By Joy Bergmann
For more than two hours on the Upper West Side Wednesday night, Mayor Eric Adams fielded questions on some of the neighborhood’s hottest topics: policing, e-bikes, affordable housing, cannabis shops, and more. Headlines from the far-ranging session, however, focused on just seven of his words: “This issue will destroy New York City.”
That issue? Migrants. And the mayor had much to say on the topic. But he had plenty to share on everything else, too. So herewith, WSR’s full account of the community conversation with the man who calls himself a “perfectly imperfect mayor.”
During the first hour of the event, held at PS 191, about 200 Upper West Siders chatted in small groups with city representatives, uncovering common issues and deciding what to ask Adams during the Q&A session that followed.
A Hollywood casting agent could not have assembled a more diverse-looking group of locals. Kids, seniors, young parents, and entrepreneurs leaned in, eager to find solutions to neighborhood problems. Energy level? High. Cordiality? Even higher.
At 7:00 p.m. Adams took the floor. Backing him up on the dais: Local elected officials and some 40 top city executives from every conceivable department – commissioners galore.
As the evening progressed, some clear themes emerged.
The impact of of the migrant influx on NYC
In his opening remarks, Adams expressed escalating frustration with the federal government’s lack of response to New York’s plea for help in handling the influx of migrants to the city.
“We’re getting no support for this national crisis,” said Adams. “And let me tell you something, New Yorkers. Never in my life have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to. I don’t see an ending to this.” Then, the punchline that became the headline of the evening: “This issue will destroy New York City.”
Adams cited the estimated $12 billion price tag for migrant care over the next three years. “Every community in this city is going to be impacted,” he said. “We’re going to have to cut every service in the city.”
[Earlier on Wednesday, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom said that as of Sept. 3, the city had more than 112,300 people in shelters including about 59,700 asylum-seekers. Between Aug. 28 and Sept. 3, the city received 2,700 new asylum-seekers.]
“Now people from all over the globe have made their minds up that they’re going to come through the southern part of the border and come to New York City,” Adams said.
Adams challenged attendees to get involved. “As you ask me questions about migrants, tell me what role you play. How many of you are organizing to stop what they’re doing with us?” referring to “madman” officials in Texas and elsewhere who are directing migrants to NYC.
City Councilmember Gale Brewer asked attending agency representatives to ensure migrant families arriving at West 70th and West 85th Street shelters next week receive “immediate services” to accelerate their integration into the Upper West Side, including schools.
Elizabeth Espert, an educator for 35 years and “proud member of the PS 191 community,” asked officials to “streamline services to newcomers” to lessen stress on families and support public schools expected to enroll an estimated 21,000 asylum-seeking children.
“You’re right,” responded Education Chancellor David C. Banks. “We need to streamline this and communicate best practices all across the city. And we’re going to do that.”
[On Thursday, Banks announced that the Department of Education will offer tenure to every teacher with an up-to-date bilingual education license. “This move will open the door for all Spanish-speaking English Language Learners to get the necessary help they need in learning English at school.”]
Seeking safer streets and consequences for illegal behavior
Multiple community members voiced outrage at e-bikes, mopeds and other vehicles operating recklessly and illegally on UWS streets and sidewalks.
Pamela Greitzer-Manasse shared her experience of being hit by a moped driver, sustaining brain injuries that left her, “somewhat paralyzed, unable to completely care for myself or my children…and losing my livelihood as a cellist.” She asked Adams to support legislation requiring licensing and registration of these “dangerous mopeds,” as part of the E-Vehicle Safety Alliance’s reform agenda.
“I’m deeply, deeply sorry about what happened to you,” said Adams, noting he plans to meet with the EVSA group and will tell Pamela’s story whenever he gets “pushback from people about our crackdowns on illegal mopeds.”
“I know the quality of life of a city that’s out of control. You can’t have a city when people disregard the common decency of their neighbors,” added Adams. “If you don’t have clear rules and standards of behavior, the city will go to pot. We can’t have that.”
Mary Evancho, a 44-year UWS resident asked, “How can we better enforce our existing laws?” She noted a 2017 law passed by the City Council requires bike delivery drivers to wear helmets and vests with ID numbers.
Deputy Mayor for Operations Meeri Joshi confirmed the existence of that law. “But it was passed at a time when delivery drivers were linked back to brick-and-mortar restaurants, and so enforcement could go straight back to the restaurant,” she said. “The Council is working with us on how we incorporate more regulation with the delivery apps.”
