By Arthur Schwartz
We have a new Mayor (or at least a Mayor–elect) by the time you read this.
His name, if you missed it, is Eric Adams.
Over the last few weeks, as the media resumes paying attention to local politics, writers have been trying to figure out who exactly Eric Adams is. The NY Post characterization of him as a “law and order centrist” has worn thin, because that’s not who he is.
I spoke at an Adams Fundraiser early in October, and in front of him, I said, “You cannot put Eric Adams in a niche. He is a complex person, who, as he says, has ‘walked the walk.’ ” He led the applause (before calling me his “brother from another mother”).
One thing Eric Adams isn’t; he isn’t Bill de Blasio. Many, including me, thought that Bill de Blasio would be a great bastion of progressive change in NYC, after 12 years of Emperor Bloomberg, and his predecessor, Rudy (can you believe he was our Mayor for eight years!). But de Blasio didn’t shake out so great, and may leave as the least popular Mayor ever. He wasn’t real. He hadn’t battled to survive in his life, and eventually identified with the City’s elite. Eric Adams has battled to get where he is.
Yes, Eric Adams was a cop. (He even spent many years in the 6th Precinct!) But he was a cop who signed up as part of an effort spearheaded by Rev. Herbert Daughtry to combat racism from within the NYPD. He started a civil rights group while in the NYPD. He did not abide by the “blue wall of silence.” When a woman named Eleanor Bumpers was brutally shot in the Bronx by a cop with a 12-gauge shotgun, Eric Adams, then a Sergeant, spoke out. When Abner Louima was sodomized in a precinct cell, Adams denounced it—he was a Captain. He speaks about how when he would enter a room full of officers, everyone would move to the other side. Once, his car was shot at, and he was sure it was by a cop.
Eric Adams is the son of two poor immigrants, raised mostly by his mom, who cleaned houses to survive. He talks about how he brought a bag of clothes to school each day just in case his family was evicted. His mom saved enough to buy a house in Queens, but Eric was a horrible student. He graduated Bayside HS with a D average. His mom got him to go to Community College at night; there he learned that he was dyslexic. He went on to graduate from John Jay College with an A average, and went on to earn a Masters Degree in government administration.
At age 14, Adams joined a gang called the 7-Crowns. He would run errands and hold money for local hustlers. Once he stole a TV from one of his “employers” because he wasn’t paid. He got arrested, was brought down to the basement of the precinct, and was kicked so hard he pissed blood for weeks. He spent some time in the Spofford Juvenile Center before being sentenced to probation. But he suffered from PTSD for years. His response was to join the NYPD.
In an interview in the Wall Street Journal published on September 4, Adams was quoted as saying this about the police: “On day one, I’ll go from borough to borough and have focus groups with my police officers and say, ‘It’s time to hit the reset button. We need each other, the community, and the police, and we want to rebuild trust. Trust means racial sensitivity. There’s a lot of deep wounds and scars and we really need to confront this.” He vowed to “rid the department of those who tarnish the shield and the nobility of public protection.”
At the fundraiser, Borough President Adams spoke about crime. He pointed out that 35% of the prisoners at Rikers have mental health disorders, and that 25% had learning disabilities. His answer wasn’t more jails. He said, “We need to address the problem of crime at its roots. Just throwing people in jail won’t do that.”
Will he work hard? When the worst days of COVID were here, just 18 months ago, Eric Adams, then Brooklyn Borough President, set up a cot in Borough Hall and directed operations from his office 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He lived the crisis along with the essential workforce. When 9-11 happened, he ran right down to the collapsed structure and was in charge of the officers at the scene.
Eric was an early proponent of marriage equality, voting for it three times as a State Senator until it became law. He was a vocal opponent of NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy, and was a strong critic of the lack of prosecution in the NYPD killing of Eric Garner. As Borough President he fought hard to build genuinely affordable housing. He supports making community colleges free, and he recently announced that he would restore the gifted and talented program that de Blasio irresponsibly cut on his way out the door. He also supports requiring COVID vaccinations for all school children now that the FDA has approved the vaccines for children.
And then there is his life as a vegan. He chose to deal with a serious diagnosis of type two diabetes in 2016—he was losing his vision—by adopting a plant-based diet. He has fought to ban processed meat from City schools. If “you are what you eat,” Eric will be a force.
He sounds like quite a different kind of Mayor, doesn’t he. I am excited about the next four years.
Arthur Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader in Greenwich Village.