New York City's pro-cop mayor loses high-profile fight over policing legislation

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Eric Adams — a former police officer focused on combating crime — found himself in a feud Tuesday with the more progressive City Council over two criminal justice reform bills.

And in this rare instance, Adams lost.

Led by a relatively moderate Democrat aligned with the body’s progressive members, the Council delivered a striking rebuke to Adams by overriding two of his vetoes by an overwhelming margin. The votes capped weeks of lobbying and media appearances from officials on both sides of the debate — a flurry of activity exacerbated over the weekend, when police pulled over a Council member who’d spent seven years in jail after being wrongly convicted as part of the “Central Park Five.”

With Tuesday’s vote, the Council punctuated the most significant clash yet between the two Democratic-led branches of city government and potentially complicated the mayor’s 2025 reelection bid.

One bill would require police officers to report demographic data on low-level interactions with civilians, which supporters say is necessary to hold the NYPD accountable after its history of racially motivated stops. The other limits the amount of time a detainee spends in isolation in the city’s jail system — a policy criticized by a federal monitor who oversees the notoriously violent Rikers Island facility.

“Today we are standing together as a united front: Council members, advocates and directly impacted families, to send a clear message that New Yorkers need and deserve transparency, and that as a city we can and will do better,” Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said at a City Hall rally before the vote.

The Council voted 42-9 to override the mayor’s vetoes on the two bills. The nays came from Republicans and Democrats who make up the body’s conservative Common Sense Caucus.

“We’re asking fewer police officers to do a lot more,” said Council member Robert Holden, who belongs to the caucus. “That makes no sense.”

But his views were far outweighed by those of most of his colleagues.

“The numbers don’t lie. We see that our communities are most impacted and policed based on the color of our skin,” Council Member Chi Ossé, who is Black, said before voting for the override.

The administration has set precedent for simply ignoring Council legislation it does not like: Last month, City Hall admitted it did not plan to implement a series of housing voucher bills Adams had vetoed after the Council overrode him.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, however, Adams pledged to implement the police reporting bill as written, while suggesting lawmakers could make amendments to the law, just as state legislators revisited bail reform statutes after they had already been enacted.

“We don't have to implement this law until July,” he said during a television interview Tuesday morning. “I would hope that … after the determination to override the veto, we will have an opportunity to sit down, talk and look at the aspect of the bill that is troublesome to us.”

Tension over the legislation delayed the Council’s proceedings Tuesday when Kalman Yeger, a conservative Democrat who opposed the bills, repeatedly raised technical objections. He argued that the vote did not adhere to parliamentary procedure and that the meeting itself violated city laws requiring an agenda to be posted online 36 hours in advance.

Yeger’s complaints could lay the groundwork for a lawsuit against the override, he told POLITICO after the vote, though he said he himself wouldn’t file a suit.

Separately, the measure being billed as a solitary confinement ban may face a legal challenge from the federal monitor or the union for guards on Rikers, which says the bill makes them less safe, Correction Officers' Benevolent Association president Benny Boscio told POLITICO.

As Council members stood to explain their votes, Harlem’s Yusef Salaam, who served a prison sentence — including time in solitary confinement — after his now-vacated conviction in the Central Park Five case, delivered emotional remarks.

Police stopped Salaam while he was driving a car with what appeared to be illegally-tinted windows over the weekend. When he asked the officer why he was being stopped and identified himself, the cop quickly sent him on his way without a verbal warning or ticket, according to footage from his body-worn camera. The NYPD later issued a statement citing the tinted windows as the rationale for the stop.

While the bill wouldn't apply to vehicle stops, Salaam argued the incident underscored the need for transparency in all interactions with police.

The laws “would bring generational change in our criminal justice system,” he said. “If these laws were in place in 1989” — he paused, with tears in his eyes, in reflection on the year he was arrested. “I vote aye.”

While Mayor Adams was relatively quiet on the bills before they initially passed in December — he said his team was negotiating with the Council behind the scenes — he’s waged a highly visible campaign against them since.

Adams hosted a ride-along with police officers on Saturday night, hoping seeing stops firsthand would change lawmakers’ minds. He has been a fixture on radio and television and has railed against the bills at even seemingly irrelevant public appearances, including a Queens bar mitzvah. Adams’ former chief of staff, Frank Carone, even got in on the action, calling members to support the mayor’s position.

The mayor has argued the reporting bill would distract NYPD officers from solving crimes and that the jail legislation would put correction officers and other detainees at risk of violence.

Meanwhile, both the Council speaker and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who was the lead sponsor of both bills, repeatedly accused the mayor of spreading misinformation by overstating how much of a burden the reporting bill would be on cops and understating the negative impact of isolating detainees.

Mayoral vetoes, in recent history, have always been reversed, as legislation is rarely passed in the heavily Democratic City Council without veto-proof margins. But Mayor Adams’ failure to flip even a single member — in fact, Tuesday’s margin was wider than the original vote last month — underscored his administration’s weakness in intergovernmental affairs, where he’s struggled to win allies at other levels of government.

It also poses an electoral problem: If the bills actually drive up crime, as Mayor Adams has warned, they would play a role in tarnishing his reelection message of improving public safety. If they have no impact at all, his credibility on the issue stands to be diminished.

“Public safety is my life’s work,” the mayor said ahead of the vote. “So this is not about: ‘Am I looking for the platform for my reelection?’ That platform is already there.”