the city politic

It’s His Town Now

As he coasts to general-election victory, the post-technocrat, post-progressive Eric Adams mayoralty has already begun.

Photo: Mark Peterson/Redux/Mark Peterson/Redux
Photo: Mark Peterson/Redux/Mark Peterson/Redux
Photo: Mark Peterson/Redux/Mark Peterson/Redux

This article was featured in One Great Story, New York’s reading recommendation newsletter. Sign up here to get it nightly.

Bo Dietl says on the phone to come by the South Street Seaport at six, where he’ll be hosting a fund-raiser for Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee and all but assured next mayor of New York City. Dietl favors shiny suits and gold watches the size of a baby’s arm, and he was, like Adams, a New York City police officer for two decades. Unlike Adams, Dietl went into the security-and-private-investigation business. Then he made a name for himself as a loud and gruff commentator on Fox News and Don Imus’s radio show, where he once said Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, wanted to build a privacy fence around Gracie Mansion so they could “doobie-doobie-doo,” by which he meant, apparently, smoke marijuana. A longtime acquaintance of Donald Trump’s, he was encouraged to run for mayor back in 2017, first as a Democrat, then as a Republican, and, still unsuccessfully, as an independent, spending much of his time heckling “Big Bird de Blasio.”

Down at the Seaport, Dietl’s company Jeep with the words BEAU DIETL & ASSOCIATES SECURTY AND INVESTIGATIONS written on the side (he has been hired by Fox News to dig up dirt on the women who accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment and by Steve Bannon to do the same for an ex-wife who accused him of domestic violence) is parked in front of the restaurant. Inside, the crowd looks more like the kind found in a high-roller room in Atlantic City than at a fund-raiser for a Democratic politician: blonde women in cocktail dresses and half-inch-too-high heels, men sporting two-tone collared shirts and thick pinkie rings.

Despite the personal invitation, when I get there, Dietl starts shaking his head and tells me I need to leave. I stand on the boardwalk in front of the restaurant, where I am close enough to see the guests mingle, to see donors exchange business cards with Ingrid Lewis-Martin, Adams’s top aide, and hear Dietl introduce Adams as “someone I have known for a lot of years.”

“We need a mayor who is a hero, who will bring us out of this abyss,” Dietl continues, his voice carrying outside. “We get rid of crime, real estate will go up, people will come back! Eric Adams, he will get it done — don’t listen to any bullshit!”

When Adams rises to speak, he quotes a familiar line about how we spend so much time pulling people out of the river but never go upstream to stop them from falling in. He says that he and the assembled are from the “NO RADIO stickers–on–windshields generation” and they aren’t going back and that “I’m going to tell my police officers, ‘I have your back.’ ” He thanks Dietl, describes him as someone who “always had my back,” and tells his donors the reason he won the Democratic primary a few months before is his opponents were too timid: too scared to address the rising crime rate, too afraid to go into the neighborhoods he went into to hear the concerns of New Yorkers, too in thrall to their gatekeepers.

The next day, Dietl says kicking me out wasn’t his fault; Adams told him if there was any press there, he wouldn’t come. (Adams declined to be interviewed for this story.) Dietl knows Adams from back when the future mayor was a captain in the police force. “He is a big texter,” he tells me, explaining that he and Adams spoke before he ran. He told Adams the three big issues facing the city were “crime, crime, and crime.”

“I really, really like him,” he says. “If I can help him in any way, I am there for him.”

Although Mayor de Blasio had declared the past several months the “Summer of Bill” as he wore a Hawaiian shirt and rode the roller coaster at Coney Island, it was really the summer of Eric Adams. On June 24, two days after the primary election he would win by only 7,000 votes, he held a press conference in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall declaring himself the new face of the Democratic Party. If national Democrats hope to retain their majorities in 2022 and the presidency in 2024, he warned, they should heed his example — and watch as he shows the United States of America how to run a city.

