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In State of The City Address, Speaker Adams Looks to Replenish City Staffing

City Council’s own elected leader, Adrienne Adams of Queens, said she wants to put ‘people over everything.’

SHARE In State of The City Address, Speaker Adams Looks to Replenish City Staffing

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams delivers her State of The City address at the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses, March 8, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams took a strong stance on hiring people to fill thousands of vacant city jobs in her second State of the City speech Wednesday, arguing that understaffing has deteriorated city government and “we cannot wait for the last domino to fall.”

Urging restored funding and full staffing at agencies across the city, Adams said New Yorkers have already been feeling the painful effects of a significant staff reduction.

“Our city workers keep our communities afloat … their work touches every aspect of our lives,” she said at the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Community Center in The Bronx. “That’s why we must address the severe understaffing across city agencies with urgency. It has created a domino effect, and now New Yorkers who rely on essential services are feeling those impacts in real time.”

The speaker pointed to crucial delays in the delivery of food stamps and housing vouchers, showing the consequences of fewer employees at social services agencies, which have seen a 13.5% reduction in staff since June 2020 — a decrease of more than 3,000 jobs, according to a report from the state comptroller’s office. 

“This is the cruel reality our neighbors face, which not only hurts them and the stability of our communities, but also hurts our city,” Adams said at the center in Soundview. 

“We cannot wait for the last domino to fall. The city must act now to fully fund and staff our city agencies.”

The theme of the speaker’s speech was “People Over Everything.” It was a similar slogan to one used by the other Adams in power — her former Bayside High School classmate Mayor Eric Adams — who outlined a “working people’s agenda” during his own State of the City speech in January.

But unlike the mayor, the speaker didn’t propose budget cuts as New York City faces dire financial challenges.

“Proposals in a speech are meaningless if they are not consistent with budget decisions,” she said. “This is why our Council has advanced a budget vision that prioritizes our people over everything. New Yorkers are the city’s greatest assets, and we must invest in them.”

Her speech was a preview to the months-long deliberations — and outright fights — between the mayor’s office and the Council as they work on the fiscal year 2024 budget.

People Power

In their second year as leaders, both Adamses are tackling even more fraught budget negotiations as the city faces an influx of migrants that has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars — all while emergency federal funds that flooded in during the pandemic are drying up.

The negotiations happen as state and city budget watchdogs warn of worsening financial conditions in New York City.

“Things are a lot different because of the situation that we’re in this year, with the deficits and vacancies,” Speaker Adams told THE CITY on Monday, ahead of the first budget hearing of the session.

Mayor Eric Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams embrace before City Councilmembers in the City Hall rotunda to announce last year’s city budget, June 10, 2022.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

So far the focus of the early budget hearings has been on vacancies at citywide agencies and their consequences. The Council’s overarching concern is what the absence of these jobs means for city services. 

At a budget hearing Tuesday, Council members focused on the proposed 20% budget cut and severe staff reductions at oversight agencies like the Department of Investigation. 

Adams said the Council plans to introduce bills that look at the challenges New Yorkers face in accessing CityFHEPS housing vouchers, which has been a problem for thousands of low-income New Yorkers. In her speech Wednesday, she called the program “one of our most effective solutions to keep New Yorkers in their homes and move existing shelter residents into permanent housing.”

The speaker also talked about water safety and equity, and plans to allocate money and introduce bills to create more access to swimming pools to create a pipeline for more lifeguards and teach young people how to swim, she said. News of the plan was first reported by THE CITY earlier this week. 

Adams on Wednesday also floated an idea to bring back a previously troubled plan to fill in vacant lots at NYCHA locations as a way to spur development, saying residents would be given more say in the process and it would include new public housing.

Community Board-Certified

After last year’s budget deal, Adams was criticized by some of the more left-leaning Council members, who said she retaliated against them when they voted against the budget that included cuts to the Department of Education and more money for the NYPD.

She and the Council then faced criticism when they tried to claw back those education funding cuts, tied to declining enrollment, after voting to approve them. Further cuts for this coming fiscal year were removed from Mayor Adams’ preliminary budget in January. Last year’s reversal appeared to show confusion from the Council over its budget decisions and understanding of the political landscape.

Still, many in Council say that Speaker Adams has been a steady leader, and patient and thoughtful with members, many of whom are serving in public office for the first time. 

“It’s been really important that the speaker works for the members, listens to them, and tries to take their feedback into account, versus just telling them, ‘here’s what we’re doing,’” Councilmember Keith Powers, a Democrat who represents parts of Midtown Manhattan, told THE CITY.

“I think she’s done a very good job of being somebody who listens and cares about the members and making the process of how we do things, like the budget, much more democratic,” Powers said.

Adams had a career in business before she joined Queens Community Board 12, which includes Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, South Ozone Park, Springfield Gardens, and later served as its district manager from 2012 until she was elected to the City Council in 2017. 

Queens CB12 — which is the second-largest in the city — was a good training ground for her role as speaker, said Yvonne Reddick, the board’s current district manager.

“I smile because, some of the things she dealt with as chairperson, she’s now dealing with at City Hall. We talk about land-use items, we talk about the Board of Standards and Appeals, we talk about the homeless issues, we talk about parks,” Reddick said.  

Even under the toughest circumstances, Adams “always remained calm,” she added.

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