By Chris Sommerfeldt
New York City’s migrant crisis has “destroyed” what would’ve otherwise been a local economic comeback of historic proportions, Mayor Adams said Friday while in Washington to plead for federal aid to tackle the deepening emergency.
Adams, who earlier this week laid blame squarely on President Biden for the severity of the city’s migrant crisis, offered the stark economic assessment during an appearance at the African American Mayors Association’s conference in D.C., where he traveled to also meet with a number of Biden officials later in the day.
“If you were to remove the $4.2 billion that have been dropped into my city because of a mismanaged asylum seeker issue, you would probably witness one of the greatest fiscal turnarounds in New York City history,” Adams told reporters on the sidelines of the conference, referring to the amount of money his administration projects it will shell out on the migrant crisis by July 2024.
Appearing earlier on a panel with three fellow Democratic mayors from large U.S. cities, Adams said his administration has had to welcome more than 52,000 mostly Latin American migrants “without one penny from the federal government.”
“The city is being destroyed by the migrant crisis,” said Adams, who has grown increasingly frustrated in recent weeks with what he sees as a lack of financial assistance from the Biden administration to help care for the asylum seekers.
Referring to other New York City elected officials, Adams added: “And none of my folks came to Washington, D.C. to fight for the resources that’s going to undermine every agency in our city.
Despite that comment, City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday. While there, Williams joined members of New York’s congressional delegation for meetings held to lobby Biden administration officials on the need for more migrant aid for the city.
In an interview with the Daily News later Friday, Williams said he assumes the mayor “misspoke” since he commended him earlier in the week on his Washington trip.
Williams also pushed back on the mayor’s description of the impact the influx of migrants is having on the city.
“The city has not been destroyed by migrants,” he said.
The public advocate, a progressive Democrat who has largely steered clear of beefing with Adams since he took office last year, said he shares the mayor’s ire over a lack of urgency from the White House.
“But I don’t want us to fall into the habit of blaming people who are actually seeking to escape something really bad,” he said of the migrants. “My hope is that moving forward he will use wording that will help us unite a message that doesn’t pit people against each other.”
The public advocate’s sentiment was shared by Comptroller Brad Lander, the Big Apple’s only other citywide elected official, who panned Adams for using the migrant crisis to justify his proposal to cut budgets for a number of key municipal agencies, including already short-staffed ones like the Department of Social Services.
“The administration should focus on setting new immigrants up for economic independence — so they can get on their feet, move out of shelter, and contribute to the city’s economy — rather than making them an excuse for budget austerity,” Lander said in a statement.
After suggesting the migrant crisis is holding back the city’s recovery, Adams told reporters that the local economy is actually in pretty good shape, pointing to data showing that tourism has bounced back while nearly all jobs lost during the pandemic have been recovered.
“You’re seeing success,” he said.
After his conference appearance, Adams held a series of meetings with senior Biden administration officials behind closed doors.
According to his public schedule, Adams sat down separately in the afternoon with Drug Enforcement Administration head Anne Milgram, Department of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Deanne Criswell.
Adams’ schedule also included a meeting with unnamed “White House officials.”
Adams spokesman Fabien Levy declined to name the White House officials, but said the president was not among them.
The focus of most of the meetings was the city’s migrant crisis, according to Levy. Among the items on the agenda was the mayor’s push for the feds to expedite work authorization papers for migrants, Levy said.
“The mayor also asked that if other cities are awarded federal funding, they should be held to standards that ensure they do not off load the problem to other cities that are already struggling with the crisis,” he added.
The Washington trip came after Adams on Wednesday said Biden has “failed New York City” by not providing more federal assistance for sheltering and providing services for the asylum seekers who have arrived in the five boroughs since last spring.
The Wednesday attack marked the most pointed criticism Adams has lobbed against the president over the migrant matter. It also came just a month after Biden tapped Adams to be among a group of official surrogates for his 2024 reelection campaign.
The White House did not offer a readout of the meeting Adams held with the unnamed officials — but released a statement late Friday saying Biden “dropped by” a sit-down that top presidential advisers held with five other mayors, including Los Angeles’ Karen Bass, who attended the same panel discussion as Adams earlier in the day.
“Today’s meeting highlighted the importance the Biden-Harris administration places on working with mayors to deliver results for the American people in communities across the country,” the statement said.
To date, Biden’s administration has only forked over about $8 million in migrant-related aid to New York City — a drop in the bucket as compared to the $1.4 billion that Adams administration projects it will spend on the crisis by July 1.
Adams’ administration submitted an application with FEMA late last month, though, seeking some $650 million in aid. FEMA expects to decide by May 31 how much of that request it will grant.
More than 30,000 migrants are believed to still be sleeping in local shelters and emergency facilities, costing the city as much as $5 million per day.
Adams has since last year pleaded for relief from the feds, saying he fears every public service the municipal government offers will be hampered if the city doesn’t see at least a $1 billion bailout. To hedge against the ballooning migrant crisis price-tag, Adams has pushed for broad city budget cuts — proposals that Democrats in the City Council have vowed to fight tooth and nail.
In his conference remarks, Adams said he often feels unfairly criticized by “people who wake up every day praying and hoping that I can fail.”
Murad Awawdeh, executive director the New York Immigration Coalition, suggested Adams wouldn’t face as much pushback if he stopped “using inflammatory rhetoric to blame asylum seekers for his inability to manage New York’s budget.”
“New Yorkers need solutions not demonization,” Awawdeh said.