And with that, the Adams mayoralty effectively began. National Democrats rushed to embrace him. Joe Biden invited Adams down to Washington, D.C., for a meeting, and so did Nancy Pelosi. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand appeared alongside him in New York, de Blasio and then-Governor Andrew Cuomo (who have famously never agreed on anything) both declared Adams’s victory an endorsement of their point of view, and when Cuomo resigned, Kathy Hochul picked up where he left off. The city’s power brokers and media elite showered praise. “This is a great relief,” said Kathy Wylde, the head of the pro-business Partnership for New York City, days after Adams was declared the winner. “We have eight years of a mayor who was completely disparaging of wealth and business, and New York City barely survived it. Adams has been very clear that New York City needs corporations, needs the wealthy, that we have always needed them, and we don’t want to demonize them.”

In the New York Times, center-right columnist Bret Stephens has all but anointed Adams the next Democratic presidential nominee. “In New York City! Which is supposed to be the liberal icon!” Joe Scarborough has said on Morning Joe, marveling at how Adams took a tough line on crime to win. “I love this fucking guy,” said Bill Maher. “This is what the Democratic Party needs.”

Graced with a thousand-kilowatt smile, Adams, who will wrap up a noncompetitive general-election campaign on November 2, is poised be the most charismatic man to hold the job in a half-century. A natural politician, he is a favorite of Wall Street, of real estate, of the Trumpified elements that remain in New York City, as well as many of the city’s most powerful labor unions and the Black and brown working-class base of the Democratic Party. There is, in many circles, a palpable excitement about the prospect of an Adams mayoralty. You see it in the hotel workers’ union halls and along the parade route for essential workers, where Adams has been hugged, kissed, and fussed over, a kid from the other side of the tracks whose mother was a cook at an early-education center making it to City Hall. And you see it at the fund-raisers in the Hamptons, on Martha’s Vineyard, and at the new Noho private club Zero Bond, where Adams has become a regular and was spotted with Paris Hilton as she celebrated her recent engagement.

“He is someone who is actually going to enjoy the job of being mayor,” says Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy at NYU and onetime adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “He is going to be a physical presence in people’s lives. It is going to be very refreshing.”

Before winning the Democratic primary, Eric Adams never had to endure a competitive election. The closest he came was in 1994, when he surprised many by challenging Major Owens, a longtime incumbent congressman and one of the most revered liberals in the House of Representatives. Owens had been critical of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, which was rising in prominence in the early 1990s, and his comments made him a target of Black talk-radio stations, in particular WLIB, then such a force in the Black community that some had credited it with helping get David Dinkins elected mayor five years prior.

Adams was best known at that point as a proud police officer and a fierce critic of the department from his perch as spokesperson for the Grand Council of Guardians, a Black officers’ fraternal organization. His story is, by any account, a remarkable one. His parents moved to New York from Alabama at a time when New York had an activist government and a broad social-safety net. Adams was the fourth of six children — he likes to say his mother wore out her knees praying for him. His father worked as a butcher, and his mother was a cook at Amistad Child Care Center in South Jamaica. “Salt of the earth, down-to-earth, super-friendly, super-engaging, cared for the children, and endeared herself to everyone,” recalls Dennis Walcott, a teacher at the center back then and later schools chancellor under Bloomberg. “I can still hear Dot’s laugh. I had the greatest respect for her.”

Adams went to Bayside High School, one of the best comprehensive high schools in the city. The billionaire hedge funder John Paulson was a few years ahead of him; Jordan Belfort, of The Wolf of Wall Street fame, a few years behind. (It is also the school where the members of Anthrax met.) Adams has said he had undiagnosed dyslexia. He went on to John Jay College and earned a master’s degree from Marist College in public administration, but the real story of his life happened, he says, at age 15, when he was arrested along with his brother and beaten up by officers back at the precinct. He got involved with a youth group led by the Reverend Herbert Daughtry, a politically engaged Black activist and preacher who encouraged young people to join the police force even as it was terrorizing their communities.

“Law enforcement was acting as our enemy. What I was asking was a tall order,” says Daughtry. “I was telling these young men to join an organization that was killing young people, that you need to show the world what it was like to be a good cop, and you need to go inside this organization and find out why they have such hatred and resentment of people of African ancestry.” Adams, Daughtry recalls, would provide security at the church’s youth events. “He attached himself to us, but he understood what was being asked of him and he had something inside of him. I think that is why he is the mayor. He was willing to go into the lion’s den.”

