It’s Been a Frustrating Summer for Eric Adams

Good morning. It’s Thursday. Today we’ll look at City Hall’s strategy to get the word out to constituencies that Mayor Eric Adams says traditional media outlets don’t reach. We’ll also look at tensions that have surfaced between the state and the city over the migrant crisis.

This week Mayor Eric Adams gave his press secretary, Fabien Levy, a new title — deputy mayor for communications. The promotion (with a raise of roughly $40,000) came as City Hall follows a strategy of going around traditional media outlets to reach people directly. I asked Emma G. Fitzsimmons, our City Hall bureau chief, to explain.

The mayor says that traditional media outlets don’t cover his big achievements. How frustrated is he after a year and a half at City Hall?

Adams has been really frustrated lately and trying to defend his record.

It’s been a tough summer for him. The migrant crisis is a major challenge, his approval rating fell to 46 percent and a longtime associate of his was charged in a straw-donor scheme to raise money for his mayoral campaign. Also, The New York Times reported a story about how employees in the mayor’s office created a photo of a police officer killed in the line of duty and made it look old with coffee stains after the mayor said he had long carried it in his wallet.

At the same time, crime is down, and that’s the primary issue that Adams ran on in 2021.

Conservative politicians have long complained that the mainstream press doesn’t give them the treatment they feel they deserve. Isn’t this an unusual strategy for a Democrat?

Adams’s predecessor, Bill de Blasio, was also a Democrat and also complained about the news coverage of his administration. The New York Post, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and often mocked de Blasio, has actually been far more friendly to Adams.

But Adams is clearly concerned about more critical news coverage of serious issues, like his strained relationship with President Biden and his handling of the crisis at the Rikers Island jail complex. Those issues aren’t going away.

What has the mayor already done to bypass traditional media or augment the ways he gets his message out? Have he or Levy said what they have in mind for the future?

The mayor started a podcast, a newsletter and a radio show on WBLS, an R&B station. He introduced hype music before his news conferences — typically “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z — and he fills his events with rows of supporters, creating the feel of a pep rally.

Adams and Levy say they will continue to talk directly to New Yorkers in those ways and others. They also plan to hire a new press secretary to deal directly with reporters, along with a communications director, both of whom will report to Levy.

Adams said that “the antiquated method of communicating with your constituency” through tabloids is no longer “acceptable.” Who, in Adams’s mind, is his constituency? Does traditional media reach them?

Adams has called himself the “first blue-collar mayor,” and his base is working-class voters outside Manhattan, many of whom are Black, Latino and Asian. He is governing with them in mind, so it makes sense that he would do interviews on WBLS and Caribbean Power Jam Radio, which reach those communities.

But Adams has also received support from the business community and the real estate industry, and he understands that traditional media outlets, including The New York Post and The Daily News, drive the news cycle.

What does Levy’s promotion say about the mayor as he gears up for re-election in 2025?

Levy has been the mayor’s press secretary for his first 19 months in office, and he can be combative. The fact that the mayor is taking the unusual step of elevating him to become a deputy mayor shows how focused Adams is on improving his messaging and how much he trusts Levy. Adams prizes loyalty and wants to push back forcefully when he receives criticism, as he did in June when a housing activist confronted him over rent increases. The mayor told her to be respectful and compared her to a plantation owner.


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The latest New York news

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Synagogue “swatting”: The Anti-Defamation League has tracked 26 hoax calls threatening violence at synagogues from New York to California over the last month.

Cannabis license program: New York State made convicted weed dealers the first legal sellers of marijuana. Those who were left out went to court, and a judge paused the state’s licensing effort — the latest setback in a process plagued by bureaucratic delays.


Death of a diva: Renata Scotto, a Metropolitan Opera favorite who was acclaimed for her acting as much as for her voice, died on Wednesday. She was 89.

Celebrity mohel dies: Philip L. Sherman, who circumcised thousands of babies and became a boldface name, was 67.

As the migrant crisis continues, the city and the state feud

The city opened a new shelter for migrants on Tuesday. It’s in the parking lot of a state psychiatric center in Queens.

The key words in that paragraph are “city” and “state.”

Even though both were involved in getting the new shelter going — and even though Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams are both Democrats who have played up the appearance of city-state harmony — there is considerable tension between them on how to handle the surge of migrants who have arrived in New York after crossing the southern border with Mexico.

The discord became apparent in a blistering letter from a lawyer representing Hochul that faulted Adams’s management of the crisis. The letter, written as a response to the city’s demands for state help, said the city needed to “do more to act in a proactive and collaborative manner with the state.” The city, in a letter last week, had asked Albany to pay two-thirds of the cost of sheltering migrants “in the absence of meaningful federal funding.”

Adams maintains that the city is running out of room to shelter migrants as well as money to help them. He has criticized President Biden, also a Democrat, saying that “the president and the White House have failed New York City on this issue.” And New York Democrats have long blamed Washington for a tepid federal response, demanding expedited work permits for migrants, space in federal facilities where they could be house — and more funding.

My colleague Dana Rubinstein, writing with Nicholas Fandos and Luis Ferré-Sadurni, says the letter from the lawyer for the state — and a letter from the city that had asked Albany to cover two-thirds of the cost of sheltering migrants “in the absence of meaningful federal funding” — could change where and how the Democrats focus their attention. Hochul and Adams, in separate statements after the letters became public on Wednesday, sought to minimize the perception of conflict.

But Hochul has increasingly come in for criticism. “The governor’s response so far has been disturbingly inadequate,” said David Giffen, the executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group. “From Day 1, she should have been more involved here on the front lines.”

Fabien Levy, the city’s deputy mayor for communications, said the city appreciated the state’s funding promises and its offer of the shelter city at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens. “But because this is such a significant crisis, we need more,” he said, “including more space around the state and a statewide order that bars localities from passing ordinances that prevent asylum seekers from being relocated to other parts of New York State.”


Laundry time

Dear Diary:

Years ago, I lived in the East Village, in a walk-up on Sixth Street with an air shaft window above the Bangladeshi restaurants that lined the block.

To do my laundry, I had to schlep to Launderette on Second Avenue. Under the harsh fluorescent lights there, I would see the same man every week, washing his restaurant’s heap of blue cloth napkins.

The man had a patch of thinning hair. He was usually in an undershirt and chewing on a betel pepper. He would give me a red-toothed smile, and I would respond with a head-nod hello. He always looked tired.

Seasons changed. The cost of time on the dryer went up 25 cents. It seemed like new owners had taken over. There was art on the walls.

Then one day, the man with the napkins spoke to me.

“My restaurant is closing,” he said, a bulging laundry sack at his feet.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied.

He reached into the sack and dug out a bottle of wine.

“For you,” he said, handing it to me. “My special laundry friend.”

Ali Pearlman

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Kellina Moore, Ashley Shannon Wu and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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James Barron is a Metro reporter and columnist who writes the New York Today newsletter. In 2020 and 2021, he wrote the Coronavirus Update column, part of coverage that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service. He is the author of two books and was the editor of “The New York Times Book of New York.” More about James Barron

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