Can Eric Adams Be Beaten?
2025 comes at you fast
A poll gauging the popularity of the new mayor, Eric Adams, has not been released in several months. It’s possible his dismal approval ratings have gone up and he is well on his way to winning over New Yorkers who seem skeptical of his ability to lead the city into a prosperous post-pandemic future. He has been mayor less than one year and has enough time to champion new initiatives, bolster his image, and raise tons of money to make himself a lock to win re-election.
Or his approval ratings, in the next poll, will be even worse. Adams has yet to show much interest in governing. Average voters do not care about the wonky particulars of what the mayor does, but they do care about ideas. They care about narratives. They want to feel the mayor cares about them and is working hard to make their lives better. Bill de Blasio, Adams’ maligned predecessor, failed many political tests, but won re-election rather easily. In his first term, he had enough accomplishments to make a serious argument to the public that he deserved another four years. He guaranteed paid sick days to every New Yorker. He froze rents on rent-stabilized apartments. He delivered municipal ID cards to undocumented immigrants. And he built, rather quickly, the largest and most successful universal pre-K program in America. The multiracial coalition he assembled in 2013 to win a commanding primary victory had weakened by 2017, but it was still robust enough to deter prominent challengers like Scott Stringer, the city comptroller.
Can Adams do the same? City government is not quite in shambles but it is, without a doubt, at its lowest ebb in many years. Entire agencies are barely functioning. Adams has demonstrated little interest in retaining talent or recruiting new workers to fill vital vacancies in the Department of Health, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and other agencies. For most voters, these facts on their own do not resonate; what matters, rather, is the lack of new policies coming out of City Hall. There are no expansions of pre-K to grasp onto, no new sweeping laws to change lives. There aren’t even minor improvements. On the substance, Adams might be the least ambitious mayor New York has had in a half century, maybe much longer.
The trouble for Adams is that he ran on a singular issue, crime, that he can’t truly control. Murders and shootings are down, but other kinds of crime are up, and the narrative of disorder he helped fuel has only hardened, especially among older middle-class voters who could decide Adams’ fate. This is the dilemma of the braying law-and-order candidate. You win, and the problems you decried become your problems, each robbery or rape another mark against your tenure. If Adams had other ideas or proposals—something to capture imaginations, or at least mildly interest the electorate—he could get away with not driving down all crime in four years. But he doesn’t, and he’s been content to party and showboat, relishing his newfound celebrity. It may not last.
Adams will probably seek re-election in 2025. He’ll be a heavy favorite to win because all incumbents are. He’ll have a titanic war chest, fueled by the real estate industry, Wall Street, and every other donor of note in New York. He will seek to recreate the working-class Black and Latino coalition that helped put him into office. Last year, I argued to my friends on the left that they should fear Adams the most because he has genuine roots in the outer boroughs and he’s a favorite of the elites they decry so much. A Park Avenue Democrat who can also walk with ease among South Bronx Latinos and East New York African Americans is, at the minimum, quite potent.
But Adams can lose.