The apple of Adams’ eye: Borough President Eric Adams discusses his vision for Brooklyn

Eric Adams spent years patrolling the streets as an NYPD captain. These days he helps his fellow New Yorkers by promoting cycling to work and demonstrating the importance of a balanced lifestyle by pounding fruits and veggies. As an advocate for 2.6 million Brooklynites, Adams says he is working to improve entrenched issues like poor health that hold his constituents back. He spoke with City & State about the governor’s plan to improve long-suffering areas in central Brooklyn, the homelessness crisis and the need for lactation rooms. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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C&S: What do you think of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to spend $1.4 billion to improve health care and several aspects of life in central Brooklyn? What should be prioritized first?

EA: Seven hundred million dollars of that is already allocated to (plans to merge several hospitals in the area), so there’s another $700-plus million. Money for the anti-violence initiative is important, since earlier in this administration they cut a very successful program, Operation SNUG. It’s good to see that we’re going to put some money back into those initiatives. Putting money into open space, parks, healthy eating habits – this is something that we’ve talked about. Far too often, by the time (money) travels down Interstate 95 or 80, that money somehow doesn’t make it down to the homeowners, the residents, the students in Brownsville. Lets hope it doesn’t happen this time.

C&S: What do you think of the mayor’s plan to close hotels and apartments used to house the homeless and build more traditional shelters near where people are becoming homeless?

EA: The rollout was terrible. You don’t say we’re going to make sure that everyone has their fair share of homeless shelters, and then the first one you open is in the most saturated area. The plan was wrong to say they are going to localize at the community boards only. They changed that conversation, now they’re looking at boroughs, which is good. If I became homeless when I was living in Prospect Heights, but you placed me in Park Slope, you’re not displacing me, I still have access within the borough in the intercommunication, transportation system to get to where I have to go. And there’s enough locales in the borough where you can make sure that there is a diversity in communities where a shelter is located. Every community should have a shelter.

“Now we’re saying, ‘So what, you did a great job in building up Brooklyn, now we want to get rid of you. We’re embarrassed to have you here’? Hell no!”

We’re going to have a concept of adopt-a-shelter. We’re going to look at where shelters are located, reach out to all the faith-based locations and have them give people spiritual assistance. We’re going to reach out to our local colleges. If you’re an accounting major, help people with financial literacy; if you’re a (Master of Social Work) major, help people with some of their social issues. Block associations – we’re asking them to adopt a shelter. Stop looking down on people, and find ways to raise them up. Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has 81 square miles, and homeless shelters take up, what, .0000001 of those square miles? And we have too many? That’s not acceptable. And what’s really ironic here is some of the louder voices are the reason that many people are homeless. They moved into the city, gentrified neighborhoods ... elders who have been here for 30, 40 years during the difficult times got displaced, and now they live in shelters. Now we’re saying, “So what, you did a great job in building up Brooklyn, now we want to get rid of you. We’re embarrassed to have you here”? Hell no!

C&S: You and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. have launched a task force on gifted and talented education and entrance to the specialized high schools. What feedback have you heard, and what improvements can be made?

EA: The system is broken, and it would be a miscommunication to give an indication that we can tweak around the edges. Parents are showing up to school, saying there’s a gifted and talented program there, just to find out there’s not. Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant and some of the other schools used to have 30 percent black and Hispanics in the school, and now they’re down to just a residue of black and Hispanic students. There needs to be an infrastructure. You go to certain parts of this city, and the entire system is built around how do you nurture that gifted and talented child to take him through that process from beginning to end. By the time the child leaves the mother’s womb, he’s already on a track to going to a gifted and talented program. It is totally different in parts of the city. And this is probably the most shameful act of the Department of Education – that they are doing nothing to change that.

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C&S: Should they expand admissions criteria so it is no longer based solely on a test score?

EA: That’s what our report is looking at. What were we doing back then that permitted 30 to 40 percent (of black and Latino students) in (specialized) schools? What we’re learning is that there were entire infrastructures that were built to allow identifying that child early. It’s not only an examination that would show the gifts and talents that a child would possess, and nurturing that to make sure that he can move forward, and giving parents basic information. So all of those things build into it. The studies are astonishing that show that if the educator expects less from the child, the child is going to produce less. And in certain parts of the city, there’s a low expectation of the children. It is that, “You know what, we’re just happy that they showed up, and if they get a GED, fine.” And that is the problem that we’re seeing in the Department of Education.

C&S: You seem to have helped start a conversation on the need for lactation rooms. How have you seen that idea spread?

EA: When I used to garden with my dad, and I wanted to see the plants, the lettuce, the tomatoes and everything come right away, he said, “Son, listen, look at the little flower that grew. That’s an indicator that we’re moving in the right direction.” This lactation room is going to go in. Robert Cornegy opened up lactation rooms, others. We want all city agencies to have lactation rooms. That’s the flower. Breastfeeding builds a child’s immune system; it feeds into all that we’re doing around health; it feeds into what we’re doing around financial literacy to bringing down our consumer debt.

We are dealing with the foundational issues that are holding Brooklynites back, and because of that, we’re only going to see the flower. But that flower is going to be a true harvest that people are going to live a better, more qualitative life.