Good news for the people, bad news for the rats: Kathleen Corradi will serve as the first-ever Rat Czar of New York City, where the number of documented rat sightings doubled last year. The city is paying her $155k a year to drive down the city’s rat population. Corradi has a daunting task ahead of her. The job calls for someone with “the drive, determination, and killer instinct needed to fight the real enemy: New York City’s ruthless rat population.” Corradi is a former elementary school teacher turned rodent reduction expert; she will oversee the city’s army of rat and exterminator experts.
By Jeffrey C. Myers; April 12, 2023
Kathleen Corradi, New York City’s first-ever director of rodent mitigation, will oversee efforts to drive down the rat population.
If there was a telltale moment that foretold Kathleen Corradi’s path to becoming New York City’s first rat czar, it may have occurred nearly 25 years ago.
At the age of 10, a walk by the train tracks on Long Island with her mother was interrupted by the sight of a rat carcass. She was horrified. She circulated a petition among neighbors and delivered it to local elected officials, demanding that the area be cleaned, her parents said.
“The Long Island Rail Road listened,” said Ms. Corradi’s mother, Mary Moreno-Ginnane. “They came and did rat mitigation.”
The challenges facing Ms. Corradi, an educator and land use and sustainability expert with the city’s Education Department, are sure to be much more intense in her new role. But Mayor Eric Adams, who introduced Ms. Corradi on Wednesday in Harlem, described her as a “maestro” who would successfully coordinate interagency efforts to address New York’s rat problem.
The Adams administration conducted a national search, but concluded that Ms. Corradi had the right mix of experience and determination.
“This is almost a job that’s made for her,” Mr. Adams said.
She has a daunting task ahead of her: The initial job description called for someone with “the drive, determination and killer instinct needed to fight the real enemy: New York City’s relentless rat population.”
The ideal candidate for the position — officially titled director of rodent mitigation — needed to have the “stamina and stagecraft” to defeat the city’s legions of rats, described as “cunning, voracious and prolific.”
Ms. Corradi is not a trained rodentologist. A former elementary schoolteacher, she developed the city’s Zero Waste Schools initiative while at the Education Department and led the agency’s rodent reduction efforts.
She will oversee the city’s existing army of rat experts. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene already has a rodent biologist on staff, the renowned urban rodentologist Robert Corrigan, who has been busy installing movement sensors on city streets to monitor rat behavior. The health department also has an Office of Pest Control, and there is a citywide rodent task force.
Mr. Adams said Ms. Corradi will connect those bodies with agencies like the Department of Sanitation, in a concerted push to help battle some of the city’s longest tenured and most notorious residents.
“You’ll be seeing a lot of me and lot less rats,” said Ms. Corradi, who will be paid $155,000 a year.
The mayor has depicted the city’s rat situation much as he has portrayed its crime and homelessness issues; he says all illustrate a sense of disorder that Mr. Adams hopes to tamp down.
Still, the city’s call for a rat czar was done with some humor. The job posting, which was written by a City Hall speechwriter, cheekily described the city’s rats as “enemies that must be vanquished by the combined forces of our city government,” and blamed them for, among other things, trying to “control the movements of kitchen staffers in an effort to take over human jobs.”
The announcement on Wednesday retained some element of hammy stagecraft, with Ms. Corradi proclaiming that there was “a new sheriff in town” who, with New Yorkers’ help, would “send those rats packing.”
Yet Ms. Corradi comes to the position at a particularly precarious time: The number of rat sightings documented by city inspectors doubled last year, according to city data. The increase was blamed on the cutback in sanitation services related to budget cuts during the pandemic, which Mr. Adams has reversed, as well as on a rise in rat inspections.
The mayor has not been shy about bringing up his long-term relationship with rats.
He claims that his home was overrun by rats as a child. He also says that he had a pet rat named Mickey. As the borough president of Brooklyn, Mr. Adams earned the scorn of animal rights activists by demonstrating a device that drowned rodents in a bucket, creating what could only be described as a rat stew. (Ms. Corradi said she was open to more humane rat eradication methods.)
More recently, the mayor fought several tickets for rat infestation at the townhouse he rents to tenants on Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, telling an administrative judge that he had spent thousands of dollars battling rodents there. Two tickets were dismissed but Mr. Adams was ordered to pay a $300 fine on a third.
Ms. Corradi said her efforts would focus on reducing the presence of food waste, which scientists say would do the most to control the rat population. The city has put in place a plan to reduce the amount of time that commercial and residential trash is allowed to sit on the curb for pickup if it is not stored in containers.
Mr. Adams also announced the creation of a rat mitigation zone in Harlem and a $3.5 million investment to reduce rats in the neighborhood.
The city should continue to focus on a data-driven approach to dealing with rats, but also must highlight the role humans and their waste habits play in the rat problem, said Michael H. Parsons, a visiting research scholar at Fordham University who studies rats.
“If we hate rats, we will make rats the enemy because we are afraid to look in the mirror at the real rats that are creating this problem,” Mr. Parsons said.
Enemies aside, India Shanelle, the founder of the nonprofit arts group BlackLight Community, was clear who the victims were.
“I’ve had people come to visit me with their kids,” said Ms. Shanelle, 29, recalling visits to St. Nicholas Park, where Mr. Adams held the news conference. “We’ve had to grab the children and run.”