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New York City Names a Rat Czar to Fight Infestation

A succession of mayors have tried and failed to eradicate the city’s rodent population. Now, Eric Adams has appointed Kathleen Corradi, a former schoolteacher and sustainability expert, to tackle the city's epic rat problem.

Bilal Kocabas/Shutterstock

In  Brief:
  • Kathleen Corradi is New York City’s first ever director of rodent mitigation.
  •  Difficult to count, the best estimate puts the city’s rat population at 2 million.
  •  Rats have survived in New York despite the best efforts of a succession of mayors.

  • Under sunny skies in Harlem, New York Mayor Eric Adams recently introduced the city’s first director of rodent mitigation, Kathleen Corradi. Known informally as the rat czar, Corradi is a former city schoolteacher and sustainability expert with the city's Department of Education. She will oversee and coordinate the efforts of government agencies, community organizations and the private sector in their ongoing efforts to eradicate the city’s rats.
    Applicants for the rat czar job were required to have relevant experience, a bachelor’s degree, proficiency in Microsoft Word and “most importantly, the drive, determination and killer instinct needed to fight the real enemy — New York City’s relentless rat population.” Qualified applicants were also expected to possess a “virulent vehemence for vermin.”

    “I'm excited to bring a science- and systems-based approach to fight rats,” Corradi said with the mayor at her side. “I'm honored to lead this work … and look forward to sending the rats packing."

    Rat Czar
    Mayor Eric Adams announced the appointment of Kathleen Corradi as the city’s first-ever citywide director of rodent mitigation in April.
    (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

    A Long History of Infestation

    Rats came to New York City in the second half of the 18th century, an unintended consequence of international trade. Early in the 20th century, it is estimated that half of the ships entering the Port of New York were rat infested. 

    Today the city’s rat population is dominated by the brown rat, also known as the Norway rat. The average brown rat is well over a foot long, weighs nearly one pound and is able to survive on just an ounce of food and water per day. Over the course of their one-year lifespan, a female can produce up to five litters of seven or more pups.

    Intelligent and adaptable, brown rats are well equipped for survival in a city crowded with humans. They can leap several feet, fall three stories without injury, tread water for days and squirm through holes an inch wide. And despite well-documented encounters, they are nocturnal and tend to remain largely out of sight.

    It is nearly impossible to know exactly how many rats are scuttling around New York City. For years, the popular assumption was that there are more than 8 million of them, one rat for every person in the city. But there is a general consensus that the number is probably closer to 2 million, a figure arrived at by an independent study done in 2014 using data collected by the city. 
    Recent years have seen a significant rise in rat complaints, which city officials attribute to the pandemic. Work-at-home policies meant more trash bags piled up on the sidewalks. Outdoor dining sheds provide food and shelter for rodents as well as COVID-averse diners. Budget cuts to the Sanitation Department in 2020 resulted in a reduction of services. Trash containers were not emptied. Streets were not cleaned.

    2304_NYC Trash Walker 020a.jpg
    Many believe that outdoor dining sheds attract rats. (David Kidd)

    A Formidable Foe

    The appointment of Kathleen Corradi as rat czar signals a renewed effort to rid New York of rodents. But this isn’t the first time a mayor has waged war on rats and it’s unlikely to be the last. A succession of mayors have tried and failed to eliminate the furry pests. 

     In 1948 a special rat control committee was established by Mayor William O’Dwyer in response to a perceived increase in the rodent population. The committee was tasked with designing a plan for extermination to be undertaken by the Parks Department, the offices of the five borough presidents and the Port Authority. O’Dwyer resigned from office two years later. Whatever achievements he could claim, rat removal was not one of them.

    Thirty years later, Rudy Giuliani created the Interagency Rodent Extermination Task Force, the city’s largest extermination effort up to that time. Armed with an annual budget of $8 million, the task force added 200 new members to the city’s rat patrol and created a public relations campaign that encouraged citizens to join the fight.

    At the announcement, Giuliani recounted an episode he’d witnessed at the official mayor’s residence when a big rat skittered across the front porch of Gracie Mansion, ''Rats are horrible,'' he said. ''When you see them, no matter how immune you are to anything or how brave you think you are, the rats get you really scared. … they are frightening animals.''

    2304_NYC Trash Walker 033a.jpg
    In an effort to curtail rat activity, the city recently decreed that trash cannot be put on curbs for pickup until 8 pm. (David Kidd)
    Citing statistics, Mayor Michael Bloomberg once refuted claims of an increased level of rat infestation leveled by a political foe. "It's a question of how you look at the numbers,” he said. “It is true that complaints for rats went up something like one-and-a-half percent. It's also true that complaints for everything go up something like five, six, 10 percent on 311 because more people start to use it. That doesn't mean the problem is any worse. I think the problem probably is a lot better."

    In 2013, Bloomberg’s last year in office, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority experimented with a sterilization program to rid the subway of rats. The stated goal was a 75 percent reduction of the pests. The result was statistically insignificant.

    The rats at Gracie Mansion were still there when Bill de Blasio took office in 2014. But at least they kept to an adjacent park and stayed off his front porch. Three years into his first term, he announced his own $32 million rat reduction initiative. The interagency plan intended to reduce rat populations by 70 percent within a year by targeting neighborhoods with the greatest infestation. 
    Mayor de Blasio hoped to achieve these results by eliminating food sources and available habitats. But he also had a new weapon to deploy in the fight. By packing dry ice in burrows, rats would suffocate from the release of carbon dioxide. Initial tests showed promise, but not during a demonstration for the press when a would-be victim escaped from his hole and scampered to safety in front of the mayor and his minions.

    Taking up the Gauntlet

    Mayor Eric Adams’ history with rats goes back to his childhood when he kept one as a pet in a home overrun with rodents. As an elected official, Adams has never missed an opportunity to voice his hate for New York’s vermin population. A defining moment of his Brooklyn borough presidency came when he demonstrated a new rat-killing device that involved ladling dozens of soggy, bloated carcasses from a vat of toxic soup. The stomach-turning trap was not as successful as anticipated.

    The city’s battle with rats took a new twist when Mayor Adams was cited three times for rat-related infractions after a health inspector visited his rental property in Brooklyn. Two of the tickets were dismissed when he produced receipts from an exterminator totaling thousands of dollars. The mayor was ordered to pay a $300 fine for the third.

    With the rat czar at his side, Adams has escalated the fight against infestation. “Kathy will take the lead on our multi-agency effort to test new mitigation techniques, expand outreach and education efforts, and increase maintenance and remediation work,” he said at the announcement in Harlem. “The rats are going to hate Kathy, but we're excited to have her leading this important effort."
    The director of rodent mitigation had a message of her own: “You’ll be seeing a lot of me and a lot less rats.”
    2304_NYC Trash Walker 017a.jpg
    Removing easy access to food is one aspect of the new rat czar’s plan to eradicate rats. (David Kidd)
    David Kidd is a photojournalist and storyteller for Governing. He can be reached at
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