Mayor Eric Adams is urging JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon and other New York City business leaders to ride the subway to work as he intensifies a campaign to bring employees back to Manhattan’s empty offices.
“We’re telling our corporate leaders: ‘Hey, get on the train!’” Adams said in an interview with the Financial Times. “We need to advertise that New York is back.”
Only about 40 per cent of workers have returned to New York City offices in spite of repeated exhortations from the mayor, posing a dire threat to the city’s economic livelihood.
Surveys conducted by the Partnership for New York City, a leading employers’ group, have found that fear of a crime-plagued subway is the overwhelming obstacle preventing workers from returning.
Adams, a former police captain who took office in January, has responded by dispatching more officers to patrol the system and beefing up training. “When I was a transit cop, I graduated and I had to go through a whole training system of how to police the subway system. They stopped doing that. So we’re now reinstituting that,” he said.
But the mayor is also waging a public-relations campaign, trying to convince leaders such as Dimon, the JPMorgan chief executive, and his counterparts at Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, the Related Companies and others to ditch their customary black cars and ride the train instead.
“We’re going to get him on the train,” he said of Dimon. “We’re going to get everyone on the train. He understands the need of getting his people back and leading from the front.”
JPMorgan declined to comment.
Adams acknowledged that it was proving more challenging than he had anticipated to deliver on his promise of containing New York City’s rising crime. As of May 8, shootings were up 75 per cent from the same period two years ago, while hate crimes were up 103 per cent. Shoplifting is also rampant, say merchants.
The mayor blamed an abundance of guns as well as criminal justice reforms that allowed “bad guys” detained by the police to quickly return to the streets.
“We thought by the middle of February we were going to turn the corner on crime,” Adams said. “But our entire equation was disrupted because of the flow of guns into our city, the ready accessibility of guns and the reluctance of prosecuting people who are carrying guns.”
Frustrated by legislators’ refusal to change those laws, Adams is turning to a “Plan B” of more closely monitoring violent offenders through the parole system. He is prepared to have the police arrest those caught with firearms again and again, he vowed.
More broadly, the mayor, who increased police funding by $200mn in his latest budget and has stood in opposition to the progressive “defund the police” movement, said he believed most residents still supported his approach to crime. It is predicated on robust but more targeted policing, as well as investments in social programmes.
“After the [George] Floyd case, people were so terrified by what they saw that they said: ‘Take everything away from public safety.’ But there were those of us who said, ‘No. We can have safety and justice,’” he said.
He added: “I have not attended one meeting in my 32-year history where community groups said: ‘Take my police away.’”
Even if crime is tamed and a vigorous campaign entices New Yorkers back to the office, the mayor acknowledged that the face of the city was likely to change in dramatic ways after Covid.
Offices would have to become more engaging — like the headquarters of Google or Bloomberg, he suggested — to remain viable. Ultimately, the mayor would like to see some office buildings converted to residential apartments, as happened in the city’s downtown financial district after 9/11.
Fearful of stumbling into any grand projects, the mayor is planning instead to convene a group of developers, academics and others to think through zoning and city planning issues.
In the meantime, Adams acknowledged the growing threat posed by rivals including Austin, Nashville and Miami — places New Yorkers would have once sneered at, that are increasingly vying for the city’s jobs and talent.
“They’re stealing our business and stealing our tourists,” Adams said. “Because we were New York, we felt that we did not have to compete . . . That’s a big mistake.”
The Brooklyn-born mayor was recently criticised for taking trips to Los Angeles and other cities on the grounds that he was too often absent from New York at a critical moment in its recovery. But Adams said he was planning more such excursions to talk up his hometown.
“I’m going to all these cities. I’m going to sell our product,” he said. “I have to recruit now.”
As he navigates a perilous chapter in the city’s history, Adams has also been seeking regular counsel from, among others, former mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Every Wednesday, just about, we chat,” he said.
Adams said the best advice that Bloomberg, a media mogul, had given him was “ignore the press”.