Additional reporting by Clifford Michel
Standing alongside the Democratic nominee for mayor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extolled how the city’s likely next chief executive will be a beacon for progressive values.
The next mayor, Cuomo said, “is going to lead this city in the great progressive Democratic traditions that made this the greatest city on the planet.”
He wasn’t talking about Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who declared victory in the crowded Democratic primary last week. Those accolades were for Bill de Blasio, who had just secured the party line in September 2013 on his way to becoming the city’s 109th mayor — and were delivered before their relationship quickly soured.
Now in his third term and facing a slew of scandals, Cuomo on Wednesday heaped similar praise on Adams as he once did for his now-foe at City Hall.
“I believe that Eric and I come from the same political philosophy. We are progressive Democrats, and we have the same definition of what it means to be a progressive Democrat,” Cuomo said at a news conference in Brooklyn with Adams at his side.
“It’s not a word that just entered the lexicon — Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran as the progressive Democrat. It has a tradition and it has a meaning. And what it means to be a progressive is a government and a leader who actually makes progress for people. You can’t be a progressive without that word ‘progress,’” Cuomo added.
After years of sniping and undercutting, the governor and mayor’s offices could be on the precipice of turning the corner toward a more symbiotic relationship. One big reason: Adams would arrive with something de Blasio took years to learn — he knows how Albany works.
Avoiding the ‘Same Mistakes’
Prior to running for borough president in 2013, Adams represented portions of Brooklyn in the State Senate for seven years, overlapping with Cuomo’s first term as governor and prior tenure as state attorney general.
If elected in November, as widely expected, Adams would become mayor already knowing the outsized power the governor and state Legislature have over the five boroughs, his supporters say. That would eliminate a learning curve that’s plagued many a mayor, most recently de Blasio and his predecessor, Mike Bloomberg.
“One of the most frustrating things that mayors encounter is that New York City — as big as it is — is a creature of the Legislature,” said State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Brooklyn, Staten Island). “You need Albany for everything. The only thing New York City can do without legislative authority from Albany is raise property taxes.”
One of the early rifts between Cuomo and de Blasio, who had worked in former President Bill Clinton’s administration together, came shortly after the mayor assumed office in 2014. De Blasio campaigned on raising taxes on the wealthy to fund universal pre-kindergarten, which would need approval from Albany to become a reality.
But Cuomo was reluctant to pay for Pre-K through a hike on taxes, especially in an election year. Ultimately, de Blasio’s legacy program was funded through the state without taxing the wealthy, but the battle left scorched earth between the two men.
Already knowing the relationship between City Hall and Albany, Adams likely won’t make the “same mistakes” that has befallen his predecessors, Savino predicted.
“He’s not going to be surprised by the dynamic between the state and the city, he knows that,” added Savino, who endorsed Adams in March and frequently joined him on campaign stops.
“He’s not going to go out there and make great promises to the people of the city of New York and then have someone whisper in his ear: ‘You need Albany to help you do that.’ He knows what he can do and what he needs Albany to do.”
Why Cuomo Needs Adams
With Adams an election away from Gracie Mansion and Cuomo wounded, there’s a shift in the power dynamics between City Hall and Albany. That’s a departure from when Cuomo had the upper hand over de Blasio.
Political observers point out that Cuomo needs Adams’s base of Black and Latino working-class voters in the boroughs beyond Manhattan — especially if he runs for re-election next year.
“Eric is a pretty big deal in the party and even got personal time with the president,” said one longtime political consultant, noting Adams’ meeting Monday with President Joe Biden. “He’s become a national leader in the last couple of weeks. Eric can give [Cuomo] credibility by standing with him.”
Biden and Adams, a former NYPD captain, discussed gun violence — the same topic Adams and Cuomo pledged to tackle together during their news conference Wednesday at the Lenox Road Baptist Church.
Since sexual misconduct allegations were first leveled against the governor in late February, polling has consistently shown that a majority of Black voters oppose impeaching Cuomo. A Siena College poll released earlier this month shows that 52% of Black voters said Cuomo should continue to serve the remainder of his term and seek re-election.
The governor, under investigation by State Attorney General Letitia James — and federal prosecutors over whether his administration withheld COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes from the public — has continuously relied on Black leaders and elected officials during the most tumultuous period of his political career.
“He’s not going to piss them off by smacking Eric Adams,” said another political observer.
At a mayoral debate in May co-hosted by THE CITY, Adams did not raise his hand when he and the other leading Democratic contenders were asked whether they’d accept Cuomo’s endorsement. But Adams did not join fellow mayoral candidates Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer and Kathryn Garcia in calling for Cuomo to resign.
‘I’m Team New York’
Standing next to Cuomo on Wednesday morning, Adams was asked if he changed his mind about receiving the governor’s backing.
“Well, first of all, I didn’t get an endorsement today,” Adams responded. “The governor said he would work with me and I’m sure he would have worked with any mayor that is in office. I think an investigation is taking place. Let the investigation go to its outcome. That’s the system of justice that I protected in the city and will continue to do so. And the system of the investigation will determine the outcome.”
In some respects, Cuomo and Adams enter their expected working relationship with more in common than the governor and de Blasio, whose clashes intensified with heightened stakes during the worst of the pandemic.
They’re close in age — Cuomo is 63, Adams turns 61 this summer — and are lifelong New Yorkers with roots in Queens and old-school rough-and-tumble party politics.
They sounded in sync Wednesday as they took turns lambasting how they felt progressivism has been twisted in the past few years to focus on the Democratic Party’s most left-leaning messages. Instead, the two men said, progressivism should only be rooted in political accomplishments, not rhetoric.
“I’ve made it clear over and over again that I am the original progressive voice in this city. Being progressive is not what you tweet, but what you do to help people on the streets everyday,” said Adams, who criticized efforts to close Rikers Island and open new schools as half-baked solutions.
Cuomo said he and Adams were dedicated to getting “actual progress for real people who have real problems and need government to provide results. That’s what we mean. And we are united in that.”
That could be seen as a swipe at de Blasio, whom Cuomo didn’t mention by name. Adams also didn’t cite the mayor during the news conference, even as he alluded to Massachusetts-born de Blasio’s ill-fated run for president in 2020.
“I’m Team New York. I’m not going to engage in all of the differences and debates. I wear one jersey: New York City. That is who I’m going to stand up for,” said Adams.