By Griffin Feather
The only thing certain about Eric Adams’ mayoralty is that nothing is certain. Adams, accustomed to speaking directly and in an uncensored way – as he often says – to the problems of working-class people, is already proving to be a mayor that doesn’t fit neatly into one box. In addition to the “real New Yorkers” Adams refers to, he was also supported by pro-business, finance, real estate, and other factions on the left as he rose to mayor’s job. Listening to his speeches and remarks to the press has led to unpredictable moments. When Adams shared that New York needed to get its “swagger” back and a return to pre-Covid fun, saying, “When a mayor has swagger, the city has swagger,” people expressed mixed reactions of support, confusion, and even mockery. Journalist David Corn, among others, disagreed with the sentiment, tweeting, “I didn’t realize swagger provides immunity to a lethal virus. If only he was mayor at the start of the pandemic.”
Considering Adams’ background and the interesting overlap of forces that formed him, his unpredictability makes sense. Many view Adams as a mix of contradictions, or just the opposite: a leader with nuanced views, and maybe at this point, still evolving. Adams’ identity is an important component of his narrative to the public. Adams is a Black man raised by a single mom in Brooklyn and Queens who suffered a beating at the hands of a police officer at age 15 after being arrested. He later joined the police force with a focus on reform. Adams was on the force for 22 years and founded the 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care group. The advocacy group works to fight racial profiling and police brutality, focusing on improving relations between the Black community and the police force.
In contrast to New York’s previous mayor, Bill DeBlasio, Adams portrays himself as a regular New Yorker, personally familiar with New Yorkers’ problems. His message seems that other politicians have called themselves progressive but that he has lived the experiences and struggles many citizens contend with. Adams talks about being a dishwasher and cook, struggling to pay his bills. He also discusses his vegan lifestyle and how it improved his Diabetes condition. He publicly urges New Yorkers to make informed choices about their food to maintain health. Seeing that citizens’ struggles, whether finance or health-related, are the same as those of the mayor can only help the credibility and relatability of his messages.
In an example of the opposing responses to some of Adams’ plans, critics see his policing agenda as regression and a return to the stop and frisk mentality that hurt many. Yet, other communities view Adams’ plans like those made by an experienced law enforcement pro with public safety in mind. Adams disagrees with the former and emphasizes the latter. He is always careful to say that he wants targeted versions of policy reform and that he rejects racist tactics in policing. As the New York Times reports, gun violence and hate crimes are on the rise. There is a pronounced crime issue in the city, resulting in over 1,800 shootings annually in the last two years, after dropping to below 900 in 2018. One hate crime was reported to police against an Asian American in 2019, while last year saw 130 of these same complaints.
New Yorkers will put Adams’ ideas on fighting crime to the test. Finding the balance between smart policing and respecting the New Yorkers most affected by violence is a very difficult task and probably the most debated angle of his early days as mayor. Those in opposition say he is on the side of policing tactics that do not work and alienate the exact communities he is trying to help. Carl Hamad-Lipscombe, executive director of Envision Freedom Fund, a Brooklyn-based bail fund said: “Mayor Adams is very much relying on law enforcement. He comes from a law enforcement background so I can see why he relies on these strategies in this plan but it’s not getting at the root causes enough. It’s reminiscent of policies from the 90s. New Yorkers have a long memory. We remember how these policies played out. We remember feeling like our communities were under siege.”
Yet, Adams’ supporters include President Joe Biden, who said, “The answer is not to abandon our streets. We’re not about defunding. We’re about funding, and providing the additional services you need beyond someone with a gun strapped to their shoulder.” Others add that Adams thinks deeply about incarceration issues and wants the focus shifted to treating the root causes. For example, how undiagnosed, untreated dyslexia and poor literacy lead to ripples of bad outcomes, the “school-to-prison pipeline” concept that Adams is a firm believer in. Adams has dyslexia himself, and his use of his own identity to connect with citizens on this will likely be valuable along the way.
Furthermore, Adams’ recent choice to remove the vaccine mandate for athletes and performers stands out as another example of a divisive choice. New Yorkers suspect the famously unvaccinated Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets and the Yankees and Mets rosters (both teams with many suspected unvaccinated players) prompted the vaccine mandate removal. Finally, as he begins the initiative to clear homeless encampments from subways and parks, that has sparked debate between groups who either see it as cruel and misguided and those who see it as a public safety and mental health issue.
Adams highlights all of these early moments in a recent statement: “This is the first inning of our nine-inning game. When this game is over, we’re going to have a city that is far better than the dysfunctional city we’ve witnessed for far too long.” New York City is the biggest and most complex city in the nation. However, surely even that sentence will create disagreement between those who resent his policies compared to a game and those who are thrilled with his firm plans. Adams seems to take the criticisms in stride so far, usually doubling down and, when pressed, asking for trust and patience, two virtues that don’t come easily to New Yorkers.
One thing is clear, the job of mayor of New York City is a task complicated almost daily by changing factors and the needs of 8.5 million citizens. It is hard to say how Adams’ mayoralty will play out and if his choices will veer from one end of the spectrum to the other – especially as he governs in ways that can be judged as moderate, progressive, or conservative, all depending on your point of view. Adams seems determined, so far, to keep us guessing.