“It’s Not About Just Riding Roller Coasters”: Mayoral Hopeful Eric Adams Makes the Case for Himself—And Against Andrew Yang
Eric Adams is…complicated. He is one of the front-runners to win New York’s Democratic mayoral primary in June, which would make him nearly a lock to become the city’s next mayor, despite a four-year detour, starting in the late ’90s, as a member of the Republican Party. He styles himself as a political outsider yet has been in elected office since 2007. And when The New York Times recently investigated his fundraising practices, Adams claimed he was being held to an “unfair standard” by the media because he is Black—after telling me the exact opposite two days earlier.
Then again, he’s had a complicated life. The 60-year-old Adams grew up poor in Queens, the fourth of six children raised by a single mother who worked as a house cleaner. At 15, Adams says, his life took a turn in an episode that, in his telling, is both harrowingly detailed and oddly vague. Adams claims he and an older brother, Conrad, broke into the home of a neighborhood prostitute because she owed them money. After the two teenagers were arrested, Adams says, cops beat him so severely in the 103rd Precinct basement that he urinated blood for the next week. Yet instead of hating the police, like his brother, Adams says he eventually decided to join the department and work to fix it from within. (Conrad Adams could not be reached for comment.)
Adams’s 22 years in the transit police and the NYPD earned him sharply polar reviews. Some colleagues saw him as a good, low-key cop who earned his way up to the rank of captain, others as an insufferable grandstander, especially after Adams cofounded 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care and regularly, publicly criticized the department’s lack of racial diversity. “He was like two different people,” a law enforcement insider says. “An external politician and self-promoter, and a guy who walked the line and was a decent boss internally.”
He spent seven years as a New York state senator before winning his current post as Brooklyn borough president in 2013. Adams has a fondness for stunts, including a press conference featuring drowned rats, and a weakness for us-against-them rhetoric, including shouting in a speech at a Harlem event that city newcomers needed to “go back to Iowa, you go back to Ohio!” But with crime rising and last summer’s protests still fresh, it is his experience as a Black New Yorker and as a cop that Adams argues would enable him to square the circle on police reform while stanching crime.
Given his expertise, what does Adams know about the current spike that the other candidates don’t? “Public safety is the prerequisite to prosperity,” Adams tells me. “Everything is tied to the economy. Other candidates, they give you the prevention, they don’t talk to you about the intervention. The prevention is the long-term plan for improving youth services, dealing with better schools, all those things. But the intervention is right now. People are being shot right now!” Indeed. He says he would reduce bureaucracy and redistribute some money into mental health responders. Yet Adams’s crime-fighting strategy largely amounts to the police doing things better, not differently. “We have a gang and a gun problem in the city. And how you deal with that is you focus on gangs and guns,” he says. “I would reinstitute a plainclothes unit—better cops, not the cops we had before. We want cops with good communication skills, conflict resolution, and to use the data to target.” Is a police slowdown, in reaction to recent protests, also part of the puzzle? “Yes,” Adams says. “We need to be clear that a large number of officers are doing their jobs. But all you need is a few officers in a few sectors that are saying, ‘You know what, I’m just going to take my time responding.’ That’s problematic.”
It has been clear throughout the campaign that Adams occupies valuable political real estate in this fractured field as a well-known, well-funded Black candidate with deep ties in Brooklyn. He has climbed a long way to reach this point, and that struggle fuels Adams’s antipathy toward his prime mayoral competitor, Andrew Yang. “Everyone has the right to run,” he says. “What irritates me is that he doesn’t understand the seriousness of this job and the seriousness of this moment. It’s not about just riding roller coasters. The city wasn’t happy if you lived in NYCHA before COVID; it wasn’t happy if you were one of the public school students who wasn’t educated. His oversimplification of, ‘All is well, let’s just have fun again’—no, that’s not where we are. People are hurting. We can’t simplify this.”
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Published at Tue, 25 May 2021 21:05:31 +0000
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