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NYC’s New Rat Czar Knows How to Stop Rats. Will Eric Adams Listen?

Maybe NYC needs a trash containerization czar instead.

Rat Czar at the podium

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announces the appointment of Kathleen Corradi as the city’s first-ever citywide director of rodent mitigation, also known as the ‘rat czar’ during a press conference in St. Nicolas Park in Harlem on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

On her very first day on the job, New York City's new "rat czar" was clear about what must be done to curb the existence of our squeaky four-legged friends.

"Every anti-rat initiative starts with making sure food-related waste gets into bins that rats can't," Kathleen Corradi, Citywide Director of Rodent Mitigation, told reporters who had gathered at a press conference in St. Nicholas Park in Harlem on Wednesday. "This means getting food scraps into DSNY brown compost bins, and litter into waste baskets in parks and on streets."

This simple truth—that New York's decades-old custom of dumping plastic bags of garbage out onto the sidewalks and streets every day is the overwhelming cause of our rat woes—has been ignored by every mayoral administration because it commands us to do things differently. We'd have to change how the Sanitation Department collects waste, repurpose on-street parking for large trash containers, and make real efforts to sort organic material from the rest of our garbage.

Instead, our leaders have focused on killing rats, which is much easier than preventing them from being here. Killing rats is also a vaunted part of the Eric Adams brand, a meme that highlights the mayor as someone who is concerned with gritty quality-of-life issues. It's savvy PR, even if it isn't effective at addressing the root cause. The cute job posting for the rat czar position itself was good for a few news cycles, something Adams seemed to recognize.

"She was like, in witness protection, because we don't want one of you to crack the story, and you know, start doing background checks," Adams told the press. "Did she get any rat summonses on her block? Has she ever dated an exterminator?" 

But here was the mayor's own rat czar, saying that placing trash in containers would be the basis for her efforts. Hell Gate asked Mayor Adams if this meant he'd allocate more resources to enacting  citywide trash containerization.

The mayor did not say yes.

"I don't think you're going to find an administration that is more serious about containers, and placing our garbage in containers like we are," Adams responded. 

"People think that OK, just drop containers off on the street, no. There is a process, from making sure we have the right trucks to pick up the containers, to make sure that we look at the design of the containers," Adams continued.

That "process" seems to be interminably stuck in its early stages. Last month, DSNY told the City Council that the containerization pilot they had been running in Hell's Kitchen wouldn't work citywide. A $4 million containerization study the agency commissioned from the consulting group McKinsey still hasn't been released. Meanwhile, many other cities across the globe continue to store and collect their trash in containers, day in and day out.

On April 1, DSNY implemented a rule that requires buildings to set out their trash at 8 p.m. at the earliest—four hours later than usual. The initial reactions to this proposal were bemusement (including from a certain Hell Gate columnist) given that rats are nocturnal anyway, but a DSNY spokesperson insisted that this policy change is making a difference. Around 25 percent of all trash citywide, roughly 5 million pounds, is now being taken out at midnight, as opposed to zero percent before 2020. And 2,500 of the biggest residential buildings set their trash out from 4 a.m to 7 a.m., giving rats just three hours to chow down. 

Still, so far, on-the-ground success appears to be anecdotal, and lots of New Yorkers haven't made the switch: DSNY says they've been handing out more than 1,000 warnings per day, and in May, those warnings will change to fines.

A brighter spot might be the Adams administration's renewed commitment to creating a citywide composting program by 2024, but that's if the mayor, who has ordered at least four rounds of budget cuts in recent months, keeps funding the program consistently, something he refused to promise to do. (Don't get us started on commercial waste zones.)

Doing less with more was another theme of Wednesday's press conference. Corradi, who previously led the Department of Education's rat mitigation efforts, will be earning a $155,000 salary working with members of DSNY, DOE, and the Department of Health, rather than have her own dedicated staff. "The question becomes, what are we doing with the people we have?" Adams explained.

The root problems acknowledged, there wasn't a whole lot to ask Corradi.

"How much do you hate rats and have you killed any?" one reporter shouted, as Corradi stepped to the mic and assured the group that yes, she hates rats.

What about "humane" rat abatement techniques? Would she try any?

Corradi, perhaps not possessing the bloodlust of her boss, replied, "We are absolutely going to explore all different rat mitigation techniques."

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