New York City

City Council will test its own strength with criminal justice veto overrides

The debate over the How Many Stops Act reached a fever pitch this weekend, after Council Member Yusef Salaam was pulled over by the NYPD.

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has readied the council for a showdown with the mayor on Tuesday.

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has readied the council for a showdown with the mayor on Tuesday. Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

Two consequential votes to override mayoral vetoes in the New York City Council on Tuesday will test the body’s strength as a co-equal branch of government, as well as that branch’s vulnerability to splintering.

The City Council will vote on whether to override Mayor Eric Adams’ recent vetoes of two bills passed by the council at the end of last year. One requires more police reporting on lower-level investigative encounters in a bid to bring more transparency to those stops. The other bans the use of solitary confinement in city jails, citing the physical and psychological harm that the prolonged isolation can cause.

While Adams has fought both bills – speaking out against them immediately before they were passed, and then a lot more after the fact – it’s the police reporting bill that has garnered more attention and could end up being a closer vote. Known as the How Many Stops Act, the legislation has been met with fierce opposition from the New York City Police Department and Adams, who have said the requirements to report basic information about lower-level stops will tie officers up in administrative work, preventing them from being on the street and fighting crime.

The bill passed with a narrow veto-proof majority in December of 35 votes, one vote above that key threshold. The solitary confinement ban passed with 39 votes, by comparison. While the mayor also opposes the solitary confinement ban – he denies that the practice is even used in city jails – he has a better chance of defeating one override by convincing two of the “yes” votes on the How Many Stops Act to change their minds.

In the past few weeks, Adams has led a vigorous campaign to do so and has claimed that some council members who voted for the bill have told him privately that they have problems with it. But as of Monday, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and other leaders behind the scenes were still expressing confidence that they have enough votes to override the veto.

Among the solid votes to override are the council’s most progressive members, along with loyalists and allies of Speaker Adams. And while two of the members who were among the bill’s 35 “yes” votes last year are no longer in the council, their votes will be made up by those of new Council Members Yusef Salaam and Chris Banks, who have both confirmed that they’ll vote to override the veto. As the new chair of the Public Safety Committee, Salaam has been particularly outspoken about overriding this veto, and doubled down on that stance over the weekend, after he was pulled over while driving a car with tinted windows and out-of-state plates. The officer quickly let Salaam go without any consequence after Salaam identified himself as a council member. But according to Salaam, others who overheard the police stop and an audio recording of the interaction, the officer didn’t answer when Salaam asked why he was stopped. To Salaam and others expressing outrage at the encounter, it served as an example of why more transparency is needed from the NYPD. Critics of the bill saw it as an attempt to get out of a ticket and unrelated to the legislation, which wouldn’t apply to this kind of vehicle stop. It’s unclear if the event will sway any council votes – and Salaam himself was already a solid “yes” vote.

While most of the Democratic conference voted in favor of the bill in December, a handful did not. At least a few of those people could change their votes in favor of the bill on Tuesday. The Daily News reported that Council Member Erik Bottcher, who voted against the bill last year, and Council Member Linda Lee, who abstained, are now leaning toward voting in favor of it.

As part of his effort to turn the tide against the bill, Mayor Adams invited council members on a ride-along with NYPD officers Saturday night. “I just really commend them for doing so, because we should see firsthand the policies and laws we pass – how does it impact everyday New Yorkers who are doing this job,” Mayor Adams said in an interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Monday.

Several council members who were on that ride-along called it productive and informative, but declined to say how they would be voting on Tuesday, including Council Members Oswald Feliz and Kamillah Hanks, who previously served as chair of the Public Safety Committee. Both Feliz and Hanks voted for the bill in December. Council Members Gale Brewer and Rafael Salamanca Jr., who also went on the ride-along and who also voted for the bill in December, similarly declined to say how they would be voting on Tuesday.

One council member who was granted anonymity to discuss ongoing conversations said late last week that the vote on Tuesday is not just a fight about policy, but an institutional fight. “The prevailing feeling is that we must protect our institutional power as a co-equal branch of government,” the council member said. “We believe very strongly in standing up for Speaker Adams. This is about institutional power here.”