President Trump’s politicized campaign to label New York City an “anarchist jurisdiction” broadened on Tuesday, with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency threatening to move its regional headquarters out of Lower Manhattan.
The E.P.A. administrator, Andrew R. Wheeler, suggested that local agency officials had become so fearful of New York streets that they are now considering moving offices.
The root of those fears? Mr. Wheeler cited three-month old protests against police brutality, and a small, recent protest against another federal agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, at a nearby building. That demonstration was quickly shut down by the police.
Few in New York have taken the president’s rhetoric seriously, and the threat from the E.P.A. administrator was also being dismissed as political theater to be deployed in Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.
“Another day, another transparent political game from this federal government,” said Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. “The fact is the E.P.A. has abandoned every state since 2017, and they should quit playing political flunky and actually do their job.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Trump told his attorney general, William P. Barr, to identify jurisdictions that had allowed “themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones,” threatening to withhold federal funding from those places.
Mr. Barr complied on Monday, delivering a memo that painted New York as a city run amok, descending into violence and anarchy. Mr. Wheeler’s threat, first reported by The New York Post, matched that message in tone and rhetoric.
“If you cannot demonstrate that E.P.A. employees will be safe accessing our New York City offices, then I will begin the process of looking for a new location for our regional headquarters outside of New York City that can maintain order,” Mr. Wheeler wrote in a letter to Mr. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats. About 580 employees work at the regional office.
Judith Enck, who was the E.P.A. regional administrator in New York under former President Barack Obama, said that the threat was atypical for an agency head to deliver.
“This is a really embarrassing letter for Andrew Wheeler to send,” she said. “He should stick to dismantling environmental laws.”
New York City receives about $7 billion a year in federal funding, with much of it going toward housing, social services and education.
New York officials believe that the president’s efforts are unconstitutional, in defiance of both Congress’s spending power and the 10th Amendment’s protection of states’ ability to operate in their own sphere.
“This is how things start to degrade and democracy is endangered,” Mr. de Blasio said on Tuesday. “I think it’s ridiculous.”
Donovan J. Richards, the city councilman who chairs the public safety committee, chuckled when asked about the federal government’s designation of New York as a place of anarchy.
“The only anarchist is the Trump administration, that’s why,” he said, when asked to explain his laughter.
Both the state attorney general and city lawyers are preparing legal papers, should the president seek to follow through on his threats.
The Justice Department, in trying to bolster its case that New York is an anarchist jurisdiction, said little about actual anarchists, instead focusing on criminal justice concerns: the city’s rise in shootings, the property damage sustained during protests, Mr. de Blasio’s decision to cut some funding for the Police Department, the department’s decision to disband plainclothes anti-crime units, and a decline in local arrests.
That dire depiction of New York leaves out some important context.
So far this year, shootings in the city have indeed nearly doubled, to 1,095 from 567 as of last week. But they are down slightly from a decade ago and are more than 70 percent lower than in 1993, police statistics show. Reports of major crimes are also down overall from last year and have decreased by more than 10 percent since a decade ago.
And unlike Portland or Seattle, New York has seen only one instance of significant property damage since the first few days of June, when bands of looters ransacked stores in Soho and Midtown Manhattan. At the time, police officials blamed the violence on anarchists and other “outside agitators,” but ultimately backed away from that position, saying that “opportunistic” local criminals were responsible.
The Trump administration’s unflattering description of New York did, however, find favor with its police unions, who have allied themselves with the president and echoed his rhetoric.
“There’s no law and order at all,” said Edward Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association. “It’s total anarchy what’s occurring in the city. People are leaving, businesses are closed and the mayor chooses to do nothing.”
Any defunding of the city would likely mean less money for the Police Department, which also receives money from the federal government.
But Mr. Mullins was unconcerned, suggesting that the president is using this threat as a lever to pressure the mayor, and will follow through only if he needs to.
“You got to remember, he’s got a lot of business here, his family’s here, and to defund the police, deep down inside he’s a law and order guy, he always was,” Mr. Mullins said.