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Manuela López Restrepo

NYC is waging a war against rats. Meet the woman leading the charge

New York Mayor Eric Adams, left, introduces Kathleen Corradi, center, as the first-ever citywide director of rodent mitigation, also known as the "rat czar." (Bobby Caina Calvan/AP)

Welcome to the NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.

The rats don't run this city! Allegedly.

Who is she? Kathleen Corradi is the newly appointed New York City 'rat czar', the first person to hold the position aiming to address a swelling rat population.

  • Corradi is a former elementary school teacher, and notably, not a rodentologist, but she says her unique experiences helped her qualify for her official role as the citywide director of rodent mitigation. She will earn a salary of $155,000 a year. 
  • While working for the Department of Education's office of sustainability, Corradi developed the Zero Waste Schools program, the nation's largest zero waste program, and also led the agency's rodent reduction efforts to pretty promising success, according to her bio in the official New York City press release

What's the big deal? While they can be seen as filthy pests by many, the presence of rats in an urban environment can actually be indicative of many environmental factors directly tied to quality of life.

  • When restaurants reopened after the initial pandemic lockdowns, New York City saw a surge in complaints from residents having to deal with rodents in their everyday lives. Mayor Eric Adams has made it a point in his tenure to address the issue.   
  • Appointing this 'rat czar' is just one part of the city's multimillion-dollar campaign to fight the rat population across city agencies. That includes the 3.5 million dollar 'Harlem Rat Mitigation Zone', a plan that will enlist a dedicated staff to tackle the issue with a variety of new technologies and strategies.  

What are people saying?

Here's the rat Czar herself on her call of duty:

Rats are a symptom of systemic issues, including sanitation, health, housing, and economic justice. As the first director of rodent mitigation, I'm excited to bring a science- and systems-based approach to fight rats. New York may be famous for the Pizza Rat, but rats, and the conditions that help them thrive will no longer be tolerated – no more dirty curbs, unmanaged spaces or brazen burrowing. I'm honored to lead this work, grateful to Mayor Adams for this opportunity and look forward to sending the rats packing. 

For Mayor Eric Adams, it's personal:

Everyone that knows me, they know one thing: I hate rats.

And professional:

Rats impact how you feel about the city that you're in, that's why we're taking this serious. 

New York City sanitation commissioner Jessica Tisch went viral last year for her rodent battle cry:

The rats are going to absolutely hate this announcement. But the rats don't run this city. We do. 

And Kaylee Byers, a senior scientist at the Pacific Institute for Pathogens, Pandemics and Society, spoke to NPR's Shortwave on the city's approach to tackling the rat issue, and how it should be more holistic:

We need to not just be thinking about 'How do we eradicate rats?' We've been doing that for thousands of years — catch, kill, repeat — and it's not working."  

"[We need to tackle how] rats intersect with other aspects of urban planning in the city — waste management, green spaces, transit, housing. 

Want more on city politics? Listen to Consider This on what Chicago's mayoral race says about how officials are handling crime.

So, what now?

Learn more:

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