For New York City mayor, his war on rats becomes personal

February 9, 2023 GMT
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FILE - A caution sign for rodenticide is posted on a fence next door to a building, second from left, owned by New York Mayor Eric Adams in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York, Dec. 7, 2022. Mayor Eric Adams took the war on vermin into unfamiliar territory on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023 when he contested a pair of summonses from his own health department citing him for allegedly allowing broods of rodents to take residence at his Brooklyn property. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, file)
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FILE - A caution sign for rodenticide is posted on a fence next door to a building, second from left, owned by New York Mayor Eric Adams in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York, Dec. 7, 2022. Mayor Eric Adams took the war on vermin into unfamiliar territory on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023 when he contested a pair of summonses from his own health department citing him for allegedly allowing broods of rodents to take residence at his Brooklyn property. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, file)

NEW YORK (AP) — Every New York City mayor in history has battled rats. But for current mayor Eric Adams, the war on vermin has taken a peculiar turn as he tries to burnish his image as the city’s exterminator-in-chief.

Adams went before a hearing officer Thursday — for the second time — to contest two tickets he got from his own health department for allegedly allowing broods of rodents to take residence at his Brooklyn townhouse.

Participating via telephone, Adams contested the findings of an inspector who found rat burrows along a fence line and “fresh rat droppings” in front of the mayor’s garbage bins.

The city issued the summonses Dec. 7, just a day after another hearing officer dismissed an earlier $300 ticket for failing to control the rat population at the same property. Each of the new tickets could also carry a fine of $300 or more.

The mayor, who usually prides himself on conducting himself with a little “swagger” during his public appearances, was subdued and respectful during the hearing.

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Adams denied he has a rat problem. His own inspections of his property, he said, did not produce signs of any rodents. Adams said he pays an exterminator monthly and spent $7,000 a year ago to keep the property rodent-free. At one point, the mayor could be heard during the half-hour hearing searching his electronic files for receipts and other documents to make his case.

Adams, a Democrat, also assured the hearing officer his tenants were heeding city rules about how to handle garbage and recyclables.

“We all don’t like rats, and we’re all cooperating together,” Adams said.

A handful of reporters listened in as the mayor seemed to profess surprise over the most recent citations, saying some of the alleged infractions observed were actually on his neighbor’s property.

City records show that Adams has gotten at least 18 summonses over the years at his Brooklyn address, many of them related to the handling of garbage. Many times he simply paid the fines, but not this time.

The hearing officer told Adams that she would decide within 30 days if any fines are due.

In his first year in office, Adams launched battles against guns and homelessness — and rats have also proved vexing for a mayor who is currently interviewing applicants for a new director of rodent mitigation, a title promptly dubbed the “ rat czar.”

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Before he became mayor, Adams, as the Brooklyn borough president, was known for his dislike of rats. He famously turned stomachs when he demonstrated a trap for reporters that relied on a bucket filled with a vinegary, toxic soup to drown rats lured by the scent of food.

The trap wasn’t very effective, nor was every other attempt by previous mayors to vanquish the city’s rat population.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio spent tens of millions of dollars on efforts to reduce the rat population in targeted neighborhoods through more frequent trash pickup, more aggressive housing inspections and replacing dirt basement floors with concrete.

In a prior attempt that proved to be more amusing than lethal, city officials unveiled a scheme to use dry ice to suffocate rats in their burrows but elicited guffaws when workers chased — but never caught — one of the fleeing vermin.

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Adams has held press conferences to periodically bemoan rodents as a scourge on New York society.

“Let’s be clear: I hate rats, and we have too many of them and we have to get rid of them,” he said in June while announcing a proposed city spending plan.

In November, he signed a slate of legislation intended to reduce the city’s rat problems, including new rules limiting how long garbage can sit out on curbs and established what the city calls “rat mitigation zones.”

Soon after, he began looking for a rat czar, who, according to the job description, would be “highly motivated and somewhat bloodthirsty.”