emergency contract packages 30 days after its start date, violating city procurement rules. “When New York City faces an emergency, agencies must manage unexpected circumstances as nimbly and efficiently as they can,” Lander said in a statement. “However, agencies navigating emergency procurements should not defer reporting deadlines and must adhere to guidance around transparency, accountability, and greater cost efficiency when stewarding city dollars.”

Going forward, city agencies under Adams will need to request emergency authorization on an individual basis. Contracts that go through New York City Health + Hospitals, which has a slew of emergency contracts in place applying to migrants, would not be impacted.

It was all hands on deck responding to Lander’s decision during the Tuesday briefing. First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright argued that if the Adams administration had gone through the regular process the city would “probably still be waiting” for the first contract to be registered. “When you have 3,600 people coming in in a week and you need to house them, you need to be able to act quickly. You cannot wait 12 months for a contract to be registered,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom emphasized the importance of flexibility and said that the city does not need anyone “tying our hands” as it scrambles to manage the crisis and make sure no families and children end up sleeping on the streets. “Anybody who wants to think that what they need to do at this time is try and limit us, I don’t get how you get to that conclusion,” Williams-Isom said. “We are concerned about the budget, we are cutting the budget 20% – we are going to find efficiencies, but we need support. We don’t need people pointing fingers at us.”

Adams and Lander have butted heads for months over their respective handling of the migrant crisis. Lander has criticized the city for spending too much on emergency measures instead of investing in long-term planning, while Adams has repeatedly knocked the comptroller for not doing enough to get the city aid from the federal government.