Can Eric Adams encourage New Yorkers to overcome the pandemic?

Mayor Eric Adams has made no secret of his desire to speed New York City’s recovery from the coronavirus, and in his regular briefings with health officials he was encouraged by the latest measures : cases have dropped significantly while vaccination rates have almost reached 90% for adults.

But Mr. Adams wanted input from another key sector.

Earlier this month, the mayor hosted a dozen business leaders at his official residence, Gracie Mansion. Over vegan mushroom couscous and wine, Mr. Adams asked what it would take to get people back to the office, according to several attendees. Leaders spoke about the difficulty of persuading workers to return five days a week – and whether three days was more realistic – and the importance of securing the metro.

The mayor and his team left the event with a to-do list, including creating a marketing campaign to mark the city’s return.

If the meeting at the Gracie Mansion seemed unusual, that’s because it was: most business leaders had never entered the mayor’s residence.

Mr. Adams, a Democrat, has had regular conversations with some of the city’s most influential business leaders, including David Solomon, chief executive of banking firm Goldman Sachs, and Jonathan Gray, chairman of the equity firm. Blackstone investment, to seek their advice. – a stark contrast to Mr Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio, who had a strained relationship with the business world.

The meetings underscored not only Mr. Adams’ focus on reopening the city, whose economy has been devastated by the pandemic and is only now slowly bouncing back to health, but also his determination to work with leaders company of the city to achieve it.

Since taking office in January, Mr. Adams, a former police captain, has had to respond to a series of high-profile crimes, including the shooting deaths of two police officers and violent attacks on Asian Americans. It continued last weekend, with the stabbing of two Museum of Modern Art employees, the death of an 87-year-old voice coach who was pushed to the ground on a Chelsea pavement and the revelation that a gunman targeted homeless people on the streets of Lower Manhattan and Washington, D.C.

But in recent weeks, Mr Adams – who had made tackling crime a central theme of his mayoral bid – has also begun to emphasize another central message of the campaign: New York must return to normal, and the mayor thinks the time has come.

The mayor recently ended the mask mandate in schools and lifted vaccination proof requirements for indoor activities. He criss-crossed the city to convey the importance for the city to shake off its pandemic lifestyle, making it a point to be seen at high-profile events like ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. York and attending Fashion Week with Anna Wintour. He even adopted a scolding tone toward those reluctant to return to the busy streets of Manhattan.

“You can’t stay home in your pajamas all day,” Adams said at an event to announce his economic development team. “That’s not who we are as a city. You have to be at the crossroads of ideas, interact with humans.

The city’s financial challenges are heartbreaking: the unemployment rate has remained high at around 7.5%, about double the national average; office vacancy rates reached 20%, the highest level in four decades; tourism is unlikely to recover before 2025; the city’s budget relies on billions of dollars in federal aid that won’t last forever.

Last week, Mr Adams published a 59-page ‘blueprint’ for the city’s recovery which focused on reducing gun violence, removing the homeless from the subway and making outdoor dining permanent. , reflecting the advice of business leaders.

“Job #1: You have to fix the security issue,” said Charles Phillips, the founder of a private equity firm that organized the Gracie Mansion event. “The mayor obviously understands that, with his background. The city must be made attractive from a security point of view.

Business leaders told the mayor that the timing of New York’s recovery is urgent.

“We just had our best week since Covid began in 2020 – occupancy last week was over 30%,” said Scott Rechler, president and CEO of RXR Realty, a large commercial real estate company and another councilor to the mayor. “It’s not a number I’m thrilled about – it’s usually in the 90s – but every CEO and HR manager has a plan in place to bring people back in the next 60-90 days.”

Two years into the pandemic, the city’s economy faces many challenges. While many employers are expected to take a hybrid approach where workers come in three days a week, sales tax revenues are expected to drop by $111 million a year. Hotel occupancy, which had plunged to 40% in January when the Omicron variant arrived, was 67% in mid-March, according to STR, a hotel analytics firm.

