Four days before Christmas, Mayor Eric Adams of New York gathered his top aides on the stairs of City Hall’s rotunda for an end-of-year message.
As his walk-in music blared from the speakers, Mr. Adams gave a thumbs-up to his staff, positioning himself between two video screens. One showed the year, 2023; the other displayed the message, “Jobs Are Up. Crime Is Down.”
The news conference resembled a campaign event, full of applause and cheerleader-like encouragement for the mayor at the halfway mark of his first term. And by keeping a laserlike focus on trumpeting two key statistical achievements, Mr. Adams seemed intent on pushing a counternarrative to the growing perception that he is not up to the job.
The mayor faces the lowest approval rating since Quinnipiac University began polling the popularity of New York City mayors in 1996. New Yorkers disapprove of almost every aspect of how Mr. Adams is handling his job and don’t believe he is trustworthy, the poll found.
He has made unpopular cuts to schools and libraries to close looming budget gaps, and recently returned from a trip to Washington with the news that the city should not expect help with an influx of migrants. He was accused in a legal claim filed last month of committing sexual assault in 1993, a charge he has strongly denied.
On top of it all, the home of the mayor’s chief fund-raiser was raided by the F.B.I. and Mr. Adams’s phones and tablet were seized as part of a federal investigation into his campaign’s fund-raising.
And when he tries to give voice to his side of the story, his choice of words often gets in the way.
When asked recently to describe this past year in one word, the mayor replied, “Uh, New York. This is a place where everyday you wake up, you could experience everything from a plane crashing into our Trade Center to a person who is celebrating a new business that’s opened.”
He offered another head-scratcher at the City Hall news conference on jobs and crime, when he was asked what he would say to New Yorkers angry about the painful budget cuts that he had implemented.
“I wake up in the morning,” Mr. Adams said, “and sometimes I look at myself, and I give myself the finger.”
Hours after he made those remarks, a video of his comments were posted on social media by the Republican National Committee’s rapid response account.
Some of the mayor’s policies have received broad praise: his plan to put trash in large containers instead of in bags on the street and to expand curbside composting; the city’s push to regain most of the jobs lost during the pandemic; efforts to stabilize public housing, address climate change, expand youth programs and boost the life sciences industry; and a proposal to build 100,000 homes.
But critics cite what they say are troubling trends: a rise in stop-and-frisk policing; a slow trickle of new affordable housing with major projects many years from opening; a failure to create enough preschool seats for children with disabilities; a delay in providing basic benefits to the most vulnerable New Yorkers and a pattern of stymying major bus and bike lane projects in response to opposition from political allies.
“Beyond the issues that are weighing on New York City voters, it appears there’s a lack of confidence in Mayor Adams,” said Mary Snow, an assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll.
Mr. Adams has even alienated key allies like Henry Garrido, the leader of District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal employees’ union. The union is suing the Adams administration over the budget cuts.
Mr. Garrido praised the mayor for settling 90 percent of outstanding union contracts but said it’s been a “mixed bag” because budget cuts are eliminating revenue- producing jobs such as environmental inspectors and are hurting struggling New Yorkers.
“Thirty thousand people waiting for food stamps is outrageous,” Mr. Garrido said.
It is far too soon to gauge where the federal investigation into the mayor’s fund-raising will lead; Mr. Adams has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But even if the mayor emerges unscathed, his bid for a second term in 2025 may be undermined by pocketbook issues, especially for middle- and working-class New Yorkers.
“His budget cuts will be just as politically harmful as any investigation,” said Monica Klein, a strategist who often advises progressive Democrats.
The United Federation of Teachers has filed suit against the Adams administration to block education funding cuts. And parents in particular have been upset about the painful budget cuts to schools, prekindergarten and libraries. Robert Desir, a lawyer who lives in Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, said that he is worried that his 2-year-old daughter won’t receive a free 3-K spot, which former Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged would be universal by now. If his family has to pay for preschool instead, they might consider leaving the city.
“The city is becoming increasingly expensive, and it’s difficult for people to thrive and plan for the future,” said Mr. Desir, who joined a group called New Yorkers United for Child Care that is circulating a petition to stop the cuts.
Mr. Adams has blamed the budget cuts on the cost of caring for asylum seekers, saying that he, like many New Yorkers, is “angry” that the federal government is not doing more.
At the same time, Mr. Adams’s cuts have come under increasing scrutiny, with fiscal experts suggesting that his administration has overstated the cost of the migrant crisis.
A report from the city comptroller, Brad Lander, found that the migrant crisis’s cost will be $465 million lessthan budgeted this year and $1.61 billion less in fiscal year 2025. Mr. Lander urged “stronger management” to address the city’s “fiscal challenges,” such as real-time data to determine the cost of migrant spending and whether the budget cuts are achieving the expected savings.
It is also unclear whether Mr. Adams can take full credit for improvements on jobs and crime. Overall crime is down slightly compared with last year, according to Police Department statistics, but crime is also dropping nationally.
And while there was job growth in New York City, it has slowed this year. The city still has not regained all the nearly 1 million jobs it lost at the outset of the pandemic in 2020, according to the state Labor Department. New York City is ending the year with an official unemployment rate of 5.3 percent, slightly higher than a year ago.
Bertha Lewis, a longtime organizer and president of the Black Institute, said she was disappointed that she had not seen one “big idea” from the mayor such as universal prekindergarten from Mr. de Blasio. And she questioned his management skills.
“He has to get a hold of the management of the city,” said Ms. Lewis. “You must manage how the machine is actually working. That’s what being mayor is all about.”
As Mr. Adams’s standing has deteriorated, so has his relationship with the City Council, which has already overridden a veto from the mayor on housing vouchers and just passed bills banning solitary confinement in the city’s jails and requiring reporting of police stops despite the mayor’s objections.
The mayor’s office is making “harmful and hysterical budget cuts that are intended to generate outrage,” said Lincoln Restler, a councilman who is a leader of the Progressive Caucus and has questioned Mr. Adams’s management for over a year.
“This is not a mayor who had a lot of juice in the City Council last year, and the combination of investigations, sagging poll numbers and deeply harmful budget cuts are not strengthening his hand,” Mr. Restler added.
The mayor has often criticized the news media for failing to focus on the successes of his administration and for paying too much attention to things flagged by the “sentence police,” even though he insisted he speaks “the way New Yorkers talk.” He has also suggested that he was being treated differently because of his race.
“Over the last month, there have been negative headlines about me that are so sensational that they are hard to believe,” Mr. Adams said on a call-in radio show on WBLS. “There’s a reason for that: They are not based on facts, they’re based on rumor; and yes, on many occasions, even lies.”
After a difficult Year 2, the mayor can turn things around by focusing on the important steps his administration is taking on rezonings and economic development, said Mitchell Moss, an urban policy professor at New York University and an Adams ally.
Mr. Adams should quit picking fights with the media and President Biden, he said, and stop allowing his rhetoric to overshadow his agenda.
“The mayor should be bringing good news to the attention of New Yorkers,” he said, “not bad news.”
Patrick McGeehan and Dana Rubinstein contributed reporting.