ALBANY, N.Y. — Mayor Eric Adams wants the suburbs to be a relief valve for New York City’s migrant crisis.
It’s a politically explosive request that Gov. Kathy Hochul has refused to grant. And if she does, local government officials have pledged a raft of legal challenges.
“We are not a sanctuary county,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, said in an interview. He added, “Don’t make your problem our problem.”
Upstate and suburban counties could give further breathing room for Adams as the influx of 100,000 migrants have strained New York City’s resources and services. But for Hochul, agreeing to send migrants outside of the city and turning motels and hotels into shelters only expands the radius of the delicate politics on the issue.
“Politically, it’s just so volatile if we don’t show some changes,” said Assemblymember Pat Fahy, an Albany-area Democrat.
Adams’ insistence that Hochul expand her emergency order on the migrant crisis is the latest sign that the state’s two most powerful Democrats are on a collision course over how to respond to the widening migrant crisis, which could have severe political fallout for their party and President Joe Biden next year.
Many of the areas of the state that do not want migrants sent by New York City include Long Island and the Hudson Valley — two regions that will be key battlegrounds for House control in 2024. Adams in recent days has made direct pleas to Hochul to issue an emergency order to command counties on Long Island and in Upstate New York to shelter migrants sent by bus from the city.
Adams said Tuesday that Hochul’s approach is “wrong” and called for more aggressive federal action.
“Any plan that states that all migrants must stay in New York City, that’s a failed plan,” he said. “Any plan that does not include stopping the flow at the border, that’s a failed plan.”
A Hochul spokesperson called the mayor’s comments unfortunate and pointed to the $1.5 billion provided to the city for migrant relief.
And Hochul won’t budge. She has insisted a 1981 agreement that requires New York City to provide shelter to homeless people does not apply statewide — a case that is in court and has sweeping future implications on the state’s responsibilities.
Hochul in a speech last week said her stance in the so-called right-to-shelter case “is one of the reasons we cannot and will not force other parts of our state to shelter migrants, nor are we going to be asking these migrants to move to other parts of the state against their will.”
A former Erie County government official before her election to the House in 2011, Hochul has also been increasingly critical of Adams’ policy of disbursing people outside of the city as she faces increased pressure to push back on the city’s move.
And many of those Upstate and suburban communities do not want motels and hotels converted into migrant shelters. County leaders have issued their own emergency orders to block Adams’ policy, which his administration is challenging in court.
Still, the governor’s lack of action to supersede the county orders through an emergency declaration has disappointed some advocates, who have sided with the mayor.
“It would solve a lot of problems for her,” said Josh Goldfein, a lawyer with The Legal Aid Society of New York, which is suing over the right-to-shelter flap.
Hochul has already issued a narrowly tailored emergency order in May to address the influx of migrants. A new emergency order knocking down county-level bans could give her more ownership of the problem, Goldfein said.
“If she were to issue an executive order, she could take charge of the whole thing and determine where people are placed,” he said.
But any effort by Hochul to override county governments would likely face a ferocious challenge. Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day said any gubernatorial order to force migrants into hotels in his Hudson Valley communities would trigger a lawsuit.
“I don’t think she can remove the emergency we have in place,” Day said.
Voters, meanwhile, have given both Adams and Hochul low marks for their handling of the migrant crisis, a Siena College poll this month found.
The dispute over the migrant response has highlighted the clashing politics at play for Adams and Hochul, and it has brought down both of their poll numbers ahead of the 2024 elections when all 26 House seats and all 213 state legislative seats are on the ballot.
Both the mayor and governor have downplayed their disagreements. (Adams on Tuesday still called her “an amazing partner”).
But Democratic allies of the governor believe she wants to keep migrants in New York City, where tent cities have been built on state and city-owned properties. Hochul is also trying to finalize an agreement with the Biden administration to use Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn for migrant housing.
The governor has repeatedly pointed to the state assets used for migrant relief, including the state aid, the deployment of the National Guard and legal aid.
She has also pressed Biden for more support and to make it easier for migrants seeking asylum to work. The Biden administration responded this week in a letter outlining how the city could improve its migrant response.
Adams has also been rebuffed by the White House for a federal emergency order, typically used for natural disasters like hurricanes or floods.
Homeland Security officials have also recommended 11 federal sites in New York that could house migrants. The proposed sites include Stewart International Airport in the Hudson Valley, Massena International Airport near Canada as well as locations in the Albany area, on Long Island and Atlantic City, N.J., according to a person familiar with the list.
Hochul has not taken the potential use of those sites off the table. Meanwhile, support for housing migrants outside of New York City among some elected leaders has faded.
In Erie County, two migrants in separate alleged incidents have been accused of sexual assault. After the arrests, Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a Hochul ally, announced he would no longer accept more migrants from New York City.
A spokesperson for Poloncarz declined to make him available for an interview and added, “This seems more like a conversation between the mayor and the governor.”
Broome County Executive Jason Garnar, a moderate Democrat who approved an emergency order to bar migrants from staying in local hotels, said shelter and housing space since the onset of the pandemic has been “exhausted.”
“The prospect of New York City sending a bus of people with very little information and putting them at a hotel would absolutely break our system,” he said.
Garnar said the Adams administration doesn’t grasp housing and shelter are issues in Upstate New York.
“The mayor and his staff, just based on their actions, maybe think some parts of upstate are a barren wilderness where there’s tons of empty buildings around and tons of room for different types of people,” Garnar said. “So they look at us as a solution for their problems, and it’s really not.”
Includes reporting by Joe Anuta.