Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Sept. 21 to discuss mental health and homelessness, and Republican candidate for mayor Curtis Sliwa is not pleased with these comments.
Adams, who is running against Sliwa for mayor and has Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support, said that closing the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, a school exposed for severe abuse and mistreatment of its students, was a “big mistake.”
“It’s compassion that he lacks, and that’s why he should not be considered a candidate to replace Bill de Blasio who is bad enough himself,” Sliwa said at a press conference in front of the school on Sept. 24.
Numerous investigations have been done on the school for children with developmental disabilities, particularly by ABC’s Geraldo Rivera. In 1975, after the abuse was uncovered, residents were moved into group homes and the facility was closed in 1987.
“I would think [Adams] would apologize to families that still have survived what was the wreckage of humanity in those 40 years,” Sliwa said.
Adams’ comments to Morning Joe hosts were as follows: “A few employees harmed those who were patients at Willowbrook on Staten Island. There was a reaction from the advocates to close down Willowbrook, deinstitutionalize those who need around-the-clock services, but we didn’t balance that with real programs to give it to them.”
Further investigation by the New York Times found that Willowbrook alumni who were rehoused were still experiencing abuse as recently as 2019, showing a lack of proper oversight and care in the process once the school was closed.
Sliwa says the alternative wouldn’t have been any better, and asked the crowd, “Could you imagine if Willowbrook State School was permitted to continue to operate?”
He added in a press release that Rivera, who produced his investigative report on the issue in 1972, is particularly hurt by Adams’ comments.
“As someone deeply involved in exposing the horrors of Willowbrook, I am disgusted by his comments about the developmentally disabled and I endorse Curtis Sliwa for Mayor,” Rivera said via the release.
Adams’ campaign responded later that day with a statement from spokesperson Evan Thies, saying “Eric was disturbed by the mistreatment at Willowbrook decades ago. His point is that since then New York has systematically eliminated mental health beds that can be greatly beneficial to those who need constant care, leaving our city unable to provide for them. And, unfortunately, many of those New Yorkers in need of quality, humane care are instead on our streets and in our jails.”
Sliwa also likened talks of the Tuskegee experiments, where African Americans were included in an unethical syphilis study to the injection of hepatitis into Willowbrook students, which began in 1956.
The two experiments are similar, in that those in charge of both experiments took advantage of underprivileged groups in the name of finding treatments for both diseases. Deception was used in both cases. However, it was found that some parents of Willowbrook children were able to give consent, whereas no informed consent was acquired in the Tuskegee experiments.