Already mired in scandal, New York City mayor Eric Adams is now pitting workers against each other by stoking resentment toward migrants and pushing new budget cuts. The city’s corporate class is laughing all the way to the bank.

New York mayor Eric Adams at a press conference at City Hall, November 21, 2023. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Eric Adams, the scandal-ridden mayor of New York City, is having a very bad November. Already under federal investigation for fraud, corruption, and conspiracy, he was hit last week with a civil suit for sexual assault allegations dating to the early 1990s.

But Adams’s personal woes have not dampened his ambitions to impose budget cuts on working-class New Yorkers. The self-described “swagger” mayor is now pushing to slash funding across all city agencies, infuriating a diverse set of constituencies and worsening the city’s cost-of-living crisis for ordinary New Yorkers. While Adams loves to attack socialist elected officials for being out of touch, he has repeatedly pursued policies that favor the rich and well-connected.

On November 2, Adams abruptly left Washington, DC, where he had traveled with other big city mayors to request additional federal funding for asylum-seeking migrants. (New York City has received the bulk of asylum-seekers in the US since 2022, with approximately 118,000 coming from the southern border.) Adams’s quick departure came after the FBI raided the home of an associate close to Adams’s 2021 mayoral campaign and 2025 reelection bid, with agents seizing cell phones, laptops, papers, and other evidence. The raid was the latest in a series of investigations (triggering indictments and guilty pleas) of Adams’s colleagues and donors for potential campaign finance violations and related illegal activities.

Just days after the raid, the FBI quietly seized Adams’s devices, and allegations of improper associations with a Turkish construction company went public (Adams allegedly pressured city officials to expedite an inspection at the Turkish consulate, despite safety concerns). A lawsuit by a former chief of fire prevention revealed additional instances of Adams intervening to get favored businesses pushed to the top of city inspection lists. One recent internal memo from the New York City Fire Department openly listed the “friend of city hall” real estate developers who enjoyed preferential treatment, jumping a long COVID backlog. These scandals and his fumbling of the migrant crisis had already caused Adams’s public support to tumble, with a recent poll showing nearly two-to-one disapproval (56 percent to 37 percent), a rapid turnaround from his first year in office.

But despite the negative press and rumors of his downfall, including the circling of his political rivals at the recent SOMOS event in Puerto Rico (an annual gathering of politicos from New York), Adams has continued full steam ahead with his austerity agenda. On November 16, Adams announced an immediate 5 percent reduction to the budget across all city agencies, blaming the influx of asylum-seekers for straining city services.

Adams is playing a dangerous game. Unless one lives near an emergency shelter, most New Yorkers do not come in contact with asylum-seekers on a daily basis (the other exception is public schools: the city saw an estimated twenty thousand–student increase in enrollment, with many already-underfunded schools scrambling to take in students from migrant families). But the mayor is deliberately turning the city’s attention toward these politically convenient scapegoats, stoking xenophobic resentment over the impending government cuts while enriching his buddies in the corporate class.

That budget axe will be sweeping, affecting every resident who relies on any kind of public service: cuts to popular early childhood education (pre-kindergarten, which was set up to be universal, and 3-K seats); summer school; a $1 billion cut to the Department of Education over two years, including $60 million less in school food programs; and reduced park services, sanitation services, fire services, and library hours and services. Cultural institutions, the City University of New York, domestic violence shelters, and the municipal composting programs will all meet the chopping block. The city’s planned programs for climate and storm resiliency will be put on the back burner. Over 2,100 unfilled vacancies will be eliminated, further burdening existing city employees and worsening access and delivery of important city services. On top of all this, Adams is urging city agencies to find another 5 percent to pare down before he announces his January budget updates (when he plans to slash $2.1 billion in migrant services to protect some city agencies like the New York Police Department from further cuts).

Adams’s attack on city services will inject deep social and economic stress into the lives of ordinary New Yorkers, who are already teetering on the edge. Take childcare. As a September New York Times article profiling a range of families reported:

In a notoriously stratified city experiencing its worst affordability crisis in decades, the skyrocketing cost of child care is one of the few issues that connects working families across geography, race and social class.

All but the wealthiest New Yorkers — even the upper middle class and especially mothers — are scrambling to afford care that will allow them to keep their jobs.

Childcare workers, meanwhile, are poorly paid, and demand for childcare centers is outpacing supply. More and more working-class New Yorkers will wonder whether they can continue to live in the city.

Adams offers few solutions to the pain of these cuts. He has suggested that parents volunteer to help at schools and begged wealthy New Yorkers to contribute to philanthropic organizations to fill gaps in services. Adams clearly recognizes the ability of wealthy New Yorkers to provide the funding needed to fix the city’s budget, but refuses to support additional taxes. New York City, despite claims of capital flight, has 340,000 millionaires (and growing) according to a study by Henley and Partners, and yet the city’s taxes remain regressive.

Most perversely, Adams’s cuts will worsen the migrant crisis, because city services are essential to integrating asylum seekers into the city. As John Hyslop, the president of the Queens Library Guild, Local 1321, told Jacobin, “Queens and all public libraries offer so much to [migrants]. We are resources of information, we have adult learning centers where these migrants are coming to us to learn how to speak and read English. We have social workers at these centers. At the Central library in Jamaica, every day we have a line around the library of people trying to get IDNYC cards. So when we’re cut that’s going to impact our services to migrants.” Likewise, carving up after-school programs, children’s meals, summer school, pre-K, parks, and other city services will heighten the problems Adams is ostensibly seeking to solve.

After his primary victory in 2021, Adams claimed to be “the future of the Democratic Party” —the centrist counterweight to young socialist elected officials like Alexandrian Ocasio-Cortez. But the latest rounds of cuts and scandals demonstrate that Adams still doesn’t grasp a simple truth: New York, like any other city, can only thrive when it meets the basic needs of all.

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