Mayor Adams & Co. Talk to East Siders During Town Hall

It seemed that most of City Hall’s top deputies attended the Feb. 12 town hall event, which was held at Murray Hill Academy. Audience members asked questions about “quality-of-life” issues and rent burdens, as well as brought up concerns about the possible closure of Beth Israel Hospital.

| 16 Feb 2024 | 10:30

On the evening of February 12, while awaiting for a sizable snow storm to hit, a large contingent of city officials shuffled down to the Murray Hill Academy and held a town hall with locals. Mayor Eric Adams spearheaded the event, which was formally known as the East Midtown iteration of the “Community Conversation with Eric” series.

The town hall was kicked off by Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, who brought up his concerns over Beth Israel’s possible closure.

“The Beth Israel campus of Mt. Sinai has proposed to close. It would really be a big blow downtown, where we’ve lost many hospital beds. It would impact Bellevue,” he said. Many people in the crowd cheered.

Eric Adams then rose out of his seat and told the audience “to take public transportation [on Tuesday]” during the storm if they could do so, since “it makes it easier for our plows to get around.” He then gave a campaign speech of sorts, boasting about declining shooting rates and the implementation of high-speed WiFi in NYCHA housing.

These are “real Ws,” he said. He claimed he achieved them through resiliency, which he first obtained by learning how to overcome bullying as a child: “When you walk into a classroom as a third grader, and you see somebody write ‘Dumb Student’ on the back of it, you still have to learn. You become thick-skinned.”

A protestor who briefly interrupted him, angry about his cuts to library funding, clearly disagreed with that triumphal narrative. You have to be “prepared for people” to “let you know how they feel,” he said.

Then it was time to answer audience questions. David, who represented the “Table 1” group of audience members, asked Mayor Adams what he believed the top five “quality-of-life” issues facing NYC residents were.

He deputized various commissioners to essentially answer the question for him. Jessica Tisch, the Sanitation Commissioner, joked that “we’re doing something very novel, which is actually putting our trash in containers.” By “copying what the rest of the world is doing” by doing away with trash bags, she said, she hoped the city would see a reduction in an “all-you-can-eat buffet for rats.”

Sue Donoghue, the Parks Commissioner, brought up a budget boost that would aid in the city’s effort to plant trees. This would divert storm water, and help with “all the issues we’re seeing with climate change.”

Commissioner Rodriguez, the Transportation Commissioner, brought up a record low in pedestrian fatalities–which does not hold true for cyclists–in NYC, which he contrasted with spiking pedestrian fatalities nationwide.

Mayor Adams concluded that “quality of life is public safety. Quality is life means we want our streets clean. Quality of life is dealing with mental health.”

Audience questions followed. Sam Penix mentioned the sheer amount of “desperate situations that people find themselves in,” and said that “these contribute to behaviors that make us all less safe.”

“Drug addiction, loss of affordable housing, migrants coming here, the unhoused. These people don’t ask to be in these situations, right? They need our support. When our neighbors struggle, we struggle. How are you all going to reduce this desperation? Why are your hands tied?” he asked.

Mayor Adams, on the defensive, said that his office could use Penix as a volunteer. He offered to “connect” with him, as part of a community partnership.

Anne Greenberg, a resident of Stuyvesant Town–Peter Cooper Village, said that rent-stabilized apartments at the complex were “essential for people of modest means.”

However, she also said that “too many people are paying more than 50 percent of their income to rent, 30 percent of their income to rent.” Under Eric Adams’s Rent Guidelines Board, she noted, “we’ve been slammed again.”

Greenberg asked the mayor what he was going to give to the “millions around this city that can’t afford to move, and that can’t afford a safe place to live?”

Adams took the question as an attack on landlords, specifically “Black and Brown landlords” that “have their wealth tied to their property. I gotta protect those small property owners.”

Greenberg then pointed out that “most landlords are not small landlords, they’re really big landlords. My landlord is the biggest landlord on the planet. I think you can’t keep pushing that small landlord narrative, because it’s not the whole story.”

”I strongly disagree with you,” Adams told Greenberg.

Another man who lived in Stuy Town told the mayor about a friend who had a heart attack playing soccer, and would’ve died if not for his proximity to Beth Israel. He didn’t mince words when he asked the mayor if he supported keeping the hospital open.

Adams was rather ambiguous on the issue, at first acknowledging that “our team was not briefed on the closing of the hospital. We are going to find out exactly what the plans are.” Nonetheless, he seemed to imply that the hospital may very well close, and said that “we’re going to pick up any slack...from not having a hospital in this community.”

Finally, a man who identified himself as Eddie offered a question that many people seemed to have on their minds: “How do we get cars, bikers, and pedestrians to respect each other in this city?”

Beginning with an anecdote about watching his son buy toothpaste on Amazon recently, Mayor Adams mused about the logistics of a rapidly digitizing world. “Nobody goes in stores anymore,” he observed, and this meant that streets were being restructured to accommodate more delivery bikes and mopeds.

His takeaway was that “we have to learn the right decorum of using these busy streets.”