The Newsletter That Never Sleeps- Edition #13, 7/21/21
Not to spoil anything, but if you aren’t vaccinated, you should get on that. It’s…
THE NEWSLETTER THAT NEVER SLEEPS
- Your weekly five borough briefing -
This is the lucky thirteenth edition of The Newsletter That Never Sleeps, from July 22nd, 2021. Any new subscribers can read all previous editions, which include breakdowns of local races, ranked choice voting, public safety and COVID recovery here. Welcome!
Hey folks, I’m back from a short hiatus to put up a show in Stapleton- it feels great to do theatre again without the threat of COVID looming over us.
Let me just take a big sip of coffee and check the New York Times COVID tracker.
Newly Reported Cases (7/15–7/22): 542 avg. daily cases (+204%)
Newly Reported Hospitalizations: 439 avg. hospitalized patients (+5%)
You’ve probably, at this point, heard that there’s a “pandemic among the unvaccinated”, or something to that effect. The clunky phrasing is part of local government and epidemiologists’ campaigns to nudge vaccine skeptics to their local CVS and jumpstart the country’s stagnant vaccination rates as the Delta variant begins to rage through the nation.
After nearly five straight months of declining COVID-19 cases nationwide, a perfect storm of July 4th celebrations, statewide reopenings and the Delta variant’s arrival on American shores have led to a near tripling of infection rates.
Though different regions of the country are experiencing varying levels of Delta outbreaks, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida (which all have paltry vaccination rates) are experiencing, as the Times puts it, “full-fledged outbreaks”.
The rate of increasing infections among the states does correlate pretty closely to a state’s vaccination rate; the South, where no one state has gotten half of their residents to get even one shot of the vaccine, has seen a 4 in 100,000 infection rate to 19 in 100,000 rate in the last few weeks. By contrast, the Northeast, where the supermajority of adults are vaccinated, has only seen a 2 in 100,000 to 4 in 100,000 increase in cases.
New York City, the largest city, trade hub and tourist destination in the most vaccinated part of the country, is experiencing mixed results. Cases have increased pretty starkly, more than tripling since two weeks ago, but deaths and hospitalizations have remained flat.
While New York City’s vaccination rate (54%) is considerably lower than the rest of the state at large, it seems that NYC’s majority vaccination rate hasn’t kept the Delta Variant at bay but has prevented a corresponding spike in severe cases resulting in hospitalization or death.
While Los Angeles County, the largest county in the country, has reinstated their indoor mask policy, Mayor de Blasio has, for now, rejected the notion of putting any COVID mandates back into place. He has mandated that public facing healthcare workers face an ultimatum: get the vaccine or take a COVID test once a week. For the record, I didn’t know that you were allowed to work in a hospital without getting vaccinated.
For the public, however, de Blasio plans to put out blitz campaigns on vaccinations to get enough New Yorkers protected against the virus so that even a Delta outbreak wouldn’t pose a public health threat.
To be fair, New York’s leaders have been promising that vaccine push for a while, but it hasn’t really made much of a dent in NYC’s unvaccinated pool. The next few months will probably produce a lot of sociological and political science pondering over where the vaccine ceiling is, whether or not we’ve hit it, and why some people- even those who aren’t politically distrustful for the vaccine- won’t get vaccinated.
For now, the Delta variant makes up a supermajority of new COVID-19 cases in NYC. Just a few weeks ago, it made up less than a quarter. Epidemiologists were correct in predicting the transmissibility of the Delta variant, and it does seem that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are slightly less effective at preventing transmission, though two doses of American vaccines does seem to be pretty effective at preventing serious illness.
After a grand American reopening less than two months ago, the landscape of tackling COVID will be completely different than this time last year. Attitudes towards COVID and the vaccine are extremely regionalized, and, for now, the risk of a full-fledged COVID outbreak that would necessitate another lockdown seems to depend largely on the vaccination rate of a particular region. Ironically, the places that would probably fare best from reinstated COVID protocols are the same places that proudly boast their low vaccination numbers and are now experiencing the highest surge in new cases.
Because the Delta surge is still, possibly, a nascent wave of COVID insurgence, it’s difficult to tell how New York will respond. Regardless of political identity, people really don’t want to go back into lockdown, and people just want to get back to normal. That seems more possible for places with higher vaccination rates- which is fine if you live upstate- but New York City, the economic and cultural center of the country, will have to balance a middling vaccination rate and the city’s national standing which bolsters its local economy to pursue the safety and operations of its local livelihood.
