Bill de Blasio is deploying a sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate in his final act as New York mayor but isn’t pulling out the stops to combat rising crime, befuddling critics who say the liberal leader is leaving twin headaches for Mayor-elect Eric Adams.
They say Mr. de Blasio’s edict to require shots for private-sector workers and demand proof of vaccination from children could turn into a distraction for cops trying to deal with rising rates of every major criminal offense except burglary.
“He’s inviting police into the problem he created. Who is going to enforce this stuff? They always get the short end of the stick,” said Joseph Giacalone, a retired New York Police Department sergeant and an adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, unwrapped a holiday surprise Monday by telling every private employer in the city to require COVID-19 vaccines by Dec. 27. He also roped children ages 5-11 into a policy that requires proof of vaccination for entry to restaurants, performance halls and other social venues.
Pundits said Mr. de Blasio, eyeing a governor’s bid, issued the heavy-handed rules to notch a late win against COVID-19, even as New Yorkers fault his records on quality of life and crime, which worsened in the final two years of his second term.
An Adams spokesman said the next mayor will evaluate the policy once he takes office on Jan. 1. Other aides were blunter in a private conversation with the New York Post.
“I think for the outgoing mayor to announce something like this knowing that the implementation and enforcement would entirely be the responsibility of the next mayor is a real big ‘Eff you,’” an Adams spokesman told the newspaper this week. “I think anything the outgoing mayor tries to implement at the eleventh hour is really on the table. This won’t be some long-standing policy that would need to be reversed.”
A vaccine mandate for city workers is being litigated. A New York Supreme Court judge will hear arguments Tuesday on a request for a temporary restraining order to stop the mandate.
Curtis Sliwa, the Republican nominee who lost the mayor’s race to Mr. Adams, said Mr. de Blasio’s comfort zone has always been fighting the pandemic, not crime.
Mr. Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels patrol group and frequent critic of Mr. de Blasio, said the mayor didn’t like it when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stole the limelight in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Now he’s got the field to himself,” Mr. Sliwa said. “That’s his sweet spot. But he’s never, ever been prime time when it comes to crime.”
Homicides in New York surged a record 47% in 2020, from 319 to 468. The city is on pace to exceed the 2020 body count by the end of this year.
The crime numbers are far from what they once were. In 1990, the homicide count was 2,200.
COVID-19 deaths overall have receded from the height of the pandemic in 2020. The city has recorded about 9,200 deaths so far this calendar year, down from about 20,000 in 2020.
Mr. de Blasio’s critics predict New York’s crime rates will worsen. Grand larceny and felony assault are up about 9% over last year, robbery is up 4.5% and rape is 2% higher, according to CompStat, the NYPD crime tracker. As of Dec. 5, the city had 443 homicides, up from 437 at the same time last year.
“We had a record spike, and now we’re still positive on top of those. That is not a good harbinger of things to come,” Mr. Giacalone said.
Mr. de Blasio acknowledged this week that New York had been through a rough patch but blamed the destabilizing forces of COVID-19 and a sluggish legal system.
“Now the last few years have been incredibly difficult, and a lot of tough lessons learned, but the NYPD, even in this adversity, did amazing things, absolutely amazing things, and they deserve tremendous credit. And remember, that’s with one of the most profound social disruptions in the history of this country with COVID and with a court system that has not functioned for the last two years, and that lack of consequences has profoundly hurt our efforts, and yet we’ve all kept going,” he said during a press briefing with Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.
Mr. de Blasio pointed to ongoing crime problems in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, but he said he is seeing improvements in other boroughs. He singled out a 17% decrease in homicides for November from the same month last year as a sign of hope. He said a police surge reduced subway crime despite a fatal November stabbing on a train at Penn Station that put transit violence back in the spotlight.
The mayor signaled he is ready to pass the torch on public safety even after a series of media appearances on his vaccine rules.
“This is going to be the last time we talk about the efforts against crime, the efforts to create public safety and build on it in this city,” Mr. de Blasio said Wednesday. “There is so much more to do to make the people know the city is safe. We’re going to keep doing it to the last minute. I know the next administration is going to take that and go farther.”
Critics of the city government say crime has risen because of a lack of enforcement of lesser offenses such as turnstile jumping or drinking in public, along with a state court system that is too quick to grant bail to serious offenders. They fault Commissioner Shea for disbanding a plainclothes anti-crime unit because of concerns that it was involved in many police-involved shootings.
Mr. Adams resisted calls to defund the police after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. His promise to restore the anti-crime unit resulted in a confrontation last month with Black Lives Matter leader Walter “Hawk” Newsome, who threatened “riots” and “bloodshed” if the unit returns. Mr. Adams said he won’t back down and decried Mr. Newsome as a fringe element.
“I feel sorry for Eric Adams,” Mr. Giacalone said. “He’s already been challenged, and he’s not even mayor yet. He’s got an unmotivated police department, a city council that’s not really pro-law enforcement.”
Mr. de Blasio has defended his commissioner’s decision and praised Mr. Adams’ acumen.
“Look, no one understands public safety better than Eric Adams, in everything he’s done in his life as an elected official, as an officer,” Mr. de Blasio told “The Brian Lehrer Show” in November. “We have a really respectful difference on this. I think Commissioner Shea was right, and I really want to give him credit. … He wanted more of those officers in uniform — the same talented officers doing the work a different way. That happened, and gun arrests have gone up, up, up.”
Mr. Adams said “stop and frisk” policies can be useful to confront crime suspects or people with weapons — not to indiscriminately harass young minority men.
“The question was never whether stop, question and frisk should be allowed; it was how it should be done. Those who claimed it should be outlawed entirely reduced a nuanced issue to an either-or argument, and unwisely answered it with a blanket ban,” he wrote Nov. 28 in the New York Daily News. “If we work to find common ground rather than fighting from entrenched, simplistic, ideological corners, we can have the safety we need and the justice we deserve.”
Mr. Adams will pair his balancing act on crime with decisions on whether to implement or abandon the sweeping vaccine mandates that take effect days before his inauguration.
Mr. de Blasio was asked how his vaccine mandate would be enforced and whether he blindsided his successor with a half-baked policy.
“It’s fully baked,” Mr. de Blasio retorted. He said he plans to announce more details Wednesday. “I’m an ally of the mayor-elect. I believe in him. I’ve been working with him closely. Our teams have been working closely together. I want to make sure that I am doing everything right now to keep the city safe and to hand off this city to him best possible way. And I’m absolutely convinced this mandate is necessary and it’s going to work.”
Mr. Sliwa said neither the COVID-19 mandates nor theatric tussles with Black Lives Matter will be Mr. Adams’ biggest challenge.
“I think the vaccine mandate is easy. He just rescinds it. It’s not a problem. His biggest problem is the day-to-day crime, the young people with guns, the gangbangers … the emotionally disturbed, because when it’s least expected, they have a psychotic disorder, pushing people in front of trains, and then the no-bail situation,” he said. When it comes to New York crime, “You can’t even pinpoint it anymore. It’s everywhere.”
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.