Inside the department, Adams became known less for his police work and more for his activism. To his detractors in the brass, he was more interested in self-promotion than in the cause of reform. To his supporters, he was the savvy counter to the harsh policing practices of the 1980s and ’90s and a fierce advocate for Black officers. He served as a personal bodyguard to the Reverend Al Sharpton, traveled with a group of police officers to Indiana to escort Mike Tyson from prison following his rape conviction, and was blamed by some for contributing to Dinkins’s loss to Rudy Giuliani in 1993 when Adams criticized Herman Badillo, Giuliani’s running mate, for marrying a Jewish woman instead of a Puerto Rican, comments that caused days of controversy for Dinkins. (Adams went on to say, “We are going to have to arm ourselves with the ballot to ensure that these forces of evil do not come into office, or we’re going to have to consider arming ourselves with bullets to prevent the lynch-mob mentality that is coming from this kind of Republican administration.”)

Adams representing the police Grand Council of Guardians at a press conference with the Reverend Al Sharpton and Dr. Elgin Watkins in 1993. Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo

Running for unwinnable offices is something activists often do; Sharpton himself ran for the U.S. Senate in 1994. But Adams was barely registering in his race against Owens when he made an explosive charge: that forces associated with the incumbent had broken into his campaign office and stolen his petition signatures a day after he announced that he had more than enough to make the ballot. An Owens campaign representative called the allegation ludicrous, saying that he didn’t even know where Adams’s campaign office was and that Adams was making it up to hide his insufficient signatures. A police investigation into the claim turned up nothing. Adams later submitted enough signatures to qualify, but the Owens campaign found that enough of them were fraudulent or incorrectly filled out that Adams was kicked off the ballot.

Adams redirected his focus away from electoral politics. In 1995, he and some other Black officers split from the Guardians and started a new group, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, hoping to be both more vocal in their opposition to the Police Department and police unions and to work with community groups to improve the relationship between the police and the Black neighborhoods they patrolled. His group held workshops for young people to advise them on what to do when stopped by police. “Reaching while black shouldn’t be punishable by death,’’ Adams told the New York Times in 1999 in the wake of the police killing of Amadou Diallo. “But I can’t teach kids on the way it ought to be. I have to teach them on the way it is.’’ Challenging entrenched power in both the NYPD and its labor unions was difficult since speaking out could end an officer’s career or get them stuck with the worst assignments. Adams was the group’s spokesman, its strategist, and its public face. “He was unusually smart and unusually passionate about the things he believes in,” says Noel Leader, who co-founded 100 Blacks. “You are not going to scare Eric Adams.”

He was, at the time, a familiar New York type, of which there are perhaps fewer examples in the city than there used to be: the activist who is almost unavoidable for comment, always weighing in on controversies or creating ones of their own, visible on local television shows and quoted in other local media. This city’s relentless media environment and endless appetite to fill column inches and airwaves helps to create such figures, who tend to have small, if fervent, followings.

Adams was under constant surveillance and investigation by NYPD Internal Affairs, and in 2006, he was facing disciplinary sanctions from the department for appearing on television in his official capacity to criticize Mayor Bloomberg’s handling of a terror threat. His state senator, Carl Andrews, was running for Congress, and Adams retired from the force and ran for his seat. Adams had grown close to the county bosses who still ran the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine and faced only token opposition, winning easily.

Adams’s time in the State Senate coincided with a dark period for Democrats in the chamber. Although an overwhelming majority in the state, they were locked out of power because of gerrymandering, so the State Senate attracted the dregs of New York’s political class. The first Democratic leader Adams served with ended up going to prison, as did the second leader, as did the third. Private caucus meetings would occasionally break out in violence. Adams developed a close relationship with fellow state senator Hiram Monserrate, who, like Adams, was a former police officer and who, before going to prison for corruption, was booted from the body for slashing his girlfriend’s face with a piece of glass. Adams argued against removing him, stating publicly that Monserrate was being railroaded by the police because he had been a proponent of reform within the department. He sat through Monserrate’s domestic-violence trial, and the two remained close until Adams finally distanced himself from Monserrate as he began his run for mayor. (“As a man who lived with domestic violence as a child, I also strongly condemn Mr. Monserrate’s past behavior and believe that it should have consequences,” Adams said in early 2021.)

