De Blasio’s delay on supervised injection study befuddles Council, infuriates advocates

Politico.png By Dan Goldberg

Mayor Bill de Blasio made it perfectly clear to reporters, legislators, radio hosts and anyone else who asked about a feasibility study on supervised injection facilities that it would be released soon.

Soon meant soon, the mayor said in January, February and March.

Everyone knows what soon means, the mayor said.

The City Council, which funded the $100,000 study in September 2016, wasn’t so certain what soon meant to a mayor who kept repeating it. So during budget hearings, members asked health commissioner Mary Bassett when they could see the study, which examines the controversial idea of allowing injection drug use under some form of medical supervision in designated areas in New York City.

It would be released in April, she said. She also agreed with Council Member Mark Levine, Health Committee chairman, that the public health literature was clear on the utility of supervised injection facilities.

It’s May, and the de Blasio administration has not released the report.

Don’t worry, he said. It’s coming soon.

“Very, very soon, we will be coming out with the whole package,” de Blasio told Errol Louis during his regular spot Monday night on NY1. “Some last work is being done.”

It is the latest example of a mayor who has angered allies and given fodder to enemies with unexplained indecisiveness.

It’s been more than two years since the administration began investigating whether yeshivas were failing to teach secular subjects as required by law. Former schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said a report would be made available in 2016. The report has still not been released despite accusations that the administration was catering to the politically powerful Orthodox Jewish sect.

De Blasio promised in 2016 to prove he was not a Tammany-style, pay-to-play pol by providing a list of campaign contributors who got no favors from City Hall. It took 16 months, and the document released offered only two new examples, with few specifics.

His delayed endorsement of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential primary was a national punchline, particularly because de Blasio was run out of the Clinton campaign for Senate in 2000 for being indecisive.

The report on supervised injection facilities, the mayor said, goes into detail about the health and legal implications as well as the quality of life issues.

The mayor said that when he releases the report, he would take a position on what the city should do next, but stressed that he’d been mulling over something much more complex than most people seemed to appreciate.

“People who are looking at this issue and think it’s really easy are missing the sheer complexity here,” he said on NY1. “As you think about this kind of approach, it brings up a host of issues. That’s what has caused us to do a lot of thinking, a lot of research.”

The response infuriated advocates who are planning to hold another rally on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday morning, demanding action.

“It is insulting that the mayor thinks that drug policy experts, advocates, the public health community, over 30 years of evidence on safer consumption spaces and families who have lost loved ones to the overdose crisis can't possibly know the complexities around this issue,” said Jasmine Budnella, drug policy coordinator with VOCAL-NY, which is organizing the City Hall rally with the Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Works and the Harm Reduction Coalition.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a proponent of supervised injection facilities, said these sites have the potential to save lives.

“I don’t know what the hold up is,” Johnson said in a statement to POLITICO. “Other cities are moving forward and we’re stuck in limbo. Meanwhile, the number of people overdosing continues to skyrocket. This is not a time for inaction. The mayor knows how strongly I feel about this and we will continue to push for the study’s release.”

Last week, former Mayor David Dinkins, de Blasio’s friend and mentor, told POLITICO that he supports supervised injection facilities, comparing the decision de Blasio now faces to the one he made regarding needle exchange. Dinkins began his tenure opposed, but eventually supported the controversial idea, which is now credited with helping to stem the HIV epidemic in New York City.

Levine said supervised injection facilities have been proven to save lives in other cities.

“Much like needle exchanges, which were seen as radical 20 years ago and quickly became accepted as smart public health policy, supervised injection facilities have received similar scrutiny and been shown to deliver life-saving results,” Levine said. “It is unacceptable that it has dragged on this long. Frankly, it’s inexplicable. The content of the report doesn’t justify an 18-month study period, and my colleagues on the Council, we are at our wits’ end.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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