Media October 4, 2022

NEW YORK TIMES: The Influential Group Helping Eric Adams Identify a Vision for New York

Created by the mayor’s allies, the 5Boro Institute seeks to counter concerns that the administration lacks a robust agenda to address the city’s problems.

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A group of New York City business and civic leaders is backing an initiative to create a handful of important, realistic policy goals for Mayor Eric Adams, filling what they believe is a critical hole in his administration’s vision for the city.

The proposed policy framework, which will be announced on Tuesday, would center on three areas: using day care as an economic development tool; strengthening the city’s mental health infrastructure; and developing incentives to recruit and train teachers.

The initiative is being run by the 5Boro Institute, founded earlier this year by Tom Allon, a publisher and a close ally of Mr. Adams, and Richard Ravitch, a former lieutenant governor of New York who helped rescue the state’s bankrupt Urban Development Corporation and resurrect the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“I’ve never seen anything or heard anything that spells out what his agenda is,” Mr. Ravitch said in an interview last week, adding that “was one of the main things that motivated us in creating our new organization.”

Mr. Adams, a former police captain who took office amid a pandemic, rising violent crime rates and now a looming fiscal crisis, has faced questions about whether his focus on crime has distracted him from other problems. And the city’s failure to articulate a robust agenda to tackle those issues has only heightened concerns among some civic and business leaders.

The mayor is expected to give serious weight to the institute’s proposals; Mr. Adams has said that he would welcome its “implementable ideas.” And in recent interviews with the city’s first deputy mayor, schools chancellor and health commissioner, all said they expected to work closely with the institute to nurture proposals they were working on.

“These are all priorities of this administration,” Lorraine Grillo, first deputy mayor, said about the group’s initial focus on child care, mental health and teacher retention.

The institute has some built-in advantages at City Hall. Mr. Allon helped Mr. Adams organize meetings with civic and business leaders in the run-up to last year’s election — a learning process they called “mayor’s school.” Mr. Allon’s son, Jonah Allon, also works as a deputy press secretary for Mr. Adams.

The mayor would not be the first leader to use a think tank to help nurture or develop ideas. Rudy Giuliani borrowed ideas from the Manhattan Institute, and President Bill Clinton’s agenda was shaped by the Democratic Leadership Council.

Mr. Allon said in an interview that the Adams administration has faced a number of crises that have made it difficult for it to articulate where it wants to take the city in the next five to six years.

The group has raised $675,000 of a planned $1 million this year from some of the most influential companies and leaders in the city, including Google, Amazon, the Real Estate Board of New York and Stephen Ross, the head of Related Companies.

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Many of 5Boro’s early donors also donated to Mr. Adams’s 2021 mayoral campaign. Some have also donated to Mr. Adams’s already active 2025 re-election campaign, including Jeffrey Gural, a major office-building landlord, and Ken Sunshine, a prominent public relations executive.

On the issue of mental health, the focus will be on how to create more psychiatric beds and expand the use of phone therapy. Recent random attacks by those suffering from mental illness have rattled the city.

The institute also wants to explore how to use the mayor’s child care proposal to help fill ground floor retail spaces. Mr. Adams has proposed increasing the availability of child care for approximately 500,000 children ages 5 and younger.

Tiered pay and other incentives, such as housing and signing bonuses, are some of the think tank’s initial ideas to help attract and retain more teachers.

David C. Banks, the schools chancellor, said that he has already had conversations with 5Boro’s leaders about teacher retention and how he could “reform” and “expand” the city’s gifted and talented program.

He also cited a recent initiative to bring badly needed bilingual educators to New York from the Dominican Republic, saying he wanted similarly creative ideas. “I can’t do the work that we need to do here if we don’t have a very solid teaching core,” he said.

In a statement, a spokesman for the mayor said that, “despite historic challenges,” the administration had already accomplished a lot, including instituting policies that have helped to reduce murders and shootings and lower the cost of child care, and that “those who say otherwise aren’t paying attention.”

Mr. Adams often refers to his City Hall as the “get-stuff-done” administration. A small sign with the slogan sits on the podium the mayor uses during news conferences. 

“My administration is dedicated to building a government that does things differently and that finally gives New Yorkers what they deserve, and results-focused organizations like 5Boro will be part of that equation,” the mayor said in a statement.

Still, certain city metrics seem headed in the wrong direction. Police and fire response times are up, according to the latest Mayor’s Management Report, which covers the first six months of Mr. Adams’s administration and the last six months of former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s.

The mayor’s affordable housing plan does not to say how many units it would build and preserve, even as the production of such housing in the city has plummeted. The city has pulled back on a plan to make prekindergarten universal for 3-year-olds, without delineating an alternative early-education agenda.

Jon Orcutt, advocacy director at Bike New York, said Mr. Adams’s few announced goals amount to treading water. “There’s been almost no policy development from the administration, and certainly from city D.O.T., since January,” Mr. Orcutt said, referring to the Department of Transportation.

Mr. Allon, speaking at a recent 5Boro fund-raiser in Upper Manhattan, said the goal of the think tank, which hired Grace Rauh, a former journalist for NY1, as its executive director, was to create “executable” ideas complete with funding plans and road maps that don’t “just sit on a shelf.”

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the city’s heath commissioner, said having a group outside City Hall focused on the complexities of mental health would make a difference.

I think it’s pretty clear that since the moment I stepped in and the mayor stepped in, we’ve been in crisis mode,” Dr. Vasan said.

Jeffery C. Mays is a reporter on the Metro desk who covers politics with a focus on New York City Hall. A native of Brooklyn, he is a graduate of Columbia University. @JeffCMays

Dana Rubinstein is a reporter on the Metro desk covering New York City politics. Before joining The Times in 2020, she spent nine years at the publication now known as Politico New York. @danarubinstein