Adams faced his own share of controversy too, most notably when he was put in charge of recommending which company should win a contract to open a new casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. He favored a company whose chief lobbyist was Carl Andrews, the former lawmaker whose seat he held. Adams and others were accused of leaking information on the bidding process to the company, even as Adams solicited campaign contributions from it and attended a victory celebration at Andrews’s home after the awarding of the contract, something a state inspector general said “reflects, at a minimum, exceedingly poor judgment.” Adams denies doing anything improper, and when asked last June, his spokesperson called the inspector general’s report “a political hit piece.”

Some of Adams’s legislative initiatives dealt with respectability politics, such as when he launched a campaign against wearing saggy pants. But most of his focus was on policing and improving outcomes for communities of color. He beat back an effort to impose penalties for suspects found to have lied to the police, and he pushed to restrict the use of tinted windows in cars, believed to hide illegal activity. He won passage of a bill that eliminated a database of people stopped and frisked by the NYPD. And he set his sights on moving up the political ladder, courting community groups and locking down support from political power brokers, much as he would later approach his run for mayor. When the Brooklyn borough presidency opened up in 2013, Adams had the support of the Orthodox rabbis and Black pastors alike. He won the seat virtually unopposed.

Adams, with a disguised officer, testifying about racial bias in the department’s stop-and-frisk tactics before the City Council in 1999. Photo: Librado Romero/The New York Times/Redux

Adams had been planning for the mayoral race even before he was sworn in as borough president. “As a beat cop, I was talking about one day wanting to be mayor. And people laughed,” Adams told the New York Observer in 2014. “I think it’s hypocritical for me to tell my son at American University, you know, reach toward your dreams, be proud of what you want to be, then play this game that political operatives play — you can’t say what you want to be in life. I don’t have a problem with saying this is what I want to be.”

The borough presidency is, for most, a job in which mayoral aspirants show how they would handle a promotion. Adams was known for stunts; he showed reporters a new contraption that could drown rats in a mixture of vinegar and alcohol — he pushed back against critics of the macabre display by saying that plumbers in public housing pulled out 40 bags of rats in a day — and told newcomers flocking to the borough that they shouldn’t. “Our young people coming in need to understand that they are not the modern-day Christopher Columbus: They did not discover Brooklyn,” he told the Times a few years into the job. “Brooklyn was here long before they set sail, and if anything they need to be part of the greatness of Brooklyn and add their flavor, but not destroy what we are.”

He relentlessly courted the community groups that make up the city’s electorate, appearing at Bangladeshi temples and Ecuadoran parades and at the Young Israel Gala, where he was the only Democratic speaker and Anthony Scaramucci was honored in what a Jewish-community newspaper called a “Trump lovefest.”

Adams worked to become an ally of the Brooklyn Democratic machine, led at the time by Clarence Norman, a state assemblymember who went to prison for extorting state judicial candidates, and then by Vito Lopez, another state assembly-member forced to step down once it was revealed that he had sexually harassed multiple young staffers. But there was a rising counterforce in Brooklyn politics at the same time, one led by Hakeem Jeffries, who was elected to the State Assembly the same year Adams was elected to the State Senate and who has tried to build an alternative power base in the borough. The newcomers saw Adams as too conservative, too tied to the machine politics of the borough, and too prone to attention-grabbing antics. Adams and Jeffries — who is now the fifth-highest-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives and someone widely considered to be the next Democratic leader once Pelosi retires — worked together to pass legislation to end the stop-and-frisk database, which led to a rift between the two that still hasn’t quite healed. “Adams is far more vociferous, and Jeffries has an even-keel approach. Jeffries tries not to alienate people, while Adams will take that risk from time to time,” recalls David Paterson, who signed the legislation into law when he was governor. “Legislators who work in the same districts can be very competitive. If someone steps up and gets a lot of attention, everyone else notes it.”

