Discover more from Political Currents by Ross Barkan
Eric Adams, Mayor
His opponents will have it rough - but so will he
On Tuesday, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, was declared the winner of the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City. Facing nominal Republican opposition in the general election, Adams’ primary win is tantamount to victory. It’s time to start preparing for the inauguration.
Adams almost didn’t get here. Ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to choose up to five candidates, nearly delivered Kathryn Garcia, a dark horse candidate who was Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Sanitation commissioner, the nomination. As candidates were eliminated and votes distributed elsewhere, Garcia made tremendous gains. The absentee count further favored her, but the gap she had to make up from election night was simply too large. Her remarkable candidacy—powered by few labor unions and elected officials, but a lot of editorial board support—is likely over.
Adams will be a machine mayor, one who will, like the wildly pugnacious Rudy Giuliani, be unafraid to joust with political rivals and adversarial reporters. He will have vendettas and seek to execute them as best he can. The list is long of those who have clashed with Adams, legislators and council members and activists, and they may soon learn the might of City Hall.
Adams is, unquestionably, the candidate of the working-class, having rode to victory with a dominant performance in outer borough Black and Latino neighborhoods. And he is unquestionably the candidate of the very forces who seek to plunder what little these working people have and drive them from this city. Republican billionaires, Wall Street financiers, and real estate elites bet heavily on Adams, funding a super PAC and plying him with donations, and now they will seek to cash in. For the many young progressives who bemoaned the milquetoast de Blasio, they will soon see what a mayor of capital really looks like.
Of course, the power elite of New York City could ask for little better than Adams, short of Michael Bloomberg himself. Adams is far more unpredictable and incendiary than Bloomberg, but he offers greater cover for their aims. An old white man who runs as a Republican and antagonizes labor unions is never the ideal vehicle for a neoliberal agenda; he is too easy to see through. Better to have Adams, a Black man with close ties to the largest labor unions in the city, a former police captain who is the genuine son of the working-class. The Left knows, by now at least, what they are in for. They understand Adams, a landlord himself, will be an antagonist when he wants to be, cynically dismissing tenant protections as an attack, implausibly, on Black wealth.
But for those who seek to foil Adams in the new year, there is hope. It would’ve been better to have Garcia or Andrew Yang to bat around; you won’t primary Adams out of office. Adams, the pro-cop, REBNY mayor who barely managed 50 percent in RCV, will confront a more unwieldy political environment than what his predecessor, de Blasio, encountered eight years ago. Back then, the Democratic establishment was hungry to turn the page on the Bloomberg years, reaching a level of comity that will not be seen again for a long time.
Center-left Democrats were ascendant and everyone, for a moment at least, was desperate to partner with de Blasio. The City Council’s tiny progressive caucus swelled and de Blasio helped engineer the victory of an ally, Melissa Mark-Viverito, in the speaker’s race, ensuring the legislative and executive branches were largely, in the beginning at least, in lockstep. De Blasio’s challenge was the conservatives in Albany, Andrew Cuomo and the Republican-IDC State Senate, but he encountered few roadblocks on the municipal level. Veto overrides, growing more frequent under Bloomberg, disappeared for eight years.
This City Council is worth watching. DSA had a rough showing on Tuesday, but they will still send their first two socialists to the body. More importantly, many socialist-adjacent council members were elected. Many of the progressive Democrats who won, including those who defeated DSA candidates, ran on Left agenda items like defunding the police, guaranteeing a right to housing, and abolishing screened middle schools.
The new progressive wing of the Council will be quite large. It is not hard to imagine REBNY-skeptical council members like Alexa Avilés, Tiffany Cabán, Christopher Marte, Julie Won, Shekar Krishnan, Shahana Hanif, Jennifer Gutiérrez, Sandy Nurse, Pierina Sanchez, Amanda Farías, Chi Ossé, Rita Joseph, Charles Barron, Mercedes Narcisse, Lincoln Restler, and Crystal Hudson forming a bloc against Adams, or least opposing him in a budget fight. As much as Adams can claim he was the candidate of working-class nonwhite voters, these candidates, with a few exceptions, can point to their own victorious coalitions, even in areas where Adams was successful.
If Adams is cunning, he will seek to build his own alliances in the Council. Queens, in Tony Avella and Bob Holden and Jim Gennaro, will have its own Archie Bunker bloc. Other moderates and conservatives, including Linda Lee, Sandra Ung, Kalman Yeger, Ari Kagan, Eric Dinowitz, Joe Borelli, and the winners of seats in Southern Brooklyn and the Mid-Island may be more aligned with Adams’ legislative aims, whatever they might be. At the very minimum, these conservatives could emerge as a rhetorical counterweight in an era where peace among factions is unlikely.
Albany may not be kind to Adams, depending on what he wants out of it. Cuomo, politically, is poised to be an Adams ally, but 2022 is a re-election year and that will probably preoccupy him through June. In the state legislature, progressives wary of Adams have far more purchase. Young progressives and socialists form a significant bloc in the State Senate, where Democrats have a supermajority. More moderate Democrats control the Assembly, but lawmakers in both chambers might be skeptical of Adams, a former state senator who had a tumultuous record there. Since the rules governing education, tenant protections, and taxes are set by the state and not the city, Adams will encounter real guardrails on his mayoralty.
Progressive Democrats now boast platforms, on social media at least, that rival or even surpass what Adams will possess. He will be a tabloid mayor, with strong support from the Post and the Daily News, but these working-class newspapers no longer dominate popular narratives like they once did. Each year, they lose circulation and readership. The tabloids have power because local TV and radio, unfortunately unambitious at times, take their cues from the two tabloids, but their own reach is greatly diminished from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. These trends will work against Adams. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rarely had a reason to outright oppose de Blasio—he was a tepid liberal who never stood in her way—but she has the power to create a national firestorm with one tweet. Adams can go to war with progressives, but Ocasio-Cortez and her allies will have their own 21st century ammunition. Couple that with the fact that the other citywide elected officials, Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, are old friends from the anti-Bloomberg fights of the 2010s, and Adams may find himself isolated early in his tenure if he defaults to his mode of undisciplined attack.
Looming over this all is the failure of the media, writ large, to ask often about what kind of policy agenda Adams seeks for New York City. This is still, all these months later, largely undefined. Adams’ housing and education plans remain thinly-sketched. He campaigned mostly on public safety and benefited from a rise in murders and shootings—the former police captain had credibility here where others did not—but it is still unclear what would dramatically change from the de Blasio years. In 2013, de Blasio promised a new universal pre-K program, paid sick days for all workers in the five boroughs, and a reduction in stop-and-frisk. Adams has offered nothing so concrete and memorable. He could very well surprise the Left and become an ally. If there’s one consistent feature of his political career—from Farrakhan supporter to Republican to establishment Democrat—it’s unpredictability, married to a kind of soft corruption.
Now Adams will have many months to prepare for City Hall. His Republican opponent, the Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, will be swatted away with ease. From Frank Carone, the de facto boss of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, to the term-limited hangers-on like Laurie Cumbo and Ydanis Rodriguez, there will be many mouths to feed. Old-fashioned patronage may well be dispensed. Most importantly, for the working-class and poor Blacks and Latinos who are getting harassed by landlords and threatened by gunfire, Adams will have to deliver. His argument was that a blue-collar man has never lived in Gracie Mansion and his background, as a poor kid from South Jamaica, offered him unique insights into the suffering of the people who live there now. Can he make a material difference in their lives? By this standard—and perhaps only this one—should he be ultimately judged.