Mayor Eric Adams and New York Lawmakers Face Showdown Over Solitary Confinement Ban

Mayor Eric Adams and New York Lawmakers Face Showdown Over Solitary Confinement Ban – Mayor Eric Adams, elected on the premise that his background as an NYPD captain uniquely qualified him to combat crime, is now facing skepticism from local legislators. On Wednesday, the New York City Council confronted Mayor Adams on his key agenda, passing bills to prohibit solitary confinement in city jails and demand increased transparency from the NYPD. 

Despite the mayor’s intention to veto, the council took a stand. The unusually assertive move from a typically non-confrontational legislative body coincides with a challenging period in Mayor Adams’ early tenure. Voter discontent over budget reductions, an FBI investigation into his 2021 campaign, and persistent issues with the migrant crisis are currently defining his mayoralty.

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The bills, approved with margins of 35-9 and 39-7, along with several abstentions in the Council’s final meeting of the year, are spearheaded by Speaker Adrienne Adams. Her nearly two-year leadership has seen a more cooperative stance toward the mayor compared to some of her predecessors. 

“It is our job to contend with the legacies of harm in our communities that impact the lives of generations of Black and Latino New Yorkers and repair them,” Adrienne Adams, the Council’s first Black speaker, said ahead of the vote. “Accountability and transparency are important pathways to advance that goal.”

The legislation on solitary confinement, applicable within the city’s jail system, proposes restricting segregation from the general population to a brief four-hour period following an incident or confrontation. Additionally, it mandates that all detainees spend a minimum of 14 hours daily outside their cells.

“No matter what terminology you use,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, sponsor of the legislation, said, “there is isolation [in city jails] that the U.N. has called torture. And that is what we want to end.” The second bill under consideration mandates NYPD officers to document lower-level interactions with the public, a measure advocated for after police data from a decade ago revealed the abuses during a more aggressive policing era. 

Following a 2013 federal judge’s ruling on disproportionate impacts on Black and Latino men through “stop and frisk,” Council members emphasized that the requested data will provide insights into who the NYPD is stopping and the reasons behind such stops. Mayor Adams contends that both pieces of legislation would heighten the city’s level of risk.

“This assault on public safety is just wrong. There’s a philosophical disagreement in this city [and] the numerical minority is controlling the narrative,” Adams said during a Wednesday radio appearance following the vote. “The overwhelming number of people in this city, they support their police, they want their police to do public safety and not [fill] out paperwork.”

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During a television interview earlier in the day, he expressed concern that the solitary confinement bill could enable detainees to assault others in custody and subsequently be reintegrated into the general population of city jails. The votes coincide with advocates and federal prosecutors urging a federal judge to remove control of the city’s problematic jail system from Adams. 

The mayor has aligned himself with unionized correction guards in resistance to this proposal. Prior to the vote, City Hall orchestrated a multifaceted strategy behind the scenes. Members of the administration’s intergovernmental affairs team, the mayor’s chief adviser Ingrid Lewis-Martin, and Mayor Adams personally reached out to members in an attempt to dissuade them from supporting the police reporting bill, as revealed by an anonymous lawmaker familiar with the effort.

The mayor’s efforts to secure votes were unsuccessful. Despite a few Republicans and moderate Democrats voting against or abstaining, both bills garnered a veto-proof majority. The speaker’s staff, bill sponsors, and advocates maintained this majority through an assertive outreach strategy, particularly targeting moderate Democrats uneasy about the legislation due to ongoing voter concerns about crime.

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“At least 15 [Council] members discussed with me privately how bad this bill is,” said Council Member Joe Borelli, who leads the body’s GOP Caucus and opposed the measures. Borelli was referring to fellow lawmakers anticipated to support the NYPD legislation. “This serves up a jam sandwich for some of the moderate members,” he said of their potential political predicament.

If the mayor proceeds with anticipated vetoes, members would revisit the issue in early 2024 for an override vote—an action the Council speaker seemed keen on pursuing during Wednesday’s proceedings. “What this says is that we are absolutely maintaining checks and balances,” she said.

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