In local political battles, the two frequently supported rival candidates. And although both have denied that there is any bad blood, Jeffries endorsed Adams’s rival Maya Wiley in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary. Nearly every member of the city’s congressional delegation and most of the senior Black leadership in the city supported other candidates or kept out of the race altogether, a move largely seen as taken out of deference to Jeffries. (New York attorney general Letitia James, who hails from the same central-Brooklyn political precincts as both of them, has mostly stayed out of it.) In the race’s final days, once it became clear that Adams looked set to win, Jeffries announced he was ranking Adams second on his ballot, conveying this message to Adams secondhand.

One of Adams’s many ribbon cuttings as Brooklyn borough president, this one at the Kings Theatre in 2015. Photo: Desiree Navarro/WireImage

This summer, Adams took his Brooklyn-borough-president style of leadership on the road. He was everywhere: at street festivals in the Bronx, at a Sukkoth celebration in Brooklyn, wearing a sombrero for the Mexican Day Parade and a turban for the Sikh Holy Book Day in Richmond Hill, kicking off the annual SALT Conference hosted by Scaramucci at the Javits Center. (“He is a common-sense guy,” Scaramucci told me.) And at the club Zero Bond, which counts Tom Brady, Kim Kardashian, and Live Schreiber as members, and where Adams has been spotted with Ronn Torossian, a PR mogul close to Trumpworld and several members of his inner circle; ​​Paolo Zampolli, the owner of a modeling agency and a real-estate empire, who introduced Trump to Melania and has a giant oil painting of the former president inside his home; and TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio and their father, Marc.

Adams has a way of being all things to all people, universally appealing and charmingly mysterious. He tells vivid stories, like how, after a lifetime of fast food, he woke up one morning blind and with nerve damage in his hands. He was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and told he might need to face amputation. Rather than taking the medicine his doctors prescribed, he switched to a plant-based diet, and within months the blindness and nerve damage were gone. He wrote a book about his dramatic reversal of fortune and commitment to veganism, Healthy at Last. When he was spotted the day after the primary election eating at Rao’s with Dietl and supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, it not only caused a political sensation (the self-proclaimed future of the Democratic Party dining that evening with Republicans) but became a tabloid curiosity: Everyone else at the table later claimed Adams had ordered the fish, while an Adams spokesperson insisted that, no, he had the eggplant parmigiana, only without the parmigiana.

Another vivid memory: the morning of 9/11. “I remember like it was yesterday,” Adams said on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, speaking to the camera with the 9/11 Memorial pictured behind him. He started his day, he recalled, on an Upper West Side street at five o’clock in the morning, where he was campaigning because it was Primary Election Day. In detail, he told how he saw people crowded around an electronics store and, looking in, saw on one of the televisions that one of the Twin Towers had been hit. “Immediately, I thought to myself, This is a terrorist attack, he said. “People thought it was an accident, they were unsure, but I felt differently.” He said the police had been trained to return to their primary command, the precinct nearest their home, after a major attack, so he tried to take the subway back to his in Clinton Hill. But the subways were shut down, so Adams walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, past people covered in dust and grime, back to the 88th Precinct, where he went up on the roof. “I said, ‘What happened to the towers?’ ” he recalled. “And one of my police officers responded and said, ‘Lieutenant, the towers collapsed.’ ”

It’s a heck of a story. It’s also slightly different from the one Adams told on the first anniversary, when he said he had been up all night campaigning and was headed down the West Side Highway with fellow members of 100 Blacks when they saw the plane hit the towers with their own eyes and “immediately called in law enforcement.”

It is one of several discrepancies Adams unspools, none of which is, for the most part, terribly significant but which have raised eyebrows as he moves from hyperlocal government to a highly scrutinized, functionally national office. At a protest over planned MTA cuts, he said he rode the bus every day and held up his MetroCard to prove it, apparently unaware (or unconcerned) that it was a two-trip card. When he was recently dinged for keeping a light schedule of public events, his spokesperson said Adams is “keeping the same 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. schedule he kept during the primary season.”

More serious are questions relating to his home. Adams, who has said he may split his time as mayor between Brooklyn and Gracie Mansion, has tried to turn the matter into a trivial one: “I live in Brooklyn,” he said into the camera as he led reporters on a tour through the basement apartment he said he shares with his son, 26-year-old Jordan Coleman, in the brownstone he owns in Bed-Stuy. His allies had attempted to turn the issue into a residency question, as if the media were insinuating that Adams didn’t meet the minimum threshold to become mayor of New York City.

