NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ Chief Counsel Discusses Challenges Emerging From the Pandemic
Reshaping the public perception of crime is a critical element of New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to move the city beyond the pandemic and into a more equitable city for everyone, Brendan McGuire, the mayor’s chief counsel, told lawyers gathered for the opening day of the New York State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting.
“There is no way to go forward without actual safety and without the perception of the city as safe. People need to feel safe,” McGuire said during an interview with former association President Stephen P. Younger during a presentation to the association’s Commercial & Federal Litigation Section.
While the media tend to focus on the uptick in crime since the pandemic began three years ago, crime is actually at historically low levels. Murders, for example, have increased to about 400 from the 300 annual murders recorded in 2019. Yet, the numbers are much lower than the 2,000 annual murders recorded during the early 1990s. “New York City remains one of the safest cities in the world,” McGuire said.
Many young people are unaware of this fact and changing that perception will encourage more people to ride the subway and travel to their offices, which in turn will make people feel safer.
The increase in mental health disorders since the pandemic is another key issue for Adams, who backed a recent initiative to address people living with mental illness who are homeless, McGuire said. In late November, Adams announced an initiative that would direct police and emergency medical workers to hospitalize people they deemed too mentally ill to care for themselves, even if they posed no threat to others.
“There is no easy solution,” McGuire said.
Yet, dealing with the problem is essential to the safety of both the homeless people and the general public. Acknowledging the dilemma of removing people from the streets against their will, he said that ignoring a catatonic person sitting outside in 20-degree temperatures is “not a compassionate response.” The administration has developed emergency response teams that are skilled in dealing with the mentally ill people living on the streets. Changing perceptions is also essential as the media frequently portray people with mental illness as perpetrators of crimes. Yet mentally ill people without homes make up 80 percent of the victims of violent crimes in the city.
McGuire said Adams is intent on tapping into the city’s legal, technical and financial expertise as it continues to rebuild from the pandemic.
“What will work look like in the city in 2050? How will Midtown be redefined?” McGuire said, adding that the administration is intent on developing new economic hubs in such areas as Brooklyn and Long Island City. “How do we ensure that large numbers of people are not left behind as the city is redefined?”
Another challenge is developing a blueprint for the city’s educational system, which carried an annual price tag of $40 billion before the pandemic and fed 1 million children each day.
“It’s an enormous challenge,” said McGuire, adding that nobody likes to see such an expensive system in which students are performing so poorly. The chancellor of the New York City Department of Education is aiming to develop a system that fully engages with families and other city agencies to improve children’s education.
As indicated by many of his appointments, the mayor recognizes how people with legal training can contribute to the city’s successful management by bringing skills in strategizing and thinking through problems, McGuire said. The city is facing a shortage of talented legal minds and he encouraged lawyers to consider devoting a chapter of their careers to working in city government. “There is an incredible need for lawyers in the city system” he said, encouraging all young lawyers to consider working with New York City.