Eric Adams Should Not Have Attended the PA’s Spring Gala
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Mayor Eric Adams attended Stuyvesant’s biggest fundraiser of the year, the Parents’ Association’s (PA) Spring Gala, on May 6, mere days after releasing a budget that slashed education funding. Adams was one of the four top New York politicians, the others being Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, and New York State Senator John Lui, invited to make speeches and bolster the auction. His appearance at the Gala sent a buzz around the Stuyvesant community, while the more sinister implications of his presence went unnoticed.
Five days earlier, on May 1, Jordan Neely, a talented subway performer who was homeless and suffered from mental illness, loudly exclaimed on the F train that he needed food and water. In response, another passenger named Daniel Penny choked Neely for 15 minutes while accomplices held Neely down. Neely tragically died as a result. He had been battling homelessness after being in and out of foster care in his childhood. According to relatives, Neely had developed severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from his childhood and also dealt with autism and schizophrenia. Even worse, Neely was reportedly on a city roster of homeless people who were considered to be most urgently in need of help. Between the “top 50” list and his arrest record, Neely was tangled in a web of NYC’s social systems that inevitably failed to get him the help he needed.
Adams’s first response to this tragic event was to deny its validity. After Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and NYC’s Comptroller Brad Lander spoke out against the murder and vigilantism, Adams called their actions “irresponsible” when an investigation had not been conducted. While ample witnesses and videos confirmed that Neely had been murdered, Adams disregarded the event until a week later, making his official remarks of support for Neely on May 10 following the arrest of Penny. Despite Adams’s silence and poor leadership, protesters took to the streets to demand justice for Neely. As the city’s leader, Adams should have taken a braver stance in support of Neely immediately, yet his failure to do so shocked none due to his political history.
Adams’s recent policies have played a major role in many of the broken systems that are to blame for Neely’s death. In November 2023, the former NYPD officer announced that in response to the ongoing mental health crisis, homeless people with mental illness would be removed from the streets and subways, against their will if necessary, by the police and other city employees. Since then, he has funneled more officers into the subways and increased police overtime drastically. Overall, the NYPD is spending an additional $20 million per month on overtime costs on top of regular levels, which have reached $272 million. Despite this massive allocation of resources, New York City’s subway crime rose by 30 percent in 2022 compared to a year ago. Adams’s police-driven solutions overlook and direct funds away from the systemic issues contributing to the mental health crisis, like underfunded education, foster care, and overrun homeless shelters.
His failure to respond to this event at the time of the Gala, along with his numerous other failures surrounding education and homelessness policy, should have been enough for the Stuyvesant Parent Association (PA) to exclude Adams from their gala, yet he ended up being the key speaker. While this move was made to boost the auction, regardless of politics, by hosting Adams, the Stuyvesant PA was complicit in sweeping the murder of Neely under the rug by giving Adams a platform to continue to ignore the subject. Not only was it a poor message to send as a school, but the moment highlighted Stuyvesant’s extreme privilege as a renowned public school; we can worry much less about budget cuts because we have these types of fundraising events often and can supplement DOE money with donations.
Admittedly, the PA is key in funding a great deal of student life at Stuyvesant. For example, speech and debate, one of the most expensive high school extracurriculars, relies heavily on the PA and Alumni Association to pay for entry fees at competitions, hotels, and bus rides throughout the season that can total to a couple hundred thousand dollars. The PA and alumni network have also been crucial in fundraising for big projects in the past, like robotics labs and escalator upkeep. Yet, while the success of fundraisers like the Spring Gala is undeniably crucial to the school community, no extra money that came from Adams’s star power was worth the moral concession the PA made that night.
Neely’s situation was a result of the social systems that failed him in his youth and the biased criminal justice system that saw him as a criminal rather than a victim. In his time as mayor, Adams upheld these systems and even directed funding away from social spending and towards criminalization. As a high-profile school, Stuyvesant has a responsibility, even while remaining apolitical, to uphold values of human dignity. At upcoming fundraisers, the PA should think more carefully about how they raise money, and students should make a greater effort to hold adults accountable for the messages we send as a community.