Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida traveled to New York City on Monday, kicking off a tour meant to highlight the issue of crime in Democratic-led cities in an apparent attempt to position himself as a law-and-order candidate in a presidential campaign he has yet to announce.
Speaking to law enforcement officials at a restaurant in the Republican stronghold of Staten Island, Mr. DeSantis said that “woke” cities like New York were taking the wrong approach to fighting crime.
“Those woke approaches to crime and law and order and being anti-police, those policies have failed,” Mr. DeSantis said in a live interview on Fox News from the event. “Florida’s policies have succeeded.”
New York, where Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, has also criticized left-leaning Democrats, was the first stop on Mr. DeSantis’s tour, and the governor’s appearance was arranged at his behest, according to people familiar with the details. He was expected to visit Fort Washington, a Philadelphia suburb, and Elmhurst, Ill., near Chicago, later on Monday.
Mr. DeSantis, 44, has captured the attention of Republican voters by presenting himself as a younger, more policy-focused heir to former President Donald J. Trump.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and His Administration
- Reshaping Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has turned the swing state into a right-wing laboratory by leaning into cultural battles.
- Challenging Trump: As former President Donald J. Trump lobs insults, Mr. DeSantis is carefully avoiding conflict. But if he runs for president in 2024 as expected, a clash is inevitable.
- Rift with Disney: In the latest development in a battle between the governor and Disney, Mr. DeSantis has gained control of the board that oversees development at Walt Disney World, a move that restricts the autonomy of Disney over its theme-park complex.
- Education: Mr. DeSantis, an increasingly vocal culture warrior, is taking an aggressive swing at the education establishment, announcing a proposed overhaul of the state’s higher education system.
His speech on Monday, delivered in the only New York borough that supported Mr. Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, was attended by leading state Republicans. He was introduced by Lee Zeldin, the former Long Island congressman who lost last year’s governor’s race to Kathy Hochul, the incumbent Democrat, and who has been a staunch ally of Mr. Trump’s. Mr. Zeldin’s presence suggested a possible loosening of Mr. Trump’s grip on top Republicans in his former home state.
Mr. DeSantis’s message resonates with New Yorkers who are frustrated about a rise in major crimes, said Joseph Borelli, the City Council’s Republican minority leader, who attended the event, at the restaurant Privé.
“His message was simple — that Florida has hit a 50-year low in crime because they haven’t enacted policies like bail reform and defund the police,” he said. “Every time you open a newspaper, they’re talking about crime in New York and other big progressive cities.”
It is difficult to compare crime rates in Florida and New York, in part because of changes to how data is collected, according to experts. New York City saw a drop in murders last year, as did Miami, according to a report this month by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a police executives’ group. Three of Florida’s largest cities — Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa — experienced increases in murders last year.
Mr. DeSantis’s trip was immediately criticized by Mr. Adams, who coldly welcomed the governor to New York and said he might find it different from his home state because, Mr. Adams said, it does not ban books, discriminate against gay residents or interfere with abortion rights.
“We’re happy to teach you something about values while you’re here,” Mr. Adams said.
Members of Mr. DeSantis’s staff responded by noting that many New Yorkers were leaving the city while Florida’s population was growing.
“Maybe it’s you who can learn from Ron DeSantis,” Christina Pushaw, a top communications aide to Mr. DeSantis, wrote on Twitter.
Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Adams have clashed in the past over social issues, the influx of migrants and the two men’s respective states’ appeal to the very rich.
Mr. Adams, who has called himself the “face of the Democratic Party,” announced a campaign last year to put up billboards in Florida denouncing that state’s so-called don’t say gay law and inviting Florida residents to move to New York.
Mr. Adams has also criticized Mr. DeSantis’s decision to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, and, while campaigning for mayor,said he would travel to Florida in his first week to tell New Yorkers who had left to “bring your butt back to New York.”
Many New Yorkers moved to Florida during the pandemic, including wealthy residents like the billionaire Carl Icahn. In 2020, New York City had a net loss of nearly 21,000 residents to Florida, according to Internal Revenue Service data, almost double the average annual net loss before the pandemic.
Mr. DeSantis said on Fox News on Monday that Florida was offering police officers a $5,000 signing bonus, and he encouraged officers from New York and Chicago to move to the state if they were not happy. People often cite lower taxes and fewer pandemic restrictions as reasons to move to Florida, he said, but the top reason was crime.
“The No. 1 thing you hear over and over again is, ‘I need safe communities,’” he said, “and it has caused a lot of people to leave these formerly thriving areas.”
Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.