New York City

In vision for the city, Speaker Adams lays out plan to hold City Hall accountable

Affordable housing, government accountability, mental health resources, and filling city vacancies took center stage during the speaker’s third State of the City address.

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams delivers her third state of the city address at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams delivers her third state of the city address at the Brooklyn Academy of Music John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has been increasingly willing to challenge Mayor Eric Adams over policy disagreements in the last year, leading votes to override mayoral vetoes and most recently filing a lawsuit against his administration. On Wednesday, still in the early part of her third year as leader of the council, Speaker Adams suggested that the council won’t be taking its foot off the gas.

Speaker Adams delivered her third State of the City address on Wednesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, offering a vision for the future of New York City that drew attention to some familiar areas of focus – creating pathways to affordable housing, creating mental health supports for young people, bolstering the city’s workforce and tackling maternal health disparities, among others. Some of those priorities aligned with ones that Mayor Adams highlighted at his own State of the City address in January, including the speaker’s call for state action to allow more flexibility in how and where the city can build housing.  

But lest it be lost on anyone, Speaker Adams immediately drew attention to the ongoing budget negotiations between the council and City Hall, noting the apropos nature of the venue that hosted members of the City Council and other city leaders on Wednesday, including Mayor Adams. “It’s fitting that we’ve gathered here because our arts and cultural institutions are the heartbeat of our city,” Speaker Adams said of BAM, the historic performing arts center, in prepared remarks. “If we want to remain the world’s cultural capital, our city must make the necessary investments so that these institutions, and our stories, can exist now and in the future.”

The City Council is in the middle of a series of public hearings reviewing Mayor Adams’ preliminary budget proposal for the next fiscal year, and is once again fighting back against budget cuts to city agencies from the administration. In addition to calling for restored funding to the Department of Cultural Affairs and the city’s library systems, Speaker Adams also criticized budget cuts to the city’s early childhood education programs. “Early childhood education supports long-term development in children and enables parents to pursue greater career opportunities,” she said. “Yet funding cuts and bureaucratic challenges in the management of 3-K has weakened the program, leaving families in doubt.”

In addition to her remarks that restate the council’s priorities in the months of budget negotiations that lie ahead, Speaker Adams’ address on Wednesday included new proposals that reassert the council’s aim to increase oversight and hold the Adams administration accountable. 

A new initiative, first reported by City & State, will have the City Council conduct its own evaluations of the city agencies’ performance that aims to provide a fuller picture than the twice-yearly Mayor’s Management Report, which comes out of the mayor’s office.

In another new proposal, Adams said that the council will hold the city accountable for the requirements to build new protected bus and bike lanes under the Streets Master Plan passed in 2019. The council will pursue legislation that requires the city Department of Transportation to maintain a capital projects tracker to measure progress on projects under the plan, she said.  “As a co-equal branch of government, our duty is to turn these ideas into effective laws and to conduct oversight,” Speaker Adams said. “But laws and policies are only as good as their implementation.”

While Speaker Adams and Mayor Adams have clashed over policy and budget issues, the two Southeast Queens natives have publicly attested to being able to maintain a good working relationship. The mayor’s State of the City address in January took place in the middle of a spirited, and at times bitter, fight between City Hall and the council over two pieces of law enforcement-related legislation. (The council successfully voted to override the mayor’s veto of both bills.) But despite high tensions at the time, Mayor Adams shared his affection with the council leader during his address. “Speaker Adrienne Adams, I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. 

While Speaker Adams wasn’t as effusive on Wednesday, she offered an enthusiastic shout out to the mayor, who was seated next to Attorney General Letitia James. At several points, she seemed to address the mayor directly. “I am prepared, mayor. Prepared to lead by example, so watch this,” the speaker said to a roar of applause, as she described a proposal that would see housing built at the Aqueduct Racetrack in her own Southeast Queens district.

Speaker Adams’ address drew attention to some other new and familiar priorities for the City Council. Filling persistent vacancies in city government has been an ongoing focus for the council. Over the last two years, members have expressed a bevy of concerns that agency vacancy rates have led to a deterioration in critical city services. Speaker Adams emphasized as much during her State of the City speech last year, promising to expand a pipeline to get people from the correctional system into civil service jobs. 

City vacancies continue to be a problem, and until recently, Mayor Adams’ administration has had a hiring freeze in effect as a cost savings measure. As of Sep. 2023, there were over 20,000 vacant municipal positions, according to the speaker’s office. One of Speaker Adams’ major proposals unveiled Wednesday would create a two-track employment initiative through a partnership with District Council 37, the city’s largest public sector union.  One track would create a pathway from the City University of New York programs to careers in city government. The other would be designed to help underemployed communities – including young people and eligible asylum-seekers – enter the workforce through seasonal city agency positions. 

Pointing to the need for more affordable housing and the role every neighborhood should play in helping the city meet its production targets, Speaker Adams said the council will work to support development opportunities on existing library branches – while bolstering their funding – and on city-owned land. The Council will also introduce legislation aimed at informing homeowners and individuals slated to inherit property about the market value of their homes along with a new assistance program to help protect them from predatory real estate practices, she said.

The speaker also emphasized mental health, announcing plans to introduce legislation to create a program that will address fourth trimester mental health issues and legislation that would require the city to develop and provide peer-to-peer mental health support models for students. Speaker Adams also proposed creating a new team consisting of government and non-profit professionals tasked with developing a roadmap of best practices for welcoming and stabilizing new migrant arrivals. “Our economic and job recovery has been uneven, and we must provide opportunities for people at every level to succeed,” she said.

With a line wrapping well around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, proceedings didn’t kick off until around 20 minutes after the scheduled start time. The arts center was packed with her fellow council members, the mayor and much of his staff, City Comptroller Brad Lander, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, several borough presidents, and James. Also in the audience – at least two protesters who stood up during the speaker’s address to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. They were quickly removed from the room by security.