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Emily Ngo, Nick Reisman and Jeff Coltin

Eric Adams’ legal woes overshadow NYC’s migrant crisis

Eric Adams scrapped high-level meetings in Washington on Thursday about migrant aid to rush home after a federal raid of his chief fundraiser’s Brooklyn home. | Hans Pennink/AP

NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Eric Adams is juggling a new crisis — in addition to the old ones.

The expanding federal corruption investigation threatens to overshadow the challenge he spent much of the year confronting: a surge of more than 120,000 migrants that has overwhelmed city resources. The new campaign finance scandal leaves Adams hamstrung as he lobbies Washington and Albany for more help with the migrants.

Some local officials worry about Adams’ difficult position.

“This level of fiscal stress requires complete focus, and it is concerning how many legal fires are surrounding him,” City Council Member Sandy Nurse said in an interview.

At no time was that more evident than on Thursday. Instead of tending to pressing migrant needs with a slate of Washington meetings, he rushed back to the city to address the scandal.

He had landed in Washington to advocate for migrant funding at about the same time that federal agents were raiding his chief fundraiser’s home in Brooklyn. The mayor pulled up to his first meeting in the Capitol but never even got out of the car before deciding to return home, a person familiar with his movements told POLITICO.

Adams later said the instinct to “be on the ground” compelled him to leave.

“I was notified by our team that something was taking place with the campaign staffer, and I wanted to be here to make sure that we fully complied,” Adams told PIX11 on Friday.

But jetting home meant scrapping the chance to be on the ground in Washington.

He missed an opportunity to strategize with the mayors of Chicago and Denver on the major cities’ collective approach to requesting $5 billion in federal aid to address migrants.

And Adams, who once said the migrant crisis “will destroy New York City,” missed face-to-face meetings with White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, senior adviser Tom Perez, Department of Homeland Security officials and Capitol Hill lawmakers.

The federal investigation into whether Adams’ campaign conspired with the Turkish government to obtain illegal donations, as the New York Times reported, is shifting focus away from the tens of thousands of migrants overwhelming the city’s budget.

In the City Council, members fighting cuts to social services that Adams has proposed to offset migrant costs that he said will add up to $12 billion worried how the investigation will affect the mayor’s inner circle.

“What the mayor should do, despite all the challenges he has personally, is get everybody to work together,” City Council Member Gale Brewer said in an interview.

Mayor Eric Adams delivers remarks with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul at the signing of legislation to create the New York City Housing Authority Preservation Trust in Manhattan on June 16, 2022. | Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

But he had an important backer Monday: Gov. Kathy Hochul, who said she isn’t concerned the probe into his campaign would put the migrant crisis on the back burner.

“He has been laser-focused on this,” she said, adding: “We have a lot of work to do, so I have full confidence that he will not be distracted.”

Before the raid on Adams fundraiser Brianna Suggs’ home, two Adams campaign supporters had pleaded guilty to a so-called straw donor scheme and his one-time buildings commissioner was indicted on bribery charges.

In Washington, White House and congressional leaders preparing to see Adams as part of the mayors’ coalition learned at the last minute Thursday that he wasn’t coming, several told POLITICO. Adams’ team gave them no explanation.

Some House members noted that New York City’s clout is already weakened by Adams’ falling out with President Joe Biden over the mayor’s statements that the White House had abandoned the city.

“The mayor has sent mixed messages,” Staten Island Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican, said in an interview. “On one hand, he wants to curtail ‘right to shelter,’ but on the other hand, he keeps opening up more shelters like Floyd Bennett Field.”

The federal airbase in Brooklyn is being prepared for migrant families with children, who will for the first time stay in a “semi-congregate” setting.

The Adams administration is taking in so many newcomers that it has begun imposing 30- and 60-day limits on shelter stays. It’s also directing migrants to a reticketing office devoted to booking them one-way flights out of town. And most recently, it’s considering distributing tents for outdoor migrant living.

Adams’ luck securing federal help could be improved now that he’s part of a coalition of mayors, including from Chicago and Los Angeles.

But Adams’ minimized role was evident last week. It was Denver Mike Johnston, not Adams, who spearheaded the letter to Biden with the big cities’ plea for funding and work authorization.

New York City has 65,000 migrants in its care; Denver has 2,000.

“We have folks who want to work and employers who want to hire them and a federal government who is standing in the way,” Johnston said in a CBS News Colorado interview when he returned home from the Washington meetings.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, meanwhile, said on Capitol Hill that the White House and congressional talks were “a step in the right direction.”

Adams said Friday that the migrant crisis remains a “crucial issue,” and he would reschedule the meetings in Washington.

But he now faces questions about both the city’s handling of migrants and the probe into his campaign finances.

On Friday, POLITICO asked the mayor, a retired police captain, why, as the Messenger reported, the NYPD showed up at Suggs’ Brooklyn home hours before feds raided it. Was it to warn her?

Call the NYPD and ask, Adams responded.

The department in a statement said the visit was standard procedure, just officers making sure the FBI had the right house.

But two former federal agents told the Messenger that they’d never heard of that practice.

Neither Adams nor Suggs have been charged or accused of wrongdoing.

And some advocates say that the mayor couldn’t take his eye off the ball on migrants even if he wanted to.

“I disagree with a lot of what they’ve done, but I don’t think they’re going to be distracted by this,” Win NYC homeless shelter president Christine Quinn said in an interview. “Even if you wanted to ignore it, you couldn’t.”

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