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New York City elects Eric Adams as mayor

Brian Wright O’Connor
New York City elects Eric Adams as mayor

When Tommy Walker began collaborating on a documentary about abusive New York City police practices, he went looking for cops willing to crack the blue wall of silence.

The award-winning Black filmmaker’s search soon led to an outspoken police captain who had been rousted as a Brooklyn teenager and later donned a uniform, not to enforce the code, but to break it.

That officer was Eric Leroy Adams, a son of working-class Jamaican immigrants who is now poised to become the 110th mayor of the sprawling five boroughs of the City That Never Sleeps.

“Reports of police abuses in the Black community were getting swept under the rug,” said Walker, who said he was often searched near his apartment on the Lower East Side during the height of the city’s “stop-and-frisk” policy in the late 1990s and early aughts. “Eric Adams was outspoken and willing to go on the record when so many were reluctant to criticize the police and Mayor Giuliani. To see a Black man speak as eloquently and forcefully about a policy that was important to me — that stayed with me.”

Walker’s 2005 documentary, “Giuliani Time,” helped introduce to a wider audience the shaven-headed future state senator and Brooklyn borough president, along with his reassuring message that strong police protection need not include abusive overreach by law enforcement.

Over 66% of New Yorkers who went to the polls chose Adams on Nov. 2 to take over Gracie Mansion over Curtis Sliwa, the Republican founder of the Guardian Angels civilian protective corps. The city’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate never gave Sliwa and his signature red beret much chance.

Adams, a centrist Democrat who bested more progressive challengers in the ranked-choice June 22 primary, will become the city’s second Black mayor after his swearing-in on Jan. 1. The first was the courtly Harlem political boss David Dinkins, who held the office from 1990-93 and who died last November.

At his Brooklyn victory party after polls closed, Adams was joined by Empire State Gov. Kathy Hochul along with prominent labor and business leaders who formed the heart of the broad coalition he forged. The 61-year-old mayor-elect, fit and buoyant, called for unity, vowing to lead the city’s 8.8 million residents out of COVID lockdowns, surging unemployment and racial tensions sparked by increased focus on police abuse in communities of color.

“We are so divided right now and we’re missing the beauty of our diversity,” said Adams. “Today we take off the intramural jersey and we put on one jersey: Team New York.”

During the long primary season and the lead-up to the final election, Adams hewed to a disciplined campaign message that echoed the balance he struck on the issue of policing.  Whether on development, education or crime, he eschewed the hot extremes in favor of the lukewarm middle.

His positions proved especially attractive to older Democrats across the board. According to election observers, the Adams balance — offering something for everyone without being tied down to details — effectively countered the more radical appeals of primary opponents more in line with the surging progressivism of figures like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“But without the bogeyman of Donald Trump to run against,” said one left-leaning Black activist who supported Comptroller Scott Stringer in the primary, “voter turnout by young progressives was very low, giving Adams an advantage.”

Several ballot measures favored by progressives on redistricting, prison reform and same-day voting all went down to defeat as a result of the low lefty turnout, she said.

“I feel ambivalent about Eric Adams,” she added. “While I think it’s positive to have a Black mayor of New York City, I have concerns about how he will lead. No one really knows who he is. We just don’t know who will show up and whether his policies are going to be as helpful to Black people as Black people think, just because he’s a Black man.”

By comparison, other New Yorkers were ebullient about Adams’ election.

“I admire the way he’s always carried himself, especially fighting for people who were born without a silver spoon in their mouths,” said James Hendon, 40, who was appointed New York City’s commissioner of veterans’ services under Mayor Bill de Blasio. “He stands up for the disadvantaged and finds a way to bring people together.”

A graduate of West Point, the Black former military officer and Miami native added that he was impressed by Adams’ ability to knit together a broad coalition.

“He was able to win the support of both the development community and the faith community in New York,” Hendon said. “That’s not easy.”

During the race, Adams received the backing of both de Blasio and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ran and won two terms as a Republican before leaving the GOP under Trump to mount a brief run for the White House as a Democrat.

The challenges facing Adams as he takes office includes a $5 billion budget gap caused by plummeting tax revenues as COVID shuttered businesses, the huge financial services industry went largely remote, and tourists stayed home.

The new mayor’s honeymoon may be brief, as Adams will continue to face scrutiny over campaign finance questions, patronage hiring and his own financial dealings. The 51-member New York City Council stands to the left of Adams and some members have already begun criticizing Adams for his plans to bring back a plainclothes anti-crime unit disbanded under de Blasio.

Pushing back on critics, Adams has vowed to get things done for average working New Yorkers, regardless of media and political fall-out. The mayor-elect often harkens back to his modest upbringing in Bushwick, with his father a butcher and his mother a housecleaner.

“I’m going to be a mayor that is a ‘G.S.D. mayor’ — Get Stuff Done,” Adams said in an MSNBC interview after election night.

Vowing to work with everyone, he asked, “How do we move our city forward? I’m going to build those bridges and not blow those bridges up.”

Eric Adams, New York City, New York City mayoral race, NYC