ALBANY, N.Y. — On an hourlong call Thursday to discuss the growing migrant crisis in the state, county leaders and New York City Mayor Eric Adams all recognized one missing attendee: Gov. Kathy Hochul.
While Hochul says she is working behind the scenes to address the surge of asylum-seekers, she faces calls for a stronger statewide strategy on how to house more than 65,000 migrants who have moved to New York City over the past year — as thousands more are expected to arrive with the expiration of the pandemic-era border policy Title 42.
Hochul’s absence is particularly notable since she has partnered with Adams on other major issues facing the city and state including housing and crime. Unlike the infamously frosty relationship between their predecessors — former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Mayor Bill de Blasio — Hochul and Adams typically get along well. While both are moderate Democrats, Hochul risks further alienating swing suburban voters who flipped four House seats to Republicans in the midterms.
So far, the state’s haphazard approach has aggravated relationships among local governments. Adams sent three buses of migrants to Orange County over the last two days without local leaders’ permission and is vowing to send more to other parts of the state.
“Our governor and the mayor of the City of New York need to be coordinating and not just independently moving individuals around the state because it’s disrupting the state’s emergency management plan,” Steve Acquario, the executive director of the state Association of Counties, said Friday.
County leaders have been miffed about the lack of a statewide approach to accommodating the newcomers. Adams, who convened Thursday’s call with local leaders, said the city can’t handle the influx, and so busing them to the Hudson Valley and wherever he can land contracts with hotels is his only option.
“The national government should have a decompression strategy. I believe that the governor should coordinate a decompression strategy,” Adams told the county and city leaders on the call Thursday in an audio recording of the meeting obtained by POLITICO.
“But in absence of that, not one of you on this call would not say if I’m not getting the help from the national and the state that I’m going to sit back and let my city be destroyed.”
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, a Republican, told Adams: “The best way to handle this was to have the governor on the call and every county represented and [say], ‘Who could help. The city of New York needs help. Who is available?’”
For her part, Hochul’s team held a call Tuesday with county leaders, but she wasn’t on it. She said she continues to have direct conversations with the White House, city and county leaders to address the migrant surge, particularly after Title 42 expired Thursday.
Aides said she was working the phones Friday to find state properties to house migrants and pushing the federal government for more help. The state budget includes $1 billion to aid with the crisis, and Hochul issued an executive order Tuesday to get the funds moving more expeditiously. She also deployed as many as 500 additional National Guard members, in addition to 1,000 already dispatched.
“It’s really important that we pull together as a state and deal with the times that we are in,” Hochul told reporters Thursday. “It’s nothing anyone asked for, but the mayor has been managing this, and it has been a difficult, difficult situation for a year now.”
She said one goal is get to the federal government to more quickly provide work authorization for the migrants, saying the state has 5,000 farm jobs available as well as in openings in other sectors.
“I can’t tell you the difference in the dynamic that it would make if they received temporary protective status, which allows them to work in fairly short time of arriving,” Hochul said.
Acquario, the county association director, said the governor has rightly focused on the needs of the city, but now that migrants are moving to other parts of the state, there must be a larger conversation. Otherwise, buses showing up at county borders creates divisive situations in small communities, he said. Rockland County won a temporary restraining order Thursday to block migrants that planned to come from the city; the Adams administration plans to appeal.
“What I would like to see is people treated in a dignified, humane way,” he said. “This is the United States of America. This is New York State. So the last thing I or any county leader wants to see is any perception of anti-migrant.”
The migrant crisis is the latest challenge for the first-term Democratic governor who has had mixed results on getting her agenda approved by state lawmakers this year and has sought to maintain a strong relationship with Adams — after a decade of fights between previous governors and mayors.
And it is also adding to the turmoil Democrats are already facing in the battleground suburbs after taking a drubbing there in last year’s elections.
“I would have expected him to have received more help from the governor than he’s gotten,” said a Democratic strategist with ties to Albany and City Hall who’s spoken with the mayor about the issue recently and was granted anonymity to discuss the situation.
“The governor should have convened a New York council of mayors and county executives and really come up with comprehensive plan, maybe working with SUNY and CUNY,” he said.
While urging local leaders to reach out to Hochul, Adams also defended her, saying she has tried to help.
“I would rather not have to have to this call,” he said. “The governor has been a partner. She has communicated with us. She wants to find out which one of you are willing to say, ‘Hey, we’re willing to take a small portion of this issue.’ She mentioned that also that we should all come together and determine which municipalities we should be bringing (people) to.”
Others said the governor needs to take a larger role.
P.J. Wendel, the Republican Chautauqua County executive, said on the call that the county has had migrants arriving in small numbers in recent months, and it has received “no assistance” from the state. He and others said that taking in migrants would further strain their limited services.
“I urge everybody on this call to be united and ask our governor to talk with us, listen to us,” Wendel said, “not to stand behind a microphone and a camera and tell us what needs to happen. This needs to be unified; it needs to be worked out.”