In fact, the story began because, despite owning a home a few minutes away, Adams was in essence living in his office at Borough Hall in Brooklyn, itself an ethics violation. (The city government provides offices for its elected officials; it provides housing only to the mayor.) The real issue was that Adams appeared not to be paying income taxes on the brownstone despite saying he had earned enough money from it to pay for his son’s college education. Nor had he paid a gift tax when, apparently, he gave his share of a co-op to a former girlfriend, Sylvia Cowan, even though he was using that co-op as his official address as late as 2018.

Cowan now lives in the Fort Lee, New Jersey, complex where Adams shares a condo with his current partner, Tracey Collins. An employee with the Department of Education and a former school principal, Collins has not been a visible part of Adams’s political career; in a rare public moment, back in 2009, she wrote the foreword to his book Don’t Let It Happen, about recognizing the possible dangers that could befall children (the cover featured a handgun resting inside a pink lunch box). His son has occasionally appeared on the trail — on the tour of Adams’s apartment, throwing the first pitch at a Mets game — but overall, Adams’s family’s muted role has been a departure from the one de Blasio’s played. “My secrecy is my family. I signed up for this life,” Adams said in June as the housing controversy played out in the press. “They did not sign up for this life.”

Adams later amended his tax returns to show that he did not owe any income taxes because the expenses on the brownstone were — to the dollar — the amount of money he made in rent. When it was later revealed that the tax returns showed Adams had reported spending zero days at the property, something that could have allowed him to reduce his tax bill by tens of thousands of dollars, he blamed his accountant, who Adams said had become homeless and messed up his filings. “But I was not going to throw him away when he was down on his luck,” Adams said at a press conference. Adams had never filed the rental units on his property with the city and didn’t respond when Buildings Department inspectors sent him notices; the campaign has claimed he didn’t need to do this because of the number of units in the building and has blamed the oversight on a renovation of the brownstone that resulted in a change of address, on Adams being too busy with the campaign, and on his neighbors’ stealing notices and mail from his front door. (A spokesperson for Adams said he has now registered his rental property under the current rules and scheduled an inspection with the Department of Buildings.)

“Think about it: This is someone who has been in public office for 15 years, and we don’t know where he lives,” says one former de Blasio administration official. “I think he is not used to people paying attention to what he says or does, and he is in for a shock.”

Although he might have talked about running for mayor for 25 years, Adams hasn’t laid out precisely what he wants to do with the job now that he has just about won it. When de Blasio won, he did so on the strength of a single policy proposal backed by an overarching idea: universal prekindergarten, paid for by a tax on millionaires, all in the service of reducing the city’s astounding inequality. Bloomberg’s big idea was to bring business acumen to the office, and he spoke of squeezing inefficiencies out of city government while increasing teacher salaries and ending tax breaks for businesses while rebuilding the city after 9/11.

Adams, meanwhile, “doesn’t really have concrete plans,” says David Schleicher, a professor at Yale Law School and an expert on New York City affairs. “He takes stances on issues and focuses on his national political profile and what his victory means for his disputes with left-wing politicians.”

“Eric Adams did what Bill Clinton always did, what a lot of good politicians do,” says Sean McElwee, a pollster with Data for Progress, “which is find out what the highest-salience issue of the moment is and then figure out what the most popular position to take on that issue is and then just do that.”

This is why Adams, as Dietl puts it, ran on “crime, crime, and crime,” the single issue that polls showed was most important to voters even as crime numbers have fallen from a pandemic-related 2020 uptick. In his general-election campaign against Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, Adams has framed almost every issue as one of public safety. “If you don’t educate, you will incarcerate,” he says on the trail when talking about his schools agenda. “If you want to take the cold steel of a gun out of someone’s hand,” he said at a labor rally, “then put the steel of a hammer in their hand and let them be on the job site.”

