New Yorkers elected Eric Adams, a retired police captain, former state senator and two-term Brooklyn borough president, as the city’s 110th mayor on Tuesday — hoping he can lead a metropolis of 8.8 million residents out of the ravages of the pandemic.
After a competitive Democratic primary in June where Adams eked out a victory by just 7,197 votes, he handily defeated Republican radio host and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa in the general election. The Associated Press called the race shortly after the polls closed at 9 p.m.
On Jan. 1, the 61-year-old Adams will become the second Black man to take the top slot, following David Dinkins over three decades ago — and the first former cop to sit in City Hall since William O’Dwyer’s debut in 1946.
Adams, who campaigned on his public safety expertise, his rise from poverty and his practiced, if quirky, man-of-the-people persona, highlighted all of those same elements in a wide-ranging, 27-minute victory speech at the Brooklyn Marriott hotel late Tuesday.
“My story is your story... I am you,” he told the crowd of supporters in downtown Brooklyn. “And I tell you something: In four years, this city’s never going to be the same. Never going to be the same.
“Once we move forward, we will never go back.”
As of late Tuesday, Adams led Sliwa by a margin of 67% to 27% of the votes tallied, according to unofficial results posted by the city Board of Elections.
Adams had been favored to win in a city where Democratic enrollment approached 3.4 million as of February — nearly seven times the number of registered Republicans.
His victory came just over a year after he announced his candidacy. Adams entered a crowded race amid the city’s first major test of ranked choice voting — and made his case to lead a diverse world cultural and financial capital staggered by tens of thousands of deaths and economic upheaval wrought by COVID-19.
Since the hard-fought primary, Adams has worked to coalesce a wide group of Democratic officials, unions and advocates to spark momentum for the agenda he laid out for the city. He has signaled a moderate political turn even as he embraces a number of progressive ideals.
He’s set to be joined by a City Council that’s further left of his policies in a number of areas, particularly on policing and jails. Ditto for incoming city Comptroller Brad Lander and re-elected Public Advocate Jumaane Williams — both are Brooklyn Democrats like Adams, but with more progressive leanings.
Adams will have no shortage of complex issues awaiting his leadership after he takes the oath of office in less than two months — including some immediate decisions set to be dumped on his doorstep by his predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Facing Major Challenges
On the economy, Adams will have to contend with the delicate balance between spurring the city’s financial engines and urging workers back to their offices while maintaining measures — such as a vaccine mandate now in place for most city workers — to keep any upticks in COVID transmission at bay.
He’ll inherit a jails system that by most accounts is at its most chaotic point in years — while needing to shepherd a plan to gradually close Rikers Island and replace it with borough-based jails whose sizes and locations he’s suggested he’s open to amending.
On education, Adams will need to quickly address the learning loss induced by the pandemic, schools that shuttered for months and unequal access to remote learning — particularly for special education students who missed out on months of required services.
Newly announced reforms to the citywide gifted and talented program and its controversial entrance exam, and the fate of a plan to shift oversight of school safety officers from the police department to the department of education, will also be in Adams’ hands.
On policing, he has promised to have the backs of officers while also taking on the department’s sky-high overtime spending. He’s also expressed a determination to make the disciplining of errant cops stricter and quicker — something reformers have sought for years.
Adams has also promoted some ambitious new programs of his own — including offering child care to any city resident who needs it and doulas, or childbirth coaches, to any first-time moms.
First Hundred Days
Whatever Adams decides to push as his signature initiatives, the best time to turn them into reality will be straight out of the gate, according to Chris Coffey, co-CEO at Tusk Strategies, which backed Andrew Yang in the primary.
Adams has a counterpart in Albany, Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is looking to maintain her seat in 2022 in part by working cooperatively with the next mayor of New York City. That’s a far cry from the open warfare between de Blasio and now-former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“Your first 100 to 200 days is when as a new mayor you have the most leverage, you’re probably as popular as you’re going to be, barring major crises,” said Coffey, who co-managed Yang’s mayoral campaign.
“Mike Bloomberg tried to get [control of] the Department of Education and succeeded in his first year. De Blasio tried to get pre-K done,” said Coffey, who previously worked for Bloomberg. “You do some of that in your first year because that’s when you have the mandate to do that.”
There will also be problems to solve that aren’t necessarily of a mayor’s choosing, such as crime and the economy.
Coffey said Adams “will be ultimately graded to a large degree on can he get crime down again,” as well as on his ability to bridge the divide between police and communities while boosting officer morale.
Adams showed throughout the campaign that reducing crime is near the top of his agenda — including by pledging to reformulate a disbanded anti-crime unit as an anti-gun unit — and he reminded voters of that on Tuesday.
During his victory speech, Adams swatted away criticism of recent meetings he had held with gang members, saying his goal was to offer them alternatives such as jobs and education.
But he added: “January 1st the conversation stops. You won’t shoot up my city. You won’t stab young people in school. You won’t sell drugs and guns on my streets... We’re not just going to talk about safety, we’re going to have safety in our city.”