Brooklyn: 47% fully vaccinated (+2), 58% adults vaccinated (+2)
The Bronx: 45% fully vaccinated (+2), 57% adults vaccinated (+2)
Manhattan: 65% fully vaccinated (+2), 73% adults vaccinated (+2)
Staten Island: 50% fully vaccinated (+2), 61% adults vaccinated (+2)
Queens: 59% fully vaccinated (+2), 71% adults vaccinated (+2)
I’ve already stated it above, but there hasn’t been much movement in the vaccination rate in the past few weeks. These are the numbers compared to the vaccination rates from two weeks ago, meaning that the last two weeks produced the lowest amount of newly vaccinated New Yorkers since the vaccine became widely available in March.
That’s sort of in line with how the rest of the nation is performing in terms of vaccinations- whereas, before the Johnson & Johnson pause in April, experts predicted a 70% vaccination rate nationwide by late June, that date has been pushed back to sometime in January, 2022.
Though a surge in new cases may finally push some stragglers over the line to get vaccinated, there really may not be that many more people in the country who want to get vaccinated, or believe that the vaccine is safe and not a politically motivated gene melting experiment.
Regardless, at this point, it’s too late to stop another wave in cases- it’s already here. We’ll see how our vaccines fare against a more aggressive version of the coronavirus that we saw last summer- preliminary results show that though they’re pretty effective, those who are fully vaccinated may need a booster shot sometime in the next year, which vaccine manufacturers have already suggested.
But, frankly, if the last four waves of COVID weren’t enough to get people onboard for the vaccine, there’s no reason to believe that the next four will change their minds.
As of July 19th, 2021, courtesy of the New York Times
TYING UP LOOSE ENDS- THE END OF PRIMARY SEASON
Just as quickly as the primaries came, so they went.
After a heated last month of inter-campaign spattering between flailing former frontrunner Andrew Yang, the ever confident and confrontational Eric Adams, newly crowned progressive standard bearer Maya Wiley and come-from-behind moderate superstar Kathryn Garcia, Election Day came and went with less than a half dozen screw ups by the Board of Elections.
Once the BOE learned how to press the delete button on their RCV simulators, results came in pretty reliably and with few hiccups. Two weeks after voters went to the polls, nearly every race was called by the AP, and as of Tuesday, all but two races have been certified by the Board of Elections.
The only two races that have yet to be certified are two city council races that ended within the .5% margin, requiring a hand recount. In Harlem’s CD 9, Kristin Richardson Jordan leads longtime incumbent Bill Perkins by 104 votes after 13 rounds of counting. Jordan trailed Perkins in the first few rounds of counting, but absentee ballots and younger voters pushed Jordan over the top in the final round- for now.
Should Jordan win after the recount is finished, and there’s no reason to believe that she’ll fall behind in the recount, she’ll be one of 4 candidates to have overcome a first round deficit and eventually come out victorious.
In Staten Island, CD 50 seems to have elected David Carr, former Chief of Staff of outgoing Rep. and failed Borough President candidate Steve Matteo. However, Marko Kepi, a marine veteran, led the first round count by a hair and the final round of counting only put Carr ahead by less than 200 votes. The two are entangled in a number of smear campaigns and claims of fraud against each other, and though the race will likely be settled after the recount, the Kepi campaign will likely try to take Carr to court.
These are the only two races that still require some attention from election officials. The smoke has cleared on the rest of the field, though, and given NYC’s heavy blue tilt and concentrated Republican districts throughout Brooklyn and Staten Island, there aren’t many competitive general election races down the line. Though, for example, Eric Adams won’t officially win the title of Mayor until November, he will win the general election.
In the City Council, most incumbents were either term limited or retired, given the coming term will be truncated due to redistricting. Only two incumbents were defeated, Sandy Nurse in CD 37 and, possible, Bill Perkins in CD 9.
Here’s the result of the rest of the city and borough wide races for which there were contested races (in the Comptroller, Public Advocate and Manhattan DA race, one Republican ran unopposed for the ticket and is not expected to put up a legitimate general election campaign. Likewise with Republican BP candidates in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.)
