February 21, 2022
By Joe Anuta
As a candidate, Mayor Eric Adams vowed to nearly double funding for city parks. His first budget, however, contained little new money for local green spaces — the third campaign pledge absent from the recently-areleased [sic] spending plan.
During the mayoral race, a nonprofit called New Yorkers for Parks issued a challenge to candidates: dedicate at least 1 percent of the city’s overall budget to the Department of Parks and Recreation. The idea was to match funding levels found in municipalities elsewhere in the country — which typically allocate up to 2 percent of their budgets to parks — and to put more money toward upkeep and services.
Adams accepted the challenge. But in the $98.5 billion preliminary budget he released Wednesday, the parks department was allocated around $500 million — or about 0.5% of total expenditures.
“The parks department has been woefully underfunded for 40 years, and the last two years have finally shown that to a larger audience,” said Adam Ganser, executive director of the parks nonprofit. “Mayor Adams used that as a way to get elected, and we expect for him to come up with a plan to get to the pledge he made.”
The allocation for parks is roughly in line with preliminary budgets from past years, which Ganser said have steered inadequate resources to the department to keep grounds maintained and trash-free. However, the agency was also subject to Adams’ citywide savings plan, which tasked nearly every department to cut its spending by 3 percent by focusing on nixing vacant positions. Wednesday’s spending plan showed a headcount reduction at the agency of 250 people.
Adams’ office referred POLITICO to a Feb. 4 press conference at which the mayor announced Susan Donoghue as parks commissioner. At the time, Adams said the end of federal stimulus funds required budget cuts at nearly every agency. However, he added that his office still aimed to boost park spending to 1 percent of the total budget, which would require nearly doubling current expenditures, though he has not released any specific plans to do so.
“There is a permanent arm of my office that is focusing on making sure we are reaching our long-term goals,” he said. “And [that] is one of those goals.”
City Council Member Shekar Krishnan, who chairs the body’s Committee on Parks and Recreation, said he takes the mayor at his word and believes the increase will happen during the negotiation process ahead of the Council’s budget vote in late June.
“It has to be the case,” he said. “We’ve seen in this pandemic the way in which parks and green spaces are as much an issue of open space as an issue of public health and racial justice … The best way we can address these issues is to put forward $1 billion for parks in this budget.”
As a candidate, Adams made two other big pledges that were missing from his first budget proposal. In April, the mayor promised to create a citywide organic waste collection program, but zeroed out funding for the initiative in Wednesday’s budget. Adams had even criticized former Mayor Bill de Blasio for making nearly identical cuts during the pandemic.
Adams also had told a group of affordable housing advocates that he would double the city’s annual capital budget to $4 billion to boost production and preservation of income-restricted housing. Once the spending proposal was released, observers were displeased.
“We are extremely disappointed that he did not even mention housing in his remarks nor prioritize it in his budget plans,” Rachel Fee, head of the nonprofit New York Housing Conference, said in a statement Wednesday. “Instead, he chose to maintain the status quo and abandon his campaign promise.