Subway ridership is at about 60% of pre-pandemic levels, and transit leaders have suggested they can no longer rely heavily on fares to fund the system. On Broadway, just 20 shows are in 41 homes, though attendance was around 85%, and more shows are expected to open by the end of April.

Mary Ann Tighe, managing director of real estate firm CBRE for the New York region, said she had spoken with Mr. Adams several times since taking office and told him that it was important that people feel comfortable coming back.

“It’s about getting the basics right,” she said. “People will come back to a city where they feel safe and clean, and those two conditions allow the city to do a lot of what it does organically – make good art, make good food, good business.”

In Mr. de Blasio’s final days as mayor, he continued to give near-daily press briefings on the virus that consumed his last two years in office, claiming 40,000 lives in New York.

Mr. Adams did not continue the practice. He regularly takes questions from reporters, but his last press conference focusing on the virus and the city’s health care system — and not focused on easing restrictions or economic recovery — took place on February 11 at a center in Brooklyn Health on the same day it announced a $100 incentive for people who get a booster shot.

He did not address growing concerns in recent days over the BA.2 subvariant which is fueling a rise in cases in the UK. Instead, the mayor seems determined to deliver a different message.

At a recent event in Times Square, Mr Adams approached random pedestrians looking for a tourist. Finding one from Canada, he delivered a simple message: “Spend the money”.

Three days later, Mr. Adams gave the same speech at the Blue Note jazz club in Greenwich Village: “Some of you are from out of town, and I have a request for you: Spend the money.”

Along with being the town’s cheerleader, Mr. Adams has also taken on the role of the town’s psychologist, encouraging New Yorkers to move past the trauma of the pandemic and stop “wallowing”. Mr Adams said removing masks from schools was an important step.

“Returning to normal is about substantive things that we need to do and symbolic things,” Mr. Adams said in an interview. “As much as we say things are normal, the face mask is a symbol that things are not. It is time to review our faces, especially our children.

Some elected officials expressed alarm at Mr Adams’ decision to remove masks from schools, pointing to low vaccination rates among some children. They also challenged the lifting of the vaccination proof requirement for restaurants, movie theaters and other indoor activities, arguing that the mandate made diners safer.

“I’m afraid this will be interpreted as the pandemic is over, and people are going to really let their guard down,” said Mark Levine, the borough president of Manhattan, a Democrat.

But even though Mr. Adams waived some pandemic rules, he also kept vaccination mandates for city workers and for employees of private companies who work in person. The mayor’s health advisers insisted those mandates be preserved and were comfortable relaxing other rules once transmission fell to levels the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers low, according to a person familiar with discussions.

Mr Adams said he kept the employer warrants because people spend more time in workplaces and have a longer risk of exposure over an eight-hour working day.

“Doctors are convinced that this is where the greatest vulnerability lies in terms of transmission of Covid,” he said in the interview.

Mr. Adams also acknowledged that workers might not return to the office five days a week. He said he was open to converting Midtown Manhattan office buildings into housing, and after recently viewing an office with a view of the water, he thought, “I could put my kitchen here; I would like to live here.

Some critics, including Joseph Borelli, the Republican minority leader on the city council who recently dined with Mr. Adams at Angelina’s restaurant in Staten Island, want the mayor to end private sector terms.

“They’re a barrier for those who want to go back to work in New York,” Borelli said, adding that an unvaccinated friend who works in finance works in an office in New Jersey to avoid city compliance. mandate.

Similar criticism has been leveled at the status of another unvaccinated New York employee: Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets’ star point guard who is barred from playing in New York. Mr. Irving’s teammate, Kevin Durant, suggested that Mr. Adams was “looking for attention”; LeBron James wrote on Twitter that Irving’s ban “makes absolutely no sense”, adding the hashtag #FreeKyrie.

Mr. Adams offered a simple solution.

“Kyrie can play tomorrow,” the mayor said at a recent press conference. “To get vaccinated.”

Sharon Otterman contributed reporting.

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