Discover more from Political Currents by Ross Barkan
Eric Adams, Mayor for the Normies
A new era officially arrives
On New Year’s Day, exactly when promised, Eric Adams arrived at City Hall. The sky was slate gray and a light rain dappled the concrete, the temperature hovering around fifty degrees. Coronavirus had canceled the inauguration, planned for the King’s Theatre in Brooklyn, and Adams had chosen to forego the tradition of outdoor festivities at City Hall. Eight years ago to the day, Bill and Hillary Clinton had come to swear Bill de Blasio in, with Harry Belafonte delivering thundering remarks. It might have been, from the standpoint of public opinion, the high point of the de Blasio mayoralty.
Adams promises something very different. He is wily, unpredictable, and temperamental, his political compass shifting left and right. He is a mayor for the Black working-class and BlackRock. The richest men in America invested in his mayoral campaign, as did neighborhoods in the South Bronx and Southeast Queens. His policy agenda, at best, is thinly-sketched. The de facto head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party will run his government.
Adams was sworn in as mayor shortly after the ball dropped in Times Square. Around 7:30, he was barreling onto the subway at Kosciuszko Street in Brooklyn, reporters in tow. From the train platform, he called 911 to report an assault in progress, apparently not identifying himself as the 110th mayor of New York City until the end of the call. He encountered drunk and sleeping men on the subway. He took questions from reporters who were happy to pepper him. As he bounded up the steps of City Hall, one journalist cried out that he was welcome at Room 9, the storied headquarters of the city press corps, any time. Adams seemed to smile.
Already, Adams has internalized a lesson de Blasio could never learn over eight confounding, if deceptively successful, years. Reporters, pundits, power brokers, and even everyday voters are less invested in results than they might seem. De Blasio stood up the most ambitious expansion of the city’s social safety net in at least a half century with his universal pre-K program and yet Andy Cohen, to much delight, still drunkenly mocked him on national TV for the second consecutive New Year’s Eve. De Blasio had real, serious failures as mayor, like his inability to contain a surge in homelessness and the ongoing violence at Rikers Island, but if you spent enough time around the city, you realized the resentment toward de Blasio was about more than just policy.
Perhaps, like John Lindsay, was he “too tall” to be mayor, too aloof, too disdainful of the daily hustle of being a municipal leader. Lindsay, though, walked the streets of Harlem after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. And unlike Lindsay, there was no glamour to de Blasio, no sense, beyond the first year, he was a rocket headed somewhere else. In the late 1960s, people genuinely believed Lindsay, who was probably better-looking than any Kennedy, would be president of the United States. There was not a human being alive, other than de Blasio himself, who thought the same.
Eric Adams is going to get far enough being a mayor for normal people. What does this mean exactly? Am I being derisive? No. It’s a lesson the Left will need to learn if it ever intends to build its vast, multiracial working-class coalition. To an extent, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez understands this too, but her appeal is increasingly narrowed, confined to aging millennials and zoomers who are thrilled that a politician can tweet like them and post appealing Instagram stories. Years of right-wing hatred and endless press cycles have begun to take a toll on the AOC brand. Rank-and-file Democrats still don’t really understand why AOC voted against Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill while Nicole Malliotakis, a Trump apologist, voted for it, even if AOC’s reasoning had merit. AOC is still absurdly young for a famous politician, just thirty-two, and her clout among the left-leaning, professional class of outer borough Brooklyn and Queens is real. But the shine of 2018, inevitably, has begun to fade.
A former cop, Adams can claim he’ll cut crime by next week and enough people will believe him. A beat cop, like Adams once was, spends a lot of time in the parts of New York that don’t send kids off to private schools. He understands being mayor is about an aesthetic, a performance, image-maintenance. He will create the appearance of hard work, and maybe even do some of it. He will certainly have fun. De Blasio seemed to resent being one of the most powerful executives in America. Adams will revel in it.
For now, the media is with him too, and that matters. In our post-Empire age, the traditional newspapers and TV stations cannot so readily sketch narratives anymore and tell people what to think, but New York City remains a market where you want the tabloids, the local radio stations, and Channels 2 and 4 and 7 on your side. Together, intentionally or not, they tell a story, and a mayor does not want to be on the wrong end of it. De Blasio always was. Reporters took it personally that he always came to events late, that he didn’t give them sit-down interviews, that he was, too often, haughty and hectoring at his press conferences. They carried these wounds through eight years and de Blasio did little to assuage them. In truth, managing reporters isn’t all that hard to do. Give them copious access and make them feel like you are friends with them, even if you aren’t. Make it seem like you enjoy being in their company.
Michael Bloomberg did not have to follow these rules because he was one of the richest men in human history. The media class could defer to him, or at least respect him, because money in this society will always equal competence. He could buy the silence of nonprofits and advocates who might have otherwise caused him trouble. De Blasio had to obey rules of political gravity and Adams will too.
Adams—because he has won the approval of Rupert Murdoch—has the New York Post functioning, for the time being, as a propaganda organ for the new mayoralty. How long this lasts is anyone’s guess. The Post terrorized de Blasio over eight years, doing some decent journalism in the process. Their investigations drove coverage everywhere else. With the guns of the Post silenced, it’ll be up to the Daily News, which does take coverage of Adams quite seriously, to pick up the slack in its diminished state, along with the New York Times.
New Yorkers will delight, for a little while at least, in Adams riding bikes and trains, tossing out first pitches, flexing at the beach. They’ll like that he wakes up early and goes to bed late, wanting to go clubbing like any aspirational male with some pocket change. Unlike his Bostonian predecessor, he talks like he grew up here. They knew Koch, Rudy, and Bloomberg were all desperate to be mayor, that they would deal away their souls if it meant waking up at Gracie Mansion every day for the next thousand years, immortal pharaohs of New York. Adams once told me being mayor was all he ever really wanted. He got his wish.