By Arthur Schwartz
For the last seven years New York City has suffered through one of the most ineffectual Mayors in its history. That even includes Abraham Beame (remember him?) the Mayor who reigned over the collapse of New York City in the 1970s, and the takeover of New York City’s finances by a State Board. Under Beame we had massive hospital closures, municipal employee layoffs, and we gave our subway system to the State (and the MTA) which was the start of the rise in fares to the ridiculous number it sits at today.
Bill de Blasio started out as a Mayor with lots of promise. He had married a Black woman who had identified as a lesbian, fathered two mixed-race children, denounced the horrific “stop and frisk” policy of the Bloomberg era, promised hundreds of thousands of units of “affordable housing,” and promised to close the gap between rich and poor New York. He started with a bang: instituting free pre-K for all, and ending “stop and frisk,” even consenting to an enforceable injunction in Federal Court against it. And he seemingly owed nothing to the Democratic Party establishment. But it was downhill from there, capped off by utterly ineffectual leadership as we moved into the Coronavirus pandemic. No matter how badly Andrew Cuomo performed, de Blasio was worse. Think back to early March last year, when Covid had been rampant in Wuhan, and was beginning to unfold in Seattle. De Blasio was a hold out about taking extreme measures in the NYC Public Schools, which he kept open until March 20—the date both Cuomo and Trump declared a national emergency.
Why bring this up? When COVID hit, the most hands-on City official was Eric Adams. He slept on a cot in Brooklyn Borough Hall and directed operations in his Borough. He was on top of ambulances, hospital capacity, the distribution of PPE, food distribution, and he was doing this 24 hours a day.
I have known Eric for many years. While he is not a raving leftist, he is hardly a person who was ever considered a conservative. In March I interviewed him for a podcast, which is accessible at wbai.org—On Demand (my July 31 show which is at https://wbai.org/archive/program/episode/?id=23497, and discovered a very complex human being, who has fought his way up from the bottom.
Eric Adams was the child of a single mother. His mother scrubbed floors to feed her family. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, and he tells a story about his mother saving enough money to buy a house in Queens. When she showed up at the bank to sign the mortgage papers, the banker turned out to be one of the people whose house his mother cleaned. He sneered at her and said, “If you have enough money to buy a house, you don’t need the job at my house. Don’t come back.” She bought the house, and moved her family to Queens.
But young Eric did not stay out of trouble. At 15 he was running numbers in order to have money in his pocket. He got arrested and was brought down to the basement of the precinct and was punched, kicked in the groin, and beaten by a cop. He spent the night at Spofford Juvenile Detention Center, and was bailed out the next day by his mother. He urinated blood for a considerable time.
Several years later, having attended CUNY, he began working with Reverend Herbert Daughtry, the leading civil rights leader in NYC at that time. Daughtry was recruiting young men to go into the NYPD, which was then almost exclusively white, in order to increase the presence of Black officers. His notion was that it would be a way to lessen the police violence directed towards members of the Black community. He rose through the ranks, but along the way helped create a civil rights group within the NYPD called 100 Black Officers. In that group he often found himself at odds with the racist leadership of the PBA. When a woman named Eleanor Bumpers was brutally killed by a cop in her apartment, Eric Adams spoke out against the killing. When Abner Louima was brutalized by a cop who shoved a nightstick up his anus, Adams spoke out in support of Louima. It is telling that not a single police union endorsed him for Mayor.
If you listen to my interview you hear an Eric Adams who favors a responsible police force, with officers held liable for their actions AND emphasizes the importance of public safety. I experienced Eric Adams as a supporter of the most radical listener supported radio station in the country—WBAI—and who appeared in court and on the steps of City Hall when the station went off the air in 2019. I experienced Eric Adams standing with me and leaders of the Transport Workers Union at the West 14th Street Station back in March when we filed suit to stop the MTA from cutting one-third of the service on the C and F trains. And I believe that we will experience an Eric Adams who grew up in NYC (not Boston) and who will value the input of local communities and community boards in accomplishing City planning, unlike our outgoing Mayor, who has paid less attention to local input than any Mayor since Robert Moses was defeated by Jane Jacobs in the 1960s.
I have high hopes for this compassionate, down to earth Mayor (once he beats a clown named Curtis Sliwa), who has worked his way up from the basement of a police precinct to one of the most important positions in the world.
Arthur Schwartz is the Democratic District leader for Greenwich Village.