Elected officials in southeast Queens, including City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, recently sought a meeting with Mayor Eric Adams about conditions at migrant shelters.
But before they could attend, the mayor’s office required them to fill out a checklist of nine questions assessing what they themselves had done to help the city address the crisis.
The message was clear: Officials seeking to express their criticisms or concerns to the mayor should first take a hard look at their own track records on the issue. Adams has delivered similar messages in press conferences when asked about criticism of his ever-evolving migrant policies.
“Because the No. 1 question I’m asking everyone now – did you go to Washington to get us more money?” Adams told reporters in May. “What have you done for the migrants and where would you like for me to house them?”
According to a copy of an email provided to Gothamist, the checklist asked lawmakers if they had supported calling for a national emergency; visited a migrant site in the last year; suggested alternative sites or called on the federal government to stop migrants from being bused to the city.
“To maximize everyone’s time, the mayor has asked that each elected official submit answers to the following questions ahead of the meeting,” the email said.
The mayor’s grilling of the officials, which some viewed as patronizing gesture that potentially alienated key allies, comes as the humanitarian crisis has overwhelmed the city’s shelter system. In recent days, scores of mostly male migrants have slept outside a Midtown intake center. And in what would mark a new and more visible phase of the crisis, the mayor is also said to be considering erecting tents in public green spaces, including Central Park.
Adams has increasingly demanded that his fellow Democrats join him in appealing for state and federal intervention on the crisis. At times, he has used the issue as a cudgel against his opponents, as in his frequent admonishments of City Comptroller Brad Lander for not making a trip to Washington, D.C. to ask for help.
“His back is against the wall and his frustration is certainly showing in that email,” said Donovan Richards, the Queens borough president who received the email but could not attend the meeting due to a planned trip.
Richards said he initially laughed at the email, adding, “I want to give him a little grace.”
At the same time, he argued that his fellow elected officials had legitimate questions about the shelters and services the city was providing migrants.
They also represent middle- and working-class Black constituents who make up a significant portion of Adams’ base.
The 14th Senate District, which encompasses a large swath of southeast Queens — including Jamaica, Cambria Heights, Queens Village and Hollis — contributed the second highest number of votes to Adams’ margin of victory in the 2021 mayoral primary, according to John Mollenkopf, a professor who studies electoral data at the CUNY Graduate Center.
The meeting, which took place last week, included both local and state Democratic lawmakers as well as representatives for Rep. Gregory Meeks. Many had questions about the services at shelters amid reports of loitering, panhandling and women turning to sex work, according to attendees and those briefed on the meeting.
According to one person at the meeting and two people who were briefed on it afterward, the discussions among the mayor and elected officials and their representatives were tense at times.
“We are rooting for him to succeed,” Richards said. “He has to keep that in mind.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for the speaker also did not respond to a request for comment. Several other elected officials at the meeting either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to speak on the record.
In recent weeks, several elected officials have increased public pressure on both President Joe Biden and Gov. Kathy Hochul. The state has provided the city with roughly $1 billion in aid but little in the way of policy solutions.
Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, was among those who toured the Roosevelt Hotel, the city’s intake center, and spoke to migrants on Wednesday.
Afterward, he lashed out at Biden and urged the president to visit the city himself.
“Maybe that will spur some more action from the White House,” he said.
Adams himself directly criticized Biden back in May for a lack of a federal response.
But the strategy so far has yet to yield benefits for Adams or the city. His decision to publicly call out Biden, who could be facing a difficult re-election campaign, reportedly annoyed the president’s aides. Republicans have seized on the border crisis to attack the White House’s immigration policies.
So far, the city has received around an additional $30 million in federal aid and the promise of $100 million in future funds, an amount that the mayor has described as a drop in the bucket compared to the billions the city will spend on the crisis.
But in addition to funding, the mayor is asking the White House to expedite work authorizations for migrants and implement a so-called decompression policy at the border that spreads migrants across various locations in the country.
Following a visit by Adams to Washington, D.C. last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas agreed to visit the city as well as assign a federal liaison to serve as a point person for migrant issues.
Many viewed the response as underwhelming.
At a press conference in City Hall this week, the mayor once again emphasized the need for faster work authorizations so that migrants could contribute to the local economy and become self-sufficient.
“We’re all calling for it,” he said. “We need a response from Washington, and I have not gotten a yay or nay, and we need it.”