Adams agreed to meet with his team to find a way for drivers, restaurants, and delivery apps to be accountable and “follow the law.”
“Something happened in the city over the last few years. Our use of streets changed drastically. We did not adjust to those changes. And we have to do so,” said Adams.
UWS mother of three Alison Gardy said that after seeing “cannabis stores operating illegally” and “marauding groups of e-bikes” racing on the streets, “there’s this sense of despair that creeps in. Because why are they getting to break the rules again? And again and again.”
“What can we do to create consequences for criminal activities?” asked Megan Martin, a 10-year UWS resident, noting concerns about recidivism and the “revolving door” for emotionally disturbed people who are quickly released from hospital emergency rooms following psychiatric evaluations.
“We need to zero in on the extreme recidivists, a small population of people that are committing so many crimes. They’ve made up their mind they want to prey on innocent people,” said Adams. “And then we have to have real, quality-of-life enforcement…but I need your voices,” he said, citing opposition to increased quality-of-life policing that the mayor said is used to peg him as “heavy handed.”
Charles Davis, a lifelong UWS local, asked for better NYPD visibility. “Years ago, you really had community police officers who patrolled and the neighbors knew who the cops were. Now you don’t see a police [officer] like you used to.”
“You should see that visible presence,” replied Adams. “That feeling of seeing the police interacting with the community is a real win.” Adams urged residents to attend NYPD’s monthly Community Council meetings to make their concerns and demands known. [Find meeting times and places on the websites for the 20th Precinct, 24th Precinct, and Central Park Precinct.]
Affordable housing and the 59th Street women’s shelter
Securing an affordable NYC apartment is more difficult now than at any time in the past 20 years, according to recent studies.
On the UWS, “a full 20% of Community Board 7 residents are considered severely rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than 50% of their income on rent,” said City Planning Director Dan Garodnick.
Growing the supply of housing units will ease a crisis Adams characterized as an “inventory problem.”
Garodnick announced one way forward. “Later this fall, we are going to be presenting the mayor’s housing opportunity initiative, which is a zoning proposal.” The zoning changes will add, “a little bit of new housing in every neighborhood.” [Adams and Garodnick recently unveiled a plan for office-to-housing conversions as well.]
Several Upper West Siders said they’d like the new $500 million, 200-bed women’s emergency shelter at 537 W. 59th Street, currently under construction by Project Renewal, to be permanent affordable housing instead.
UWS resident Rachel Nazarian asked Adams, “Can you intervene before building begins? It’s a unique opportunity, and it’s an empty lot at this point.”
“We have to have the emergency housing,” replied Adams. “If someone loses their housing, we’re required by law to place them in housing within a certain period of time.”
“We cannot set up a dichotomy between shelter or housing; it’s really shelter and housing because we have to be able to meet people where they are,” added Molly Wasow Park, commissioner of the Department of Social Services, citing domestic violence and evictions as examples when emergency shelters are needed at the moment someone becomes homeless.
Park also said the city’s Family Homelessness & Eviction Prevention Supplement [FHEPS] is helping keep about 30,000 families in their homes by paying rental subsidies.
In response to a local man’s concern about the UWS being ranked ninth out of the city’s 51 Council Districts in terms of the number of shelters, Adams agreed the neighborhood was doing its share. “It’s called upon all of us to do more than our share right now,” he said, inviting attendees to help him figure out how to “fix this sick shelter system that has perpetuated and has grown into a monster.”
Indefatigable residents kept the queries coming. Lightning round recap:
We need more trash baskets on the street. The Department of Sanitation will be putting more baskets on the UWS and debuting new, rat-proof litter baskets here, too.
Ambulance sirens are too loud, harming health. City Council work is underway to address this.
The clogged bureaucracy is keeping me from obeying the city’s new short-term rental regulations for AirBnB hosting. Adams said his team will figure out the bottleneck and ensure the Office of Special Enforcement doesn’t fine hosts when they still don’t have answers regarding their compliance application.
Waterline Square private streets don’t appear properly on maps. The Department of Transportation is currently mapping the area as public roads.
Residents and tourists need more free, clean, safe, public restrooms. The Parks Department is surveying the globe for smart, inexpensive solutions, including compost toilets.
“One thing is clear,” Adams said with a grin. “No matter who you are or what block you live on, when you gotta go, you gotta go.”
View the entire Q&A session on YouTube.
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