NYC Subway

New York Mayor Eric Adams rides the subway to City Hall on Jan. 1, his first day in office. Adams says the New York City subway system must be safe and New Yorkers must "feel safe" in the system.

The first few weeks of Eric Adams mayoralty, and he has already made a great deal of news and stirred some controversy. He has been criticized on social media and by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for saying “low-skilled workers [who are a significant part of his political base] lack the academic skills to sit in a corner office.”

What motivated Adams to speak so clumsily was his well-intentioned desire for larger businesses to return to in-person work for at least a few days a week for the sake of the city’s economy — emphasizing how much restaurants and their employees depend on the business of office workers. He even floated the idea of starting out with a three-day week to let people see how safe it is to come back to work. (It’s important to be aware that New York City’s restaurant, retail and recreation sectors continue to struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic, even before the latest surge in cases, with 169,700 fewer jobs in November than from two years ago.)

Adams’ words come as a slew of Manhattan-based companies, such as JPMorgan Chase, have revised their back-to-office plans amid the recent surge in omicron cases.

The swaggering, charming, ever-smiling, hyperactive Adams wants to get “stuff done” and he has moved much more rapidly than the dour, slow, unlikable Bill de Blasio ever did. He has made a number of decisions to keep the city open, stating: “We have to open up. What we must understand is the resiliency of returning back to a normal life. If we don’t open our cities, there are almost a million people that are behind in their rents right here in this city.”

As a result, he has opened the schools after the holidays, despite widespread absences of students and staffing shortages that saw administrators scrambling to cover classes. In addition, the head of the city’s teachers union, Michael Mulgrew, said that in-person learning might not be sustainable in light of the number of school staff members who were out due to COVID. Adams, however, has argued that the city’s Black and brown students could not afford the “luxury” of learning remotely — but an analysis suggests those students are staying home in greater numbers than their white counterparts. There is division within Black and brown communities on the value of online schooling. A Black mother of two in Brooklyn told WNYC she agrees with the decision to keep schools open, calling it crucial for the many low-income families of color in her community who are unable to work remotely. Another mother said: “Across the board, Black and brown families have decided when we feel safe sending our kids to school, and when we don’t feel safe sending our kids to school, we keep them home.”

This battle over how to handle schools amid an increase in coronavirus cases, driven largely by the omicron variant, marks the first major test for the new mayor, who was elected in part on a promise to bring more equity to city services.

Also, days before being sworn in, Adams said he plans to keep former Mayor de Blasio’s vaccine mandate for private-sector employers in place, even though the policy is expected to be challenged in court.

Like his predecessor, Adams said he’ll focus on testing and vaccinations, while making a concerted effort to avoid shutdowns.

In another decision, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Adams announced that they’re planning to send “hundreds” of cops into the transit system to target higher-crime stations and to patrol the trains. The mayor insisted, however, that police officers won’t be tasked with harassing homeless riders — a statement that drew skepticism from advocates for the homeless.

It looks like the mayor and governor have understood the necessity of getting along. She needs his political base, and he needs the state’s help in funding city services. Nobody wants a return to the infantile feuding, put-downs and disunity of the be Blasio/Cuomo years.

Despite the macho rhetoric and the demonstration of his vitality — a visit to a Queens firehouse where Adams slid down a firehouse pole wearing a tie and dress slacks, and some salting of a stoop — it’s much too early to know what Adams will ultimately accomplish. Still, he greeted his first city snowfall, and he was as responsive and sympathetic to the victims to the five-alarm Bronx fire — the deadliest in the city in the last 30 years — as a new mayor must be. He has a true gift for playing the role of the activist and extremely confident mayor.

One difficulty Adams may have is that he is courting controversy by appointing Philip Banks as his deputy mayor of public safety. Banks is a close ally and former New York City police chief, who resigned in 2014 amid a corruption scandal.

Adams always gives the feeling that he is careless about being tainted by more than a touch of sleaze and corruption. Of course, this is just a beginning for Adams, who will have much more to do than show how physically fit he is to govern the city.

Leonard Quart can be reached at cinwrit@aol.com.