NYC’s Adams Casts Himself as Mayor-in-Waiting, Vows Turnaround

Eric Adams, the winner of New York’s Democratic mayoral primary, pledged to make the city’s recovery from the pandemic a model for the nation.

“I know how we can turn around not only New York, but America,” Adams, 60, the Brooklyn borough president, said Wednesday during an interview on CBS. “New York is going to show America how to run cities.”

NYC’s Adams Casts Himself as Mayor-in-Waiting, Vows Turnaround

The Associated Press called the race for Adams on Tuesday, two weeks after the election. He won 50.5% of the vote, edging out former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, who received 49.5% after eight rounds of voting.

Adams held off a crowded field of challengers with a campaign focused on reducing crime and restoring the quality of life in a city that was pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic. A 22-year veteran of the New York Police Department, Adams helped turn the race into a referendum on public safety just one year after nationwide Black Lives Matter protests spurred calls to defund the police.

The June 22 primary marked the first citywide use of the ranked-choice voting system, allowing voters to select as many as five candidates in order of preference. Adams got 30.8% of voters’ top choices, with civil-rights lawyer Maya Wiley garnering 21.3% of first-choice votes and Garcia snagging 19.6% of first-choice votes.

Garcia overtook Wiley in the seventh round, by around 350 votes, after tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang was eliminated. When Wiley was eliminated, 72% of her votes went to Garcia over Adams -- but that wasn’t enough to overtake Adams’s early lead. Tuesday’s tally of 937,699 votes, 14% of which came from absentee ballots, showed Adams with just 8,426 more votes than Garcia.

Voting Rounds

Despite a tight race, Adams was quick to position himself as the mayor-in-waiting and cast his win as a the first sign of change in the national Democratic Party.

In a series of interviews on national cable networks on Wednesday, he suggested an early transition and said he’d meet with his candidates for police commissioner in July. He pledged to appoint a woman to run the police force.

He also marched in a ticker-tape parade held by the city to thank health-care employees and other essential workers for their service during the pandemic, where he shook hands with Senator Chuck Schumer and greeted New Yorkers with hugs as he walked along the route that began in Battery Park.

Read more here from Bloomberg Opinion: How Eric Adams Would Run New York: Howard Wolfson

Following a contentious campaign that ended with a close finish, Adams pledged to bring the city’s residents together -- not just those who voted for him.

“My message is a clear one -- let’s get over the philosophical differences we have, let’s decide that we must live in a safe city where we educate our children, and make sure everyone has an opportunity to prosper in this great city,” Adams told reporters near the parade route. “The entire country is going to change by me being mayor of New York.”

On Wednesday, Garcia and Wiley both delivered concession speeches that paid tribute to how close they got to becoming the city’s first-ever female mayor.

“I am proof that outsiders without backing of the political establishment and determined women are a force to be reckoned with,” Garcia said in a speech near the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in Manhattan’s Central Park. “While women have a seat at a table, we have yet to sit at the head of it, but I know that day is coming soon.”

Wiley congratulated Adams on his win but said she “was going nowhere” during a Manhattan speech. Despite the loss, “we did shatter the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling that said women would be discounted. The glass ceiling that said we can’t be seen as leaders.”

NYC’s Adams Casts Himself as Mayor-in-Waiting, Vows Turnaround

Historic Race

Given that Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7-to-1 in New York City, the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to win the general election in November against Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels anti-crime group. A general election victory would make Adams the city’s second Black mayor, after David Dinkins held the post in the early 1990s.

Sliwa said he was ready to go up against Adams in November.

The next mayor of New York will have to lead the city out of a pandemic-induced economic crisis. Although 52% of residents are fully vaccinated, only a fifth of office workers have returned. Tourism is depressed and many small businesses remain closed. The city’s unemployment rate stood at 10.9% in May, compared with 5.8% nationally.

With most of the city ranking Adams and Garcia at the top of their ballots, the vote showed a clear message that residents backed candidates who stressed problem-solving over ideology.

