N.Y. Today: A devastating fire and its cause

What you need to know for Monday.

Good morning. It's Monday. We'll check the latest on the devastating fire in the Bronx. We'll look at Mayor Eric Adams's first week, and we'll look at what's happening with redistricting, the process of redrawing the maps for the state's legislative and congressional districts.

David Dee Delgado for The New York Times

The fire began in a duplex apartment where an electric space heater malfunctioned, the fire commissioner, Daniel Nigro, said. Thick, choking smoke soon filled the corridors of the 19-story building in the Bronx. Before long, at least 19 people had died, including nine children. More than 60 others were injured.

Nigro said the smoke spread because two doors had been left open — the door to the apartment, which did not close as the occupants fled the fire, and the door to a stairwell in the hall. He called the smoke conditions in the building "unprecedented."

Wesley Patterson, whose apartment was on the third floor, said it filled with smoke in moments. The window frame was so hot that his hands were scorched when he pushed it open. He screamed to firefighters helping a family in another apartment. "I was yelling, 'Please help me! Please come get us!'" he said.

Patterson, 28, said firefighters pulled him to safety, along with his girlfriend, her brother and his son, at about 11:20 a.m., little more than 20 minutes after the fire started. Nigro said the first of more than 200 firefighters arrived three minutes after the first call to 911.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who appeared at a briefing with Adams and Nigro, said she would include a fund to compensate victims of the fire in the state budget she will propose this week. "There will be money to help them find new housing, for burial costs, for whatever they need," she said.

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In effect until Jan. 17 (Martin Luther King's Birthday).

Adams's first week

Even before the fire, Adams faced challenges — different from those the city faced when Michael R. Bloomberg took office after the Sept. 11 attacks, but still daunting.

Adams promoted the city's recovery in his first week as mayor. He moved to shore up the health system as coronavirus hospitalizations climbed. He traded barbs with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after he called cooks and employees of Dunkin' Donuts, now known as Dunkin', "low-skill workers."

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And he found himself on the defensive for naming Philip Banks III to be deputy mayor for public safety despite ethical concerns about Banks's past — Banks was an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal corruption investigation — and for moving to have his own brother named a deputy police commissioner and lead the mayor's security detail. "I need someone that I trust," Adams said.

Adams pressed to keep schools open even as cities like Chicago closed theirs, and on Sunday he again said he wanted children in classrooms. But many parents and educators were left with an uncomfortable and familiar feeling last week — uncertainty. Attendance, usually above 90 percent, was around 70 percent but plummeted to 44 percent on Friday when snow fell.

Adams also seemed committed to an era of good feelings with Albany, in contrast to the feuding and fighting between his predecessor, former Mayor Bill de Blasio, and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. At a joint news conference on Thursday to announce new police patrols on the subways, Adams praised Hochul for "her swagger," a term he had used to describe himself earlier in the week.

"When a mayor has swagger, the city has swagger," he had said as he reopened schools after the winter break. "We've allowed people to beat us down so much that all we did was wallow in Covid."

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The latest Metro news

  • A 61-year-old Asian immigrant died on Dec. 31 after eight months in a coma following an assault that the police called a hate crime.
  • In October, officers in upstate New York ran off after firing a stun gun and setting a man ablaze, according to a video released by the state attorney general. The man died last month.

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Redistricting goes to the State Legislature, where it was not supposed to be

Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Last week, the independent commission responsible for redistricting failed to reach a consensus on maps for the state's legislative and congressional districts. The commission instead forwarded two sets of maps to the State Legislature, and the Assembly and the State Senate are expected to vote today to accept or reject them. I talked with my colleague Nicholas Fandos, who has covered the redistricting story for months.

You write that New Yorkers voted to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians, but now the politicians are on the verge of taking it back. What happened? Is this a case of politicians not being able to put partisanship aside?

That's a good way of thinking about it, yes. Eight years ago, New York voters adopted a constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission that was billed as a way to weed political self-interest out of the process once and for all and force bipartisan compromise to draw fair legislative maps.

In reality, the commission was never as independent as advertised — or as similar bodies in states like Colorado or California that have successfully depoliticized the process. Here in New York, the commission's members were appointed by partisan legislative leaders and basically became proxies for Democrats and Republicans in Albany. After months of work, the commissioners deadlocked along party lines.

The Democrats, who control the State Assembly and State Senate, will soon get to draw the lines without any G.O.P. input. This will give them a chance to wring as much political gain from the maps as they can.

Why is New York so important for Democrats nationally? How many congressional seats do they think they could win if the boundaries were different?

If you look across the country, it is hard to find a state that has as much at stake as New York.

Democrats are in an all-out fight to try to maintain control of the House of Representatives in Washington and with it, the fate of the Biden presidency and their liberal agenda. New York, it turns out, could play an outsize role.

Democratic leaders in Washington are counting on New York to help offset some gains Republicans are expected to make through redistricting in red states like Texas and Florida.

Political analysts I have talked to say that if Democrats in Albany are deft, they could win 23 of the state's 26 House seats, picking up four seats for the party overall and taking five from Republicans. That would be much more aggressive than the map proposed by the Democrats on the commission, potentially robbing Republicans of any seats on Long Island or in New York City, and combining conservative territory upstate into just two or three districts.

How does this figure in Democrats' hopes of preserving their majorities in the State Senate and the Assembly?

Republicans did surprisingly well in last November's off-year elections across New York, and they are feeling bullish about their prospects for gains this fall, when state senators and Assembly members are all up for re-election. If they can succeed in either taking back the majority in the State Senate, or even just ending Democrats' supermajority in either chamber, they could significantly trim the sails of liberals' most ambitious plans.

As a result, Democrats have a clear interest in trying to draw lines that make Republican victories as difficult as possible. A powerful Democratic gerrymander could make the difference.

What happens next?

We expect the Assembly and the State Senate to reject both sets of proposed maps today. Then, over the next couple of weeks, the commission and the Legislature will bat proposals back and forth, as the state Constitution requires. Don't be distracted by this. Since the commission is deadlocked, the Democrats have the power to draw new maps. The challenge will be shaping districts that every Democrat in the Assembly and Senate can get behind. The process can be a tricky and personal one, and party leaders cannot afford defections.

What we're reading

METROPOLITAN DIARY

Sunday morning

Dear Diary:

It was Sunday morning. I woke up to find my girlfriend sitting on the edge of the bed in yoga pants and a rain jacket. She was unlacing her tennis shoes.

"I tried leaving for yoga," she said, "but our doorknob fell off."

"We're stuck in here?" I asked.

"For now, I guess," she said, tossing a sneaker toward the closet.

"Did you call the super?"

"No," she said. "I'd rather go back to bed."

— Danny McAlindon

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

Melissa Guerrero, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Grace Ashford, Ed Shanahan and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.

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