When it comes to the financial health of the city, Adams will be dealing with a recovery that’s slower than elsewhere in the country, as well as with expiring labor contracts that similarly confronted his predecessor early on.
Nearly all municipal labor contracts will expire by the end of next year, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.
“As far as jobs and employment, the drop was harder here in New York and the recovery has been slower. That’s not shocking,” said Elizabeth Brown, a spokesperson for the IBO. “Obviously that’s going to have repercussions for tax revenue and probably life issues for New York — so that’s a very large concern.”
Further afield, Adams will have to identify new revenue streams totaling $787 million, according to the IBO, if he wants to maintain programs and services at the Department of Education that are currently funded with federal COVID-related stimulus money — through mid-2025.
Roughly half those funds have been earmarked for expanding preschool for 3-year-olds, known as 3K.
“Taking 3K seats away is harder than not having them to begin with — so they’ll have to find another source of funds there,” said Brown.
From Brownsville to City Hall
The trip to City Hall marks the biggest stop yet in an only-in-New-York journey that began with Adams’ birth in 1960 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He was raised in Queens along with five siblings by a single mom who cleaned houses, according to his bio.
Adams stands to become the first mayor to be raised in the city since Abe Beame, who was elected nearly 50 years ago.
At times, Adams has recalled, he traveled to school with extra clothes in a garbage bag because of the constant fear of eviction and homelessness.
As he voted Tuesday at Public School 81 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, an emotional Adams clutched a framed picture of his mother, Dorothy, who passed away at 83 in March, as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination.
The dreamer mom and the dream actualizer son completing the destination. pic.twitter.com/RQ7aovrNiS— Eric Adams (@ericadamsfornyc) November 2, 2021
Sliwa, his opponent, voted on the Upper West Side but was forced to leave one of his many house cats, Gizmo, outside the polling site, The New York Times reported.
Adams has said he joined the police department largely because he and his brother at one point became victims of the NYPD — getting beaten up at age 15 in the basement of a Queens police precinct, he has recounted on the campaign trail.
Once he joined the force, Adams became known for his outspokenness against bias and racism inside the police department — and helped found the reform-minded group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.
In 2007, he began serving the first of three two-year terms as a Brooklyn state senator, before getting elected to the role of Brooklyn borough president for the past eight years.
A Media Magnet
One constant throughout his many roles has been Adams ability to garner media attention — though not always with flattering headlines.
In 2010, as state senator, he drew national attention for his marketing campaign against the sagging-pants culture that was popular among some young people.
That same year, his name surfaced in a state inspector general probe in connection with the awarding of a lucrative gaming contract to a politically connected bidder at a racetrack in Queens.
The report found that insider information had been leaked from the Senate to the winning bidder, Aqueduct Entertainment Group, and that Adams was among the elected officials who raked in donations from the firm even as they lobbied him on the project.
Adams had been chairing the Senate’s Racing and Wagering Committee at the time.
His willingness to accept donations from groups with business interests before his office has continued into his tenure as borough president, records show.
While that role doesn’t have considerable decision-making power, Adams’ recommendations on land-use decisions can make a significant difference in the final outcome.
A review by THE CITY published in April found that from 2015 through 2019, Adams netted as much as $322,750 in donations from developers and lobbyists who were seeking favorable input from him.
Throughout his campaign for mayor, Adams has also employed a political consulting firm whose lobbyist arm has for years been advocating on behalf of its clients with the Brooklyn borough president’s office.
But perhaps the two biggest questions to emerge in this year’s mayoral race had to do with Adams’ real estate holdings — including where he lives — and his taxes.
In June, PoliticoNY published a story that raised questions about how much time Adams was spending at a co-op he shares with his partner in Fort Lee, N.J., and overnight at his office at Brooklyn Borough Hall — rather than at his declared home in a townhouse in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Later that month, THE CITY revealed that Adams still co-owned a third home in Prospect Heights, even though he said he had offloaded it and hadn’t declared it on his government disclosure forms.
Additionally, Adams had to refile his federal taxes covering 2017 to 2019 after PoliticoNY reported that he hadn’t documented any rental income from his Bed-Stuy townhouse, even though he had declared it on government disclosure forms.
THE CITY found additional errors in his reporting on the refiled taxes, including a failure to declare that he lived in a unit of the property — which impacts the value of the deductions he’s allowed to take on the rental units.
His campaign promised that he would amend the filings again, and blamed the error on his accountant, who has been struggling with homelessness in recent years.
Adams has also drawn widespread attention for his conversion to a plant-based diet in 2016, which was sparked by early symptoms of diabetes that he said threatened to take away his vision.
He’s been a fierce healthy diet advocate ever since, and helped prompt the city’s public schools to embrace a day without meat on the lunch menus, known as Meatless Mondays.
The committed vegan has suggested he plans further changes to the food options offered at public schools.
No food was served during Adams’ victory party at the Brookyn Marriott. But there was a cash bar.