New York City desperately seeking ‘Rat Czar’ amid worsening rodent problem

Mayor Eric Adams is offering up to $170,000 to whoever shows ‘the drive, determination, and killer instinct” to effectively deal with one of the Big Apple’s longstanding public health issues

Program against rats New York
Eric Adams, then Brooklyn Borough President, announcing the results of a pilot program against rats in September 2019.ANGELA WEISS (AFP)

A simple white T-shirt, selling for the modest price of $48, is the showcase of a new campaign by the city of New York to end its rat scourge. The tee features a picture of a sweaty rodent with a red prohibition symbol through it and the slogan, “The rats don’t run this city. We do. [Signed] The Department of Sanitation”

The campaign also includes a call for candidates to become the city’s “rat czar,” which Mayor Eric Adams has described as “a dream job” for anyone with “the drive, determination, and killer instinct” to deal with this ongoing problem. The salary certainly sounds like a dream: between $120,000 and $170,000 in a city that has just confirmed its position as the most expensive in the world.

The ideal candidate must exhibit a murderous ambition and be prepared for absolute dedication to the job, 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a city with a population of 8.5 million humans and, according to a widespread urban legend, the same number of rodents. Other sources multiply and even triple the rat population. As early as 1842, the English novelist Charles Dickens complained that the rats were everywhere. The position is officially called “director of rodent mitigation” but everyone is already talking about a rat czar.

The announcement, with its over-the-top vocabulary, is in line with the kind of rhetoric favored by the mayor, a defender of tough-on-crime attitudes who feels that rats are “the real enemy” of the city, according to the Mayor’s Office. Despite the humorous tone, the job listing is as earnest as the announcement made the day before about forcibly hospitalizing homeless people deemed too mentally ill to take care of themselves, at the discretion of the police officers on patrol. Civil and human rights groups have lashed out against Adams’s initiative, considering it an attack on human dignity and an ineffective measure.

Adams, considered a moderate Democrat, has expressed a desire to fight all the ills he sees as afflicting the city, from armed violence to the presence of homeless people in the subway and the plague of vermin. This ex-police officer has admitted that he has a rat phobia. “There’s NOTHING I hate more than rats,” he confessed this Thursday on Twitter, where he urged candidates to step forward for the ratslaying job.

The job listing asks: “Do you have what it takes to do the impossible? A virulent vehemence for vermin? A background in urban planning, project management, or government? And most importantly, the drive, determination and killer instinct needed to fight the real enemy – New York City’s relentless rat population?”

The position is described as “a high-visibility, high-impact leadership role,” and as “a 24/7 job requiring stamina and stagecraft.” Its holder will be based in City Hall and report to the Deputy Mayor of Operations.

New York has already spent millions of dollars trying to stamp out the rat population, which multiplies exponentially at each excavated site for new construction; under the sidewalk platforms that restaurants built during the pandemic, and around the garbage bags that are taken out and left on the curb for hours.

Despite the evident presence of rodents in New York, the Big Apple is not the worst place, judging by the statistics. Boston and Philadelphia had a higher percentage in 2021, according to the American Housing Survey, a study based on the number of sightings. In addition to the visceral disgust that they cause in most humans, researchers note that rats can also contaminate food, damage power lines by chewing on cables and carry diseases.

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