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How NYC Mayor Eric Adams lost a major bill battle and alienated key allies

The alarm bells around a police transparency bill started ringing almost a year ago at the highest levels of the NYPD.

City Hall staffers involved in the negotiations said top police brass, including Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, were pushing back against the bill, which would require police to report demographic information on all investigative encounters with civilians. The mayor’s legislative team was going back and forth with Council staffers, as police officials argued the inclusion of the lowest-level stops would impose an onerous burden on beat cops.

But throughout those roughly 10 months, one person was conspicuously absent from the negotiations, according to two city officials familiar with the process: Mayor Eric Adams, the former police officer who has staked his mayoralty on improving public safety and prides himself on being intimately involved in policing matters.

It was not until mid-December, one week left before the vote on the bill, when Adams finally called council members most involved with the bill. By then, the Council’s longstanding legislative process didn’t allow for text changes. And Adams’ team had been unwilling to offer any counter proposals to reach a compromise.

The heavily Democratic Council went on to pass the bill, along with another one banning solitary confinement, by a wide margin. After the mayor vetoed both bills, city lawmakers overrode his vetoes last week by an even wider one.

Adams’ latest defeat, the second veto override of his two-year tenure, is part of a pattern in an administration that has been caught flat-footed on multiple policy matters and failed to cultivate relationships with key Democrats, according to six current and former city officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity either to discuss private conversations or out of fear of retribution from the mayor’s office.

Charles Lutvak, a spokesperson for Adams, declined to comment on the record about the criticisms. Instead, he referred back to remarks the mayor made last month on the bill, commending his legislative team for their negotiations with Council leaders.

According to administration officials, the team could not negotiate on “Level 1” stops, such as offering carve-outs, because the stops are legally defined in a state Court of Appeals decision.

The mayor now heads to Albany on Tuesday to pitch state lawmakers on his priorities as they begin crafting the budget and their legislative priorities. He makes the trip as he is increasingly isolated within his own party and as polls show him as unpopular with voters. At a time when he needs support from Democrats on education, the migrant crisis and housing, the mayor appears to be losing allies.

A “full-throttle” response

Those with an up close view of the mayor’s office describe an intergovernmental affairs team that suffers from a lack of legislative experience and a clear chain of command. Adams has empowered a tight inner circle of advisers led by his chief adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin to intervene in certain policy matters, according to both current and former City Hall staffers.

The result can lead to paralysis when it comes to decision-making and knowing when to involve the mayor, several people who have watched Council negotiations up close said. Adams’ last-minute intervention in the Council bill, they say, was both a critical legislative misstep and overestimation of his power.

“You need to have a lot of conversations, particularly on bills that could be seen as controversial,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, a former Council speaker. “But If you’re coming in at the end of the conversation, the message it sends is that this isn’t a priority and at that point there’s very little that you can do.”

The work of lobbying the Council, especially one whose politics are significantly to the left of his own, does not come naturally to Adams, according to Basil Smikle, a former Democratic political strategist who now teaches at Hunter College. Adams previously served as a state senator and Brooklyn borough president.

“He’s not accustomed to playing the inside politics of the Council,” Smikle said.

Adams may also be leaning on an era when mayors could rely on the help of a few power brokers to get his message across.

“That doesn’t exist anymore,” Smikle said. “So his involvement in city governance requires more of his personal engagement and expenditure of his own political capital.”

After issuing his latest veto, Adams waged an unusually aggressive campaign-style attack that involved two elaborate videos on social media. He warned that the new rules would make the city less safe during multiple media interviews and public events.

A video clip of him railing about the bill beside a pair of smiling teenagers at a Bar Mitzvah went viral. He scolded powerful real estate executives at a gala for the Real Estate Board of New York for not speaking out against the legislation. The tongue-lashing came at a moment when the administration is seeking to partner with the industry to build more affordable housing and when Adams is looking to fundraise for both his legal defense fund in response to a public corruption investigation into his campaign and what could be a competitive re-election campaign.