Democrat: Eric Adams
Republican: Curtis Sliwa
Democrat: Brad Lander
Democrat: Jumaane Williams
MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Democrat: Alvin Bragg
MANHATTAN BOROUGH PRESIDENT
Democrat: Mark Levine
BROOKLYN BOROUGH PRESIDENT
Democrat: Antonio Reynoso
QUEENS BOROUGH PRESIDENT
Democrat: Donovan Richards (more on that in a minute)
BRONX BOROUGH PRESIDENT
Democrat: Vanessa Gibbons
STATEN ISLAND BOROUGH PRESIDENT
Democrat: Mark Murphy
Republican: Vito Fossella
Donovan Richards, incumbent BP in Queens, barely held on against moderate Elizabeth Crowley, Queens Democrat bigwig and cousin of Joe Crowley, the US Rep. who shocked the nation when he lost the 2018 Democratic Primary to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
Crowley, who tried to whip up suburban White and Asian support in Queens against Donovan’s strong coalition with Black and Hispanic voters, made some controversial comments about the Black Lives Matter movement in a campaign forum early in the race:
“Certainly Black lives matter to everybody, so do Brown lives, so do yellow lives, so do red lives,” said Senator Crowley. “There should be no discrimination, no matter what color you are. The Irish were white and look at them. They were slaves too, during the time that the African American was a slave. So even white people can be slaves. So all lives matter…”
Donovan Richards, clearly offended by Crowley’s comments, did not hold back on Twitter upon officially winning a second term:
“We won!!! We beat your racist ass.
“@ElizCrowleyNYC told me she would win, because BLM would die? What’s good now?”
“You can’t convince me to to make you deb bp. I stand on principle.”
Richards told the Queens Post that Crowley had run a campaign rife with racist messaging, and that she had suggested she would have won the race were it not for the death of George Floyd.
“She later attempted to bully me into giving her a job within our administration with veiled threats of a divisive and dirty campaign if I did not… She clearly followed through on that threat, using the politics of fear throughout this race with mailers disguised as eviction notices and racist dog whistles within her messages on public safety.”
Donovan has deleted the tweets, but stands firm in his convictions that he didn’t say anything infactual or improper.
“Will you get vaccinated?”
Already Vaccinated/Will Be Vaccinated:
Will Not Get Vaccinated:
“Among those who answered they will not get a vaccine or are still deciding: Which of these are reasons that you [might/would] not get a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available to you? CHECK ALL THAT APPLY.”
I’m worried about allergies or side effects: 53%
I don’t trust the government: 50%
It’s still too untested/I’m waiting to see what happens: 50%
I don’t trust the scientists and companies that make it: 45%
I don’t think it works: 30%
I’m just not concerned about coronavirus: 29%
I never get vaccines, generally: 25%
I had coronavirus/COVID-19, so I think I am immune now: 11%
I still won’t be able to do things: 10%
If there is a ceiling on how many Americans are willing to get vaccinated, it’s important to look at the reasons why there are so many vaccine hesitant people. The answers, from this YouGov poll, are not all that surprising; among those who are still on the fence about the vaccine or refuse to get vaccinated, the majority of respondents cite mistrust in the government and the efficacy of the vaccine.
Unsurprisingly, vaccine hesitancy and government mistrust falls largely along partisan lines, though there is evidence of ranging hesitancy among racial demographics. In New York City, nearly 75% of Black New Yorkers haven’t been vaccinated; a lot of government p.r. has been put to the test to try to woo Black Americans to get vaccinated, but it doesn’t seem to be pushing the needle all that much. I can’t imagine why.
If Donald Trump had won a second term, would there be more Republicans lining up to get vaccinated? It’s hard to say. Trump was very vocal about the efficacy of the vaccine up to his last day in office, so it isn’t as though Trump is deterring his base from getting vaccinated.
There is, undoubtedly, mistrust among Republicans of the Biden Administration and their distribution of the vaccine… even though the vaccines were all developed while Donald Trump was in office, and depending on who you ask, Donald Trump deserves the credit for the record development of the mRNA vaccines.
Local governments have tried persuasion and subtle coercion to get on-the-fencers vaccinated, but given the nation’s stalled vaccination rate, larger institutions are turning to full on vaccine mandates to allow students and employees to return to in person work.
