Gov. Hochul Defends Bail Reform as Mayor Adams Presses for Changes

Hours before Mayor Eric Adams held a news conference on Wednesday to argue that an “insane, broken system” allowed repeat offenders to keep getting arrested and then released without bail in New York City, Gov. Kathy Hochul issued something of a pre-emptive strike.

Four months ago, the governor and the State Legislature tightened New York’s bail laws for the second time in three years, making more crimes bail-eligible and giving judges additional discretion to consider both the severity of a case and a defendant’s repeat offenses when setting bail.

But the mayor, dissatisfied with the city’s crime rates, was again putting the ball back in her court.

At her own news conference, the governor, visibly peeved, brought up the recent bail law revisions. “I’m not sure why everybody intentionally ignores this,” she said. “But people are out there and, you know, people trying to make political calculations based on this.”

She did not mention Mr. Adams, a fellow Democrat, by name, or, for that matter, her Republican opponent in November, Representative Lee Zeldin. But both Mr. Adams and Mr. Zeldin have hammered the governor on the state’s approach to bail and have made similar claims about how the bail laws have affected crime rates.

Mr. Adams, who has based much of his mayoral platform on reducing crime, even made use of physical props on Wednesday to illustrate his point. He made his remarks next to poster boards detailing the crimes of individuals he said were some of the city’s worst recidivists. (Mr. Adams said his lawyers forbade him from releasing the individuals’ names.)

Mayor Adams gave examples of how some repeat offenders had committed multiple crimes after being released without bail.Credit…Natalie Keyssar for The New York Times

The mayor and his police officials also unleashed a litany of statistics they said demonstrated the severity of the problem.

“Our recidivism rates have skyrocketed,” Mr. Adams said. “Let’s look at the real numbers. In 2022, 25 percent of the 1,494 people arrested for burglary committed another felony within 60 days.”

He added: “In 2017, however, just 7.7 percent went on to commit another crime.”

In 2019, state lawmakers rewrote bail law so that fewer people awaiting trial landed behind bars because they could not afford to post bail. Law enforcement agencies have furiously fought the law, whose implementation came at the beginning of the pandemic, during which gun crime rose in cities around the country.

After a wave of criticism, lawmakers agreed upon a set of changes in 2020 that added two dozen crimes to the list of serious charges for which a judge could impose cash bail.

The second revisions to bail law came earlier this year, after Mr. Adams demanded further changes, angering many lawmakers.

But Mr. Adams said tougher revisions are still needed. He called on the state to allow judges to more frequently take dangerousness into account when deciding to set bail, and to have juveniles face gun charges in the adult part of criminal court.

He insisted on Wednesday that he was not trying to target the governor, his ostensible political ally whom he endorsed less than two months ago. Ms. Hochul, likewise, chose to highlight the programs she and the mayor had worked on together, and the ways they were “in sync.”

The mayor and governor have made a point of projecting political comity, a new tone after years of public feuding between their predecessors, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But the uptick in crime and Mr. Adams’s laserlike focus on the issue threatens to strain their relationship.

Murders and shootings are down slightly this year, but major crimes including burglaries have risen more than 35 percent.

Mr. Adams, a former police captain, sometimes turns to hyperbole to describe the situation. In May, he said he had never seen crime at these levels, despite serving as a police officer in the 1980s, when crime was far, far higher. Today’s murder rate, for example, is roughly on par with 2009, when Michael R. Bloomberg was mayor.

But Mr. Adams ran for office on the premise that he would bring down crime, and his political imperatives threaten to collide with Ms. Hochul’s, who has every incentive to cast herself as firmly in control of the situation.

Many left-leaning advocates, as well as some political leaders, have pushed the state to not undo changes made to the bail laws in recent years.Credit…Cindy Schultz for The New York Times

Legislative leaders in Albany have recoiled at Mr. Adam’s recent comments. When a reporter last week asked the mayor if he wanted a special session to address bail reform, and the mayor responded in the affirmative, Michael Gianaris, the deputy majority leader in the Senate, compared him to Republicans.

“It’s sad Mayor Adams has joined the ranks of right wingers who are so grossly demagoguing this issue,” Mr. Gianaris said. “He should focus less on deflecting from his own responsibility for higher crime and more on taking steps that would actually make New York safer.”

When Mr. Adams pressed for the second wave of changes to the law earlier this year, Ms. Hochul adopted the cause as her own, expending significant political power to do so. The effort met with fierce opposition in the Legislature, with one lawmaker going on a hunger strike to oppose the Hochul plan.

And while Ms. Hochul was ultimately successful in winning alterations, the effort left a stain on her relationship with the Legislature.

Among other things, the 2022 revisions made more crimes eligible for bail, and gave judges additional discretion to consider whether a defendant is accused of causing “serious harm” to someone, or has a history of using or possessing a gun. The new changes did not, however, impose a dangerousness standard that Mr. Adams is now pressing for, which criminal justice advocates argue is subject to racial bias.

Mr. Adams’s decision to push for even more changes has created an opening for Mr. Zeldin, who last week held a news conference to voice support for Mr. Adams’s calls for a special session to address bail reform.

“I believe that judges should have discretion to weigh dangerousness and flight risk and past criminal records and seriousness of the offense on far more offenses,” Mr. Zeldin said.

A poll this week found that Ms. Hochul has a 14-point lead over Mr. Zeldin — “an early but certainly not insurmountable lead,” according to the pollster at Siena College.

Gov. Hochul said that judges and prosecutors had the “tools they needed” to improve public safety, but had not deployed them effectively.Credit…Anna Watts for The New York Times

The mayor on Wednesday took pains to insist that he and Mr. Zeldin were not, in fact, joined at the hip.

“We must have a broken hip, because he clearly doesn’t get it,” Mr. Adams said of Mr. Zeldin. “He has voted against all of the responsible gun laws in Congress.”

The Legal Aid Society, the main legal provider for poor New Yorkers, said in a statement on Wednesday that the Adams administration was trying to “cherry-pick a handful of cases to misguide New Yorkers and convince them that bail reform is responsible for all of society’s ills.”

Ms. Hochul was more circumspect in her criticism, instead focusing on the recent revisions to the bail laws. She said that the changes gave judges and district attorneys “the tools they need” to improve public safety and suggested that those who failed to utilize them should answer to voters.

“I believe in accountability at all levels,” she said. “And you know, people can’t just be saying that they don’t have something when they do have it.”

Jonah E. Bromwich contributed reporting.

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