At one point, he sparked a personal feud with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who sponsored the bill. Williams, a progressive, has disagreed with the mayor at times but also served as an important ally on issues including the migrant crisis.

“I find it astonishing that we have a public advocate who pushed for this police bill,” Adams said. “He lives in a fort.” The reference was to Williams’ civilian residence in the heavily protected Fort Hamilton Army base.

The recent public battle with the Council also highlighted a spiteful side to the mayor’s office.

During the Council’s press conference with faith leaders about the bill that took place inside the City Hall rotunda, one of the mayor’s top aides tried to take away chairs from reporters attending the event.

Last week, the Daily News reported that Councilmember Shaun Abreu was told not to attend a sanitation event with the mayor after he refused to criticize and introduce an amendment to the policing bill during the override vote.

The slight was not without political risk. In addition to chairing the sanitation committee, Abreu is a protégé of Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a powerful ally of the mayor who was a key endorser in his 2021 campaign and has helped him in Latino communities.

“Everything with this mayor is full throttle,” Mark-Viverito said. “There doesn’t seem to be much room for negotiation because it’s my way or the highway.”

“At the end of the day, the city is the one who suffers,” she added.

Tin ear, tin cup

The defeat now hangs over Adams as he heads to Albany, a lion’s den even for popular New York City mayors, making their annual Albany pilgrimage — known as “Tin Cup Day” — to seek budget dollars and legislation friendly to the city.

On Tuesday, he will come to the table with a hefty wish list that includes changes in state law that would allow the city to build more housing and crack down on unlicensed weed shops, as well as securing more funding for the migrant crisis.

In what will likely be the most closely watched issue this year, Adams is also asking the state legislature to renew his control of city schools at a moment when large school districts across the country are reconsidering the model.

Adams counts a small handful of state lawmakers among his allies, including Assemblymembers Jennifer Rajkumar of Queens and Eddie Gibbs of Manhattan.

But many in the Democrat-led state Legislature are far more skeptical and will be looking to grill him about any number of issues, particularly when it comes to education and housing.

During his first year, Adams’ consistent criticism of bail reform as a factor in the city’s crime rates drew the ire of Democratic leaders, for opening up what proved to be a successful line of attack from Republicans. Gov. Kathy Hochul found herself in a tighter than expected race against her GOP opponent Lee Zeldin. Republicans flipped four congressional seats, helping to tip the balance of power in their favor in the House.

The Legislature returned the favor, granting the mayor only two years of mayoral control. Lawmakers revised bail reform but not to the extent Adams sought. And they also didn’t respond to his request to keep 421-a, a generous tax break program for developers.

“It doesn’t help the mayor — whoever the mayor is — by opposing the state Legislature outright, and in some ways trying to embarrass or shame the Legislature into doing his bidding,” said state Sen. John Liu, who represents Queens and chairs the New York City education committee. “That’s just not the way the Legislature works.”

Liu said he expected Adams would not repeat the mistake.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a Brooklyn Democrat who previously served as Adams’ counsel when he was Brooklyn borough president, spoke positively about the mayor’s outreach to Albany.

“I can say that for the priorities that the mayor has had, especially for the ones that I share, I’ve heard from the mayor’s team over and over again,” Gournades said. “From my perspective, they’re doing okay on that front.”

The mayor’s office appeared to anticipate questions about last week’s legislative loss during a press conference on Monday.

Prior to meeting with reporters inside the City Hall’s Blue Room, Adams made a switch to his walk-on music, subbing out Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” for “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled.

Asked whether he would use a different approach with the Council next time, the mayor downplayed the clash as “a healthy form of our democracy.”

He then displayed a PowerPoint slide showing there had been 68 Council override votes under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire Republican, and later Independent, who opposed the Council on some of its labor and homeless shelter policies.

“My job was to have my intergovernmental affairs to meet with the team and talk about it,” Adams said. “And you don’t you don’t get a W on everything.”

“I did my job as the mayor,” he added.

Jon Campbell contributed reporting.

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