Indiana University recently won a case in federal court to require vaccination for all returning students after eight students sued the university for the vaccine mandate, claiming it infringed upon their rights to choose. Given that universities can legally require you to get vaccinations for measles, smallpox, and all the other boosters you get as a baby, there didn’t seem to be much legal standing for the students.
You’ll come across a wealth of misinformation justifying vaccine hesitancy or denial: the COVID vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which is different than any other vaccine, so it legally shouldn’t be protected by the same laws that allow institutions to mandate other vaccines. The COVID vaccine is only permitted for emergency use by the FDA, and hasn’t been widely approved. The list goes on.
Of course, if your reason for not receiving the COVID vaccine is based in your mistrust of the government, why would a green light from the FDA change your mind about the vaccine?
We’ll see how the private sector and the government respond to the vaccine ceiling we’ve seem to hit. Perhaps a surge in Delta variant cases will compel some to get vaccinated. In Arkansas, where the Delta surge is the worst in the nation, the last week has been a record breaker for new vaccinations.
If the country wants to avoid another lockdown, as well as another wave of mass hospitalization and death, the government needs to leverage its power to get as many people vaccinated as possible without overstepping legal boundaries.
Cuomo to be interviewed in AG harassment probe, by Denis Slatery
A little more than a year ago, Democrats were dreaming of President Cuomo. Now, he’s in the crosshairs of his own Attorney General as part of an extensive sexual harassment and corruption scandal.
Ask a Pediatrician: Is It Safe To Get My Teenager Vaccinated? by Caroline Lewis
A helpful guide to those still on the fence about getting vaccinated, as well as those with unvaccinated teenagers who want to go back to school in the fall.
M.T.A. Postpones Fare Increases as It Tries to Lure Back Riders, by Winnie Hu and Ashley Wong
In what’s probably one of the few smart moves the M.T.A.’s made in the past few years, a proposal to tick up a MetroCard fare up from $2.75 will remain off the table until 2022.
Uptick in COVID-19 Cases Hits Areas With Low Vaccination Rates, by Ann Choi and Rachel Holliday Smith
An interactive map from THE CITY to look at test positivity rates throughout NYC- though the areas with the lowest vaccination rates, particularly south shore Staten Island and East Brooklyn, have the highest infection rates, lower Manhattan is also seeing higher than average transmission rates.
KEEPING UP WITH THE ADAMS’
What’s Eric Adams, who, for technical reasons, we can’t call the incoming 110th Mayor of New York City until November, been up to in the last two weeks after declaring victory in the Democratic mayoral primary?
While Adams says he has not set up an official transition team with current Mayor Bill de Blasio, the transfer of power has begun, at least in a symbolic sense, as de Blasio begins to fade into the background (although the surge in Delta variant cases has forced him to come from behind the curtains to start yet another vaccine push) and Adams begins to introduce himself on the national stage.
In other words, Adams is having a field day. Despite not being the Mayor yet, he went down to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the mayors of several other major American cities to discuss rising gun violence in cities and how to use state power to prevent gun trafficking.
In between taking victory laps around New York City and getting his ears pierced at Claire’s to fulfill a campaign promise to an unnamed child he met on the street during the campaign, Adams has taken to the local and national media circuit to telegraph his agenda: though he is a progressive, he’s very much focused on rising crime and concerned that “lawlessness is the norm” in present day New york City.
It’s half genuine concern stemming from his political underlyings and half general election stump speech that Adams technically has to adhere to, even though his opponent, Curtis Sliwa, is currently speaking to the press about how he plans to turn Gracie Mansion into a cat sanctuary.
In fact, the only time Sliwa’s made news since sweeping the Republican primary for Mayor was when he agreed with Adams to implement a sweeping gun trafficking reform bill which Adams introduced with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Adams plans to make use of Senator Cuomo’s funding from his declaration over a state of emergency concerning gun violence, strengthening NYPD and state police training to close the “iron pipeline” that brings illegal guns into New York City and investing in intervention programs to keep young New Yorkers away from criminal activity. Fairly boilerplate stuff.
Let’s not ignore the fun Adams has had on the trail, though. He took the time to the Irish Americans for Biden committee last week, though as to why this committee still exists after the general election eludes me, to gas up NYC’s Irish descendants:
“I served with some of the greatest men and women in the police department, who were proud of their Irish heritage. I have come here tonight to say, this is your city.”
