New York City’s police union on Wednesday said Mayor Eric Adams‘ decision to let athletes and performing artists work in the city without showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination should be extended to cops and other public employees who served on the frontlines of the pandemic.
The city Police Benevolent Association said the Democratic mayor’s policy reversal, which will let Brooklyn Nets’ star Kyrie Irving play in home games for the first time, imposes a double standard in the Big Apple because mandates on municipal workers and other private-sector employees will remain.
“We have been suing the city for months over its arbitrary and capricious vaccine mandate — this is exactly what we’re talking about. If the mandate isn’t necessary for famous people, then it’s not necessary for the cops who are protecting the city in the middle of a crime crisis,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said. “While celebrities were in lockdown, New York City police officers were on the street throughout the pandemic, working without adequate PPE and in many cases contracting and recovering from COVID themselves. They don’t deserve to be treated like second-class citizens now.”
Mr. Adams defended the changes at Citi Field, home to the New York Mets, ahead of Major League Baseball’s opening games in early April. He said the move will attract tourism and have trickle-down benefits for working-class people who help ballparks and performance halls operate.
“We’re doing it because the city has to function,” he said. “Some people will boo us but there are always those who will be employed and will cheer us.”
Mr. Adams said he did not make the change “loosely” or “haphazardly.”
“I’m the mayor of this city and I’m going to make some tough choices. People are not going to agree with some of them, they’re going to look through their primary lens,” he said. “Tough choices take a tough person to be able to make them.”
Pressed on the roughly 1,400 municipal workers who refused to be vaccinated and were fired, Mr. Adams focused instead on the larger share of public workers who chose to get vaccinated and said the city is not entertaining compensation or changes to the rules.
“These cases were played out in court, the judge ruled on behalf of the city,” he said.
The mandates are a holdover from former Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who imposed mandates on municipal employees and issued sweeping rules on private-sector employees before leaving office in January.
Mr. Adams lifted a separate requirement that forced restaurants, performance halls and other venues to check vaccination status at the door, and he got rid of the mask mandate in schools. Yet until now, he had resisted calls to let Mr. Irving play at the Barclays Center, saying the point guard should get vaccinated.
NBA star LeBron James and others questioned the logic behind the ban on Mr. Irving in New York City since he could play elsewhere — he recently dropped 60 points on the Orlando Magic — and unvaccinated opposing players could play at Barclays and Madison Square Garden.
The mayor said he also found the disconnect between home-based players and those from outside the city odd. But he said his health officials told him not to make changes until pandemic conditions improved.
Mr. Adams said all people should be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Even our players, we will continue to promote vaccinations and booster shots. It is imperative that we do so,” he said at Citi Field.
Beyond Mr. Irving, the prospect of Mets or New York Yankees players sitting out home games after Opening Day in April was considered a factor in the change, though it is fueling the outcry about unequal treatment.
Officials from both ballclubs said a small number of players remained unvaccinated but declined to disclose the actual numbers, citing collective bargaining agreements.
Curtis Sliwa, the GOP nominee who lost the mayor’s race to Mr. Adams, and Andrew Giuliani, a Republican candidate for governor, protested Mr. Adams‘s decision outside of Citi Field and called the mayor to cancel all virus mandates.
“This is just such hypocrisy. You give the millionaire ballplayers a pass but if the same people were serving the hot dogs, the peanuts, the Cracker Jacks and the tickets, they would not get a pass,” Mr. Sliwa said in a phone interview.
“And worse yet, the civil servants, who were the heroes of the pandemic because they crawled in the belly of the beast —they become zeroes because they got fired,” he said. “It’s time to get rid of it all. New York is so behind the rest of the country when it comes to these things.”
Jay Varma, who served as a health adviser to Mr. de Blasio, said the disconnect between powerful entertainers and everyone else could cause legal problems.
On Twitter, he quipped that “vaccines work” unless you are rich and powerful, in which case “lobbying works.”
“This mandate has always been about NYC employers,” he wrote. “It had legal standing because applied to all. The #KyrieCarveOut opens City up to entire scheme being voided by courts as ‘arbitrary and capricious.’”
However, Dr. Varma said it is worth noting that first responders are different than entertainers because they have frequent contact with the public and their absences would impact city services.