NEW YORK — In February, Mayor Eric Adams stood in a downtown Manhattan subway station to unveil his plan to improve public safety in the transit system, calling it a central part of his campaign promise to crack down on crime and gun violence in New York City.
“Public safety and justice, they are the prerequisite to prosperity,” Adams said at the time. “It must begin here in our subway system.”
Almost two months later, Adams finds himself responding to a horrific shooting in a Brooklyn subway station that injured at least 16 people during the morning rush — all while the mayor is quarantined with Covid-19.
The former NYPD captain has earned a national reputation as a tough-on-crime Democrat. President Joe Biden met with the new mayor just over a month into his tenure to announce joint plans to curtail gun violence. And Adams has paid particular attention to crime underground, increasing the number of police officers to patrol subway stations and trains.
But Tuesday’s incident comes at a vulnerable point for the mayor, who is typically the first to arrive at the scene of even much smaller crimes. Adams lamented his cloistered situation in a virtual interview with the NY1 news station: “You know me, you know I want to be on the ground,” he said from his official Gracie Mansion residence on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Adams also appeared to contradict senior law enforcement officials who were on the scene of the shooting Tuesday. While the mayor said on CNN he hadn’t ruled out terrorism, his police commissioner declared at an earlier press conference outside the Brooklyn subway station that the incident wasn’t being investigated as an act of terror. The suspect is still at large.
The mayor, who has previously defined success as eliminating “any shootings in my city,” said on NY1 Tuesday that the incident stems from an “overproliferation” of guns nationally.
“The problem we’re facing is a problem that is hitting our entire nation right now,” Adams said in a CNN interview earlier Tuesday. “And that is why this is a national response. We need a national response to this issue.”
Adams also cast the blame on “the revolving door of the criminal justice system” that he said has kept dangerous people on streets. Adams has called for changes to bail reform beyond what was recently enacted in the state budget process to allow more circumstances where a judge can set bail.
Transit crimes jumped over 75 percent in January compared to the same period last year, according to city data. Major crime across the city is up 44 percent.
The NYPD is doubling police presence underground in the wake of the attack. Adams expressed “confidence” that the suspect would be apprehended.
But the terrifying incident clashes with Adams’ attempts to champion the city’s recovery from Covid-19, including going to nightclubs and shows as well as lifting the vaccine mandate for restaurants and other venues. He has encouraged tourists to come back and “spend money” and urged employers to get their workers back into the office.
Midtown Manhattan is still recording some of the lowest foot traffic in the city as white-collar workers opt for entirely remote or hybrid schedules. Subway ridership, while recovering, is still down more than 40 percent, driven by the decline in work trips.
Adams has spoken openly about the impact the subway system has on the city’s overall economic recovery from the pandemic, saying in February that, “if we don’t get [it] right, our city won’t continue to recover from Covid.”
While Tuesday’s shooting complicates that message, Adams said New Yorkers are “resilient” and the city will move forward.
“If I was not quarantining in Gracie Mansion … I would be on that subway system,” Adams said in another local TV interview with News 12.
Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.