He’s also taken time to address his signature social justice issues; primarily, he’s taken a vow to erase the names of as many slaveowners from public infrastructure as possible when Mayor. The extent to which he can do this is a little murky; given New York City’s age, you’d be hard pressed, from Stuyvesant High School to the George Washington Bridge, to find a major New York institution that isn’t named after a slaveowner.
In what’s possibly a wink and a nod to those who made hay in the last few weeks of the primary to bring up questions regarding Eric Adams’ place of residence, Adams has also implied that, should he be elected Mayor, he would split his time back and forth between Bed Stuy and Gracie Mansion.
For those keeping up, this is the Bed Stuy apartment that clearly belongs to his adult son and only has one bed. Adams owns several units in the building, and could split time between Gracie Mansion and one of his Brooklyn units- there’s no law saying he can’t.
This is Adams leaning into his “working-class Mayor” roots, suggesting that though he’ll need to be in Gracie Mansion for mayoral duties, he can’t disconnect himself from the on-the-ground day to day life of Brooklyn, where he’ll serve out the rest of his term as Borough President until January 1st, when, barring some freak accident or a heavenly decree commanding the people of New York to vote for Curtis Sliwa, Adams will officially take on the title of Mayor of New York City.
ON THE GROUND- Stapleton, Staten Island
As the sun went down on July 17th, just before the moon and the rain set in over Staten Island, a procession of honking rang out through Stapleton, followed by a rallying cry from the motorcade:
“Eric Garner! Eric Garner!”
Last Saturday marked the seventh anniversary of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of Daniel Pantaleo, then a member of the NYPD who used an illegal chokehold procedure on Garner during an arrest, triggering an asthma attack from Garner and shortly thereafter, succumbing from lack of oxygen. Two officers, including Pantaleo, had been dispatched to the scene because Garner was allegedly selling loose cigarettes in Stapleton.
In the years following Garner’s death and the world hearing his final words recorded on tape, “I can’t breathe”, police relations and the accountability officers face both from the public and the court of law for unlawful murders of unarmed people, particularly Black men, have changed drastically.
Earlier this year, Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. It was a watershed moment in the judicial treatment of police killings of unarmed Black men, as Chauvin was one of the very few officers to be held criminally accountable for the death of their victims.
Today, Daniel Pantaleo, who was officially fired from the NYPD in 2019 but still has police security surrounding his house on Staten Island, is not facing any criminal charges for the death of Eric Garner, who’s death (along with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson) sparked the first summer of Black Lives Matter riots across America.
On the seventh anniversary of Garner’s death, though, a state judge has ruled that Garner’s family would finally be allowed a state inquiry into the matter to judge the extent of police and managerial misconduct that led to Mr. Garner’s death.
The Manhattan Supreme Court announced a judicial inquiry into the death of Garner’s death that will begin in late October. Though a full list of witnesses and defendants should be announced by the end of the week, anyone who was present at the scene or involved in the chain of command is liable to be called to testify at the inquiry, meaning that former NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and even Bill de Blasio himself could, ostensibly, called to the stand.
The scope of the inquiry is likely to be a bit more narrow than that, however, and the witnesses the court does call to testify will add clarity to exactly how far reaching the inquiry into Garner’s death will be. At the very least, it is likely that Pantaleo, other officers on the scene, members of Garner’s family, or Pantaleo’s commanding officers, will be a part of the inquiry.
It’s unclear as to what would come of the state inquiry; a criminal charge, at this point, is unlikely, and will most likely end in the legislative chamber where the state assembly or city council will use the findings of the inquiry as a cudgel to advance police reform legislation.
Newly elected Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, will take part in the state inquiry, as it will ostensibly not overlap in time with his duties as DA.
Gwen Garr, Garner’s mother, has been vocal in pushing the court into opening a state inquiry despite pushback from City Hall, citing unanswered questions and a lack of accountability imposed upon the NYPD:
“We’re still going to court about it and we’re still trying to get the officers to stand accountable — the ones who were responsible for my son’s death that day.”
Thanks for reading this edition of The Newsletter That Never Sleeps. If you have any feedback, leads, stories, or just want to reach out, feel free to email me at email@example.com or @kieranian_ on Twitter.