What Eric Adams Shares With Joe Biden

A Black ex-cop who takes a strident tone against rising gun violence is likely to be the next mayor of New York City. As unlikely as this may seem to outsiders, especially after a year of protests over police killings of Black men, the success of Eric Adams should not come as a surprise.

That’s because Black voters in the Democratic Party, like White evangelicals in the Republican Party, are the party’s most reliable conservative base. To be clear, the precise definition of “conservative” is elastic, as Black voters are decidedly more liberal on almost all issues than White evangelicals.

In the context of Democratic Party politics, however, Black voters are in the center. Nationally, they proved to be a bulwark against the progressive forces of Bernie Sanders in both 2016 and 2020. And in New York this week, they did not buy into the progressive message of the runner-up in the mayor’s race, former city official Maya Wiley.

Adams’s candidacy didn’t benefit from an elder statesman’s blessing the way Joe Biden’s presidential campaign did when Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina endorsed him in 2020. But it didn’t need to. Adams is a known quantity in New York.

He rose to prominence in the 1990s as an internal critic of the New York Police Department before serving as state senator and then Brooklyn borough president.  More important, he understood the complicated relationship of police to the minority communities they serve: While police brutality is major concern, so is crime, as these neighborhoods are often the most victimized when it rises.

Indeed, in the closing days of the campaign, as crime increasingly became the issue in primary voters’ minds, Adams seized on two recent horrifying episodes: the shooting of a 10-year-old through his front door in Queens and a sidewalk shooting in the Bronx that nearly took the lives of two innocent bystanders, a 10 year-old girl and her 5-year-old brother.

Even before these incidents, Adams rejected the progressive “Defund the Police” sloganeering that cost the Democrats several winnable House seats last fall. He favored a narrow use of the stop-and-frisk policy to curtail gun violence. And he pledged to restore the NYPD’s recently abandoned gun-collecting anti-crime unit.

The coalition that Adams put together — including an estimated 43% of the Black vote in a multicandidate field that included two other Black candidates — isn’t too dissimilar from the one that led to Biden’s victory. A look at voter turnout shows that Adams swept the southeastern Queens neighborhoods dominated by middle-class Black families that have been supporting moderate Democrats for decades.

How much did Adams’s apparent victory resonate? Well, one day later, Biden unveiled a plan to address rising crime that includes allowing states to draw from the $350 billion federal stimulus to hire new police, among other crime-fighting measures. Defund the police? How about refund the police?

Last year, pragmatic, temperamentally “conservative” Black voters — their party’s most loyal bloc — ensured that Democrats nominated the candidate best suited to vanquish Donald Trump. This year, New York’s pragmatic Black voters appear to have nominated the Democrat best suited to revive the city most ravaged by Covid-19 — by making it once again a place where law and order helps the economy flourish.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Robert A. George writes editorials on education and other policy issues for Bloomberg Opinion. He was previously a member of the editorial boards of the New York Daily News and New York Post.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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