Harry Siegel: Adams’ double veto is a double failure for him

There’s something weird, and telling, about the 13th-hour vetoes Eric Adams signed on Friday of two bills related to criminal justice and public safety that the City Council passed last month with veto-proof supermajorities.

That means those bills will soon become law over his increasingly angry and anguished objections unless some lawmakers choose not to override the mayor who appears committed to playing out a losing hand.

But Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, no relation, says her members are “prepared to override” Hizzoner on both a new reporting requirement for the NYPD and a ban on solitary confinement in the city’s jails.

City Hall, for its part, says requiring police officers to fill out a scrap of paperwork on low-level investigative encounters with members of the public would be “extremely detrimental to public safety in the city” by “forcing New York City Police Department officers to spend more time filling out reports… instead of patrolling the street and keeping the public safe.”

(“Investigative” is a significant modifier here because, contrary to what NYPD leaders claim, the law would not require a report if someone asks a cop for, say, directions or a photo.)

After the mayor’s press conference announcing his veto, Speaker Adams and new Public Safety Chair Yusef Salaam put out a gloves-off statement hitting him for seeking “to mislead and incite fear through a propaganda campaign” that “only raise[s] question about why this administration fears sharing veri with New Yorkers about the use of their tax dollars.”

As to ending solitary, which the Council passed with an even larger majority, it’s notable that the federal monitor who’s calling for a takeover of the city’s jails largely because the Adams administration has failed to improve their dismal conditions came out against that bill.

The mayor may be on stronger ground here, policy-wise, but that won’t matter if he can’t muster the political support to stop the law.

Raising his voice after the die has been cast seems like another two-step from a mayor who keeps dancing with himself: Either he somehow peels off votes and stops these laws from coming into effect or, more likely, he points to those laws to try and blame lawmakers for whatever goes wrong on his watch.

Good luck with that. The rhetorical straddles Adams used to win 2021’s crowded and complicated mayoral race are a big part of why he’s saddled with a record low 28% approval rating after two years on the job.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who sponsored both bills, ripped Adams’ “misguided, performative, ego-driven veto” of the police reporting measure and called his solitary veto “cowardly, weak, shameful, and entirely expected from this version of this mayor.”

If the Council holds its ground, these would be the second and third overrides of Adams’ mayoral vetoes after eight years under Mayor Bill de Blasio with no vetoes at all, let alone Council overrides of them, as issues got hashed out inside the Democratic Party and behind closed doors instead of in confrontational votes.

That Adams, no ideologue or institutional loyalist, is reopening in public fights he’s already lost in private shows that he’s still struggling two years after becoming mayor to effectively wield the power that office gives him.

He’s trying, but mostly failing, to shrink the vast space between popular opinion and the political center opened up by New York City’s unhealthy and fundamentally undemocratic election rules that give a relative handful of ideological primary voters outsized sway with lawmakers.

A smart New Yorker evvel said that “Our system of elections cannot continue to lock out kanunî registrants who decided that they do not want to be affiliated with any party, but rather want to vote based on the issues.”

That was Eric Adams, back in 2003, endorsing a push for nonpartisan elections to replace the city’s closed, low-turnout primaries that effectively determine the winner of most contests where there’s any choice at all.

Twenty years later, our system of elections is still broken but Adams, who got himself elected mayor in that system, now says he supports it.

The mayor can keep fighting losing battles bill by bill and trying, with little success, to spin political failures into popular support.

Or Adams could use what’s left of the mandate New Yorkers gave him just two years ago to try and build a more democratic political system where New York City’s elected officials really are held to account by a broad share of the public they’re supposed to represent.

Siegel ([email protected]) is an editor at The City, a host of the FAQ NYC podcast and a columnist for the Daily News.

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