Mayor Eric Adams and New York lawmakers face showdown over solitary confinement ban

The uncharacteristically aggressive action from a legislative body that is rarely so adversarial comes as Adams is at the nadir of his young mayoralty: Voters are registering anger over his budget cuts, the FBI is investigating his 2021 campaign and he is facing continued challenges of the migrant crisis.

The bills — passed by 35-9 and 39-7 margins with several abstentions during the Council’s last meeting of the year — are being driven by Speaker Adrienne Adams, who during her nearly two-year tenure has adopted a less confrontational posture toward the mayor than 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 solitary confinement bill, which applies in the city’s jail system, would limit segregation from the general population to a temporary four-hour period after an incident or confrontation and require all detainees spend at least 14 hours each day outside of 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 other bill in question would require NYPD officers to file reports on lower-level interactions with the public, which advocates say is necessary after police data from a decade ago exposed the excesses of an era of more aggressive policing. In 2013, a federal judge ruled officers were using “stop and frisk” in a manner that disproportionately hurt Black and Latino men. The desired data, Council members said Wednesday, will show who the NYPD is stopping and for what reasons.

Adams has said both pieces of legislation would make the city more dangerous.

“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.”

In a television interview earlier in the day, he said the solitary confinement bill would allow detainees to assault others in custody and be returned to the general population of city jails.

The votes come as advocates and federal prosecutors are asking a federal judge to strip control of the city’s troubled jail system from Adams, who has aligned himself with unionized correction guards in opposition to the prospect.

In the lead-up to the vote, City Hall deployed a multipronged offensive behind the scenes. Members of the administration’s intergovernmental affairs team, the mayor’s chief adviser — Ingrid Lewis-Martin — and even Adams himself dialed up members to try to talk them out of voting for the police reporting bill, according to one lawmaker familiar with the effort who was granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.

The mayor’s vote-whipping operation, however, was not successful.

While a handful of Republicans and moderate Democrats voted against the measures or abstained, both bills passed the body with a veto-proof majority that the speaker’s staff, bill sponsors and advocates held together with their own aggressive outreach strategy.

They focused their efforts on moderate Democrats who were uncomfortable with the legislation because of the continued concern voters have shown for crime.

“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 speaking of colleagues who were expected to vote in favor of the NYPD legislation.

“This serves up a jam sandwich for some of the moderate members,” he said of their potential political predicament.

Should the mayor move forward with vetoes as expected, members would then take up the matter in early 2024 for an override vote — something the Council speaker appeared eager to exercise Wednesday.

“What this says is that we are absolutely maintaining checks and balances,” she said.

Emily Ngo contributed to this report.

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