Adams stressed unity in her first speech as the City Council’s new leader, saying the legislative body—the most diverse in the city’s history—would prioritize addressing the pandemic, including the recent shortage of tests and booster appointments, as well as public safety, healthcare equity and affordable child care.

John McCarten/NYC Council

Adrienne Adams is sworn in as the new NYC Council Speaker on Jan. 5, 2022.

New York City Councilmember Adrienne Adams of Queens was sworn in Wednesday as the new speaker of the city’s legislative bodymaking history as the first Black New Yorker to hold the post, where she’ll oversee the first City Council with a majority of women lawmakers.

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In her first speech as the Council’s new leader, Adams stressed unity and pledged to prioritize addressing the perils of the ongoing pandemic, including the recent shortage of tests and booster appointments, as well as dealing with issues of public safety, healthcare equity and affordable child care.

“History has its eyes on this Council,” she said, addressing colleagues in the Council chambers, where she wore a white suit jacketa color embraced by female lawmakers in recent years as a symbolic nod to its association with the suffragettes.

“We meet here today as the most diverse Council in history, led by the first African American speaker,” she added. “While this is a moment to celebrate this milestone, we must remember that we are here because New York is at the crossroads of multiple crises—each one competing for our full attention. The cracks in our economic and public health systems widened to massive gaps during the pandemic. The people who elected us demand their government take action.”

Adams, who grew up in Queens, was first elected in 2017 to represent District 28, which includes Jamaica, Rochdale Village, Richmond Hill, and South Ozone Park. Prior to joining the Council, she worked in various private sector jobs—as a flight attendant, training child care professionals, as well as employees of Fortune 500 corporations—and spent several years as the chairperson at Queens Community Board 12.

“Her private sector background as a corporate trainer in the highly competitive business world has helped to prepare her for our contested political environment,” said Gale Brewer, former Manhattan borough president and a new City Councilmember, who was also among those previously competing against Adams for the speaker position.

Others who’d been vying for the speaker role—Councilmembers Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera, Diana Ayala, Justin Brannan and Francisco Moya—also spoke out in support of Adams Wednesday and voted in favor of her nomination.

“She’s someone who cares about economic justice, healthcare, justice, and public safety,” said Moya, who was previously thought to be new Mayor Eric Adams’ preferred speaker candidate. “She saw firsthand what my district and her district in this city has endured as a result of COVID, and who has stood in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in labor, on issues from worker protection for fast food employees to help care for airport workers.”

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All but two councilmembers voted in favor of Adams on Wednesday. Charles Barron, who represents Brooklyn, and Kristin Richardson Jordan of Harlem both voted against her, though declined to vote for an alternative candidate. “We need more than symbolic representation,” Jordan said when casting her vote.

John McCarten/NYC Council

Several NYC Council members pose for a photo during the first session of 2022.

During her first four years in office, Adams was the primary sponsor on 40 pieces of legislation, Council records show: nine in 2018, 15 in 2019, 10 in 2020 and and six last year. Nearly half, or 19 of those, where ultimately adopted or enacted into law.

They include a law requiring the NYPD to produce quarterly reports detailing demographic information related to traffic stops—an effort to curb racial profiling by police—a bill strengthening harassment protections for commercial tenants impacted by the pandemic, and another that grants the city’s police oversight agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, to initiate investigations into incidents of NYPD misconduct without having to wait on someone to file a formal complaint.

Adams, who chairs the Council’s public safety committee, identified police reform and gun violence as among the issues she plans to prioritize as speaker.

“A Black man or woman should not have to fear that a broken taillight could quickly escalate into a death sentence,” she said, while acknowledging the uptick in shootings across the city during the pandemic. “I realize the nuance of this issue and the need for better policing—but we want those police officers to treat people with dignity and respect.”

The new speaker also highlighted the need for the Council to address a slew of other problems, including the healthcare system inequities laid bare by the pandemic and the shortage of COVID-19 tests and vaccine appointments during the recent omicron surge, which has forced New Yorkers to wait in line for hours in the cold.

“We will work together, as partners, to correct the failures of this latest surge,” she said.

Adams also called attention to the crisis of affordable childcare, something further exacerbated by the pandemic as parents across the boroughs scrambled during the early months of the outbreak to take care of their kids while schools went remote.

“The concerns of your constituents about access to safe, quality childcare are the same ones my children have. They’re the same I had when I was raising them. This issue might not be new, but it’s not getting any easier,” Adams said. “The richest city in the world should be able to provide quality childcare to every parent and guardian.”

In addition to Adams’ appointment as speaker, the Council on Wednesday swore in members Keith Powers as majority leader, Republican Joseph Borelli as minority leader, Diana Ayala as deputy speaker and Selvena Brooks-Powers as majority whip.

“The beauty of this particular Council—a true snapshot of New York City in 2022—is that our diversity will make us stronger,” Adams said in addressing her fellow councilmembers. In addition to being the first Council made up predominantly of women, the new group includes the city’s first Korean American member, the first Muslim woman to serve and the first openly gay Black women representatives.

“We will draw on our own lived experiences and wealth of knowledge to help inform, shape, and develop the policies that impact everyday New Yorkers,” Adams said.

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