“It was the moderates, not the progressives who were ascendant in this mayoral primary, which reflected the focus of Adams and Garcia upon common-sense solutions, not ideological purity, in regard to promoting safety with justice on crime and managerial competence,” said Albany-based political consultant Bruce Gyory.

NYC’s Adams Casts Himself as Mayor-in-Waiting, Vows Turnaround

Tough on Crime

Adams made policing and crime the centerpiece of his campaign and the race. He also came out against progressives’ calls to cut spending on police departments spurred by the killing of George Floyd.

“Eric is a person of strong character who will not be bullied by special interests or ideologues,” said Kathryn Wylde, chief executive officer of the Partnership for New York City, a business group that represents companies including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. “His election is the first step in assuring that New York City remains a city of opportunity and inclusive growth.”

Shootings in New York rose 73% in May from a year ago. Hate crimes were up 93% year to date through May 30, though overall crime remains lower than in previous decades. Early to pounce on residents’ concerns over crime, Adams often spoke of his opponent’s public safety plans in apocalyptic terms.

“Black and brown babies are being shot in our streets, hate crimes are terrorizing Asian and Jewish communities and innocent New Yorkers are being stabbed and shot on their way to work,” Adams said after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Wiley, who supported cutting the NYPD’s budget. “They are putting slogans and politics in front of public safety and would endanger the lives of New Yorkers.”

Adams has pledged support for a modified version of stop-and-frisk -- which has disproportionately affected Black men -- and said he would restore a plainclothes police unit disbanded after complaints of excessive force. Police reform, he said, would come through his leadership and better training.

The focus on public safety appeared to resonate with voters in Black and Latino districts that pushed Adams to victory. He built up sizable majorities in Brooklyn, Queens, Northern Manhattan and parts of Staten Island.

His campaign leaned on the support of labor organizations like District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union, and 32BJ -- the local building-services affiliate of the Service Employees International Union -- which mobilized 6,500 volunteers for Adams.

“Our members wanted someone who represented their experience in the halls of power, who will be a champion for working people,” said 32BJ president Kyle Bragg.

Scrutiny and Setbacks

Adams was knocked back in the last weeks of the campaign after a Politico story raised questions about whether he actually lived in the Brooklyn brownstone listed on campaign paperwork. Adams took reporters on a tour of his home and showed his electronic toll records in an effort to prove he didn’t actually live in New Jersey. Adams also drew scrutiny over multiple ethics investigations, his ties to the real estate industry, and for accepting donations from developers.

Early polls saw him trailing only Yang, who capitalized on the name recognition from his failed 2020 Democratic presidential bid. Yang conceded on election night.

Partway through the weeks-long count, election officials erroneously tabulated 135,000 test ballots, creating confusion. Once the error was corrected, and ahead of the absentee count, Adams’s lead narrowed to just over 14,000 votes after nine rounds of ranked-choice voting.

Those results spoke to the benefits Garcia reaped from the ranked-choice system and a decision to campaign jointly with Yang in the final days of the campaign.

Voters like Christopher Ashley, a 38-year-old Queens resident who ranked Wiley first and Garcia second, were indicative of the strong feelings Adams’s campaign elicited. Ashley called Adams’s rhetoric “deliberately divisive.”

NYC’s Adams Casts Himself as Mayor-in-Waiting, Vows Turnaround

From Arrest to Public Service

If elected mayor, he will also have to reconcile his tough-on-crime message with the political realities of what could be the city’s most diverse City Council ever.

“Progressives are growing in strength and numbers, and we plan on holding our next NYC Mayor accountable and pass a strong progressive agenda that centers Black, Brown, immigrant, and working-class New Yorkers,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, New York State Director of the Working Families Party.

Adams’s rise is the culmination of a decades-long career in public service. Adams joined the NYPD after he was arrested and beaten by officers when he was 15.

During more than two decades in the NYPD, he co-founded a reform group called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. After leaving the force in 2006, Adams was elected to the state Senate and became the first Black Brooklyn borough president in 2013.

“He rose from humble beginnings by dedicating his life to uplifting all New Yorkers,” said Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn in a statement. “We congratulate Eric Adams on a well-deserved victory, and on becoming only the second Black mayor in New York City history.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.