Crime in New York tends to follow national trends; the ability of any mayor to impact it is limited. A lot of what Adams is responding to is a sense of disorder: ​​homelessness, graffiti, fights on the subway, open-air drug use in city parks. These can be tougher to police unless Adams and the city itself have a renewed appetite for the broken-windows, zero-tolerance policing that was the hallmark of the Bloomberg and Giuliani eras. Adams has called for reinstituting the anti-crime unit of the NYPD into an anti-gun unit and shifting more officers to high-crime areas.

When it comes to policy, Adams can be, in the words of one operative who has worked closely with him, “a bit of an unguided missile.” At one press conference, he can speak about exempting pregnant women from vaccine mandates, and in an interview a few weeks later, he can say that only children who get the COVID vaccine will be allowed to go to school. He has talked about building massive amounts of affordable housing but has insisted on using union labor to do it, which would crimp his ability to build since it would make new projects more expensive. And in the inevitable battles between communities and developers, Adams, despite courting the support of real estate, has tended to side with his constituents — including just this summer, when he voted against a mixed-use building that would have replaced a drive-through McDonald’s in Prospect Heights, then again when he nixed an affordable-housing development on the site of a former school beneath which is believed to lie a burial ground for enslaved Africans.

Adams has spoken in broad strokes about his focus — rebuilding the city from the devastations of the pandemic, paying special attention to historically marginalized populations — but there isn’t much articulation of policy trade-offs or even priorities. He has floated an almost root-and-branch remaking of city government — a real-time CompStat-like database of how government agencies are functioning, a citywide job-training program mapped down to the employment needs of each council district, moving to a full-year school year — without indicating how the city would pay for it, for instance. Although his plans call for a tax on those making more than $5 million a year, he has never brought it up on the trail, instead encouraging high-income earners to remain in the city. The slew of tax breaks he has proposed — everything from exempting businesses that have experienced a COVID-related hardship from commercial-rent tax to an expansion of tax credits to attract new businesses to a weekly sales-tax holiday for small businesses — would likely wipe out the revenue gained from the millionaire tax.

One lesson a New York City mayor learns quickly is that less can be more, that the way to avoid angering local constituencies is not to do much to alter the status quo. Adams has already shown he understands this, promising to reverse de Blasio’s efforts to dismantle the city’s Gifted and Talented programs, an issue that is a favorite of editorial boards and activists but polls terribly. Adams has signaled that he is very much a mayor for his voters, those outer-borough homeowners, particularly in communities of color, and it is unlikely he would want to cross them, even if it means stalling his agenda. He has called for more bike lanes and more affordable-housing development, but will he fight for them in outer-borough neighborhoods that don’t want them? “Between 12 years of Bloomberg and eight years of de Blasio, a lot of the low-hanging fruit is just gone now,” said one former Bloomberg administration official. “You have to start doing this stuff in places where they don’t want it, and who knows if he has the appetite for that.”

In political circles, the guessing game of the summer has revolved around whom Adams will pick for his administration. He has been meeting with potential hires, often alongside Frank Carone, the powerful attorney for the Brooklyn Democratic Party and one of Adams’s closest advisers, and he has signaled interest in keeping some de Blasio–administration officials in place. But Adams has been merciless in talking about the failures of the previous eight years and how he intends to fix them. The guiding assumption is that all of those elected officials who stumped on his behalf will get first dibs for administration jobs, while anyone — anyone — who lined up against him will be shut out. “This is absolutely a guy who holds grudges,” says one adviser, “and is completely unafraid to shoot his enemies.”

Adams will come into office an immensely powerful mayor, probably the most powerful in modern times. Not only does he have the backing of both labor and billionaires, editorial boards and working-class communities of color, he is going to handpick the next City Council Speaker, one of the few political positions that could serve as a check on him locally. With Andrew Cuomo out of the governor’s office, Adams will be the most sought-after endorsement in the state in 2022 and able to drive an agenda in Albany as few mayors have been. He has kept the New York Post, which has a singular ability to shape coverage in the city, in his corner, with most of the big investigative pieces into his finances coming from online outlets like Politico and The City.

The most forceful opposition to Adams will likely come largely from a group of voters who have made no secret of their distrust for him — those who are left of center and college educated, many of whom moved from elsewhere to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and western Queens, and are prepared to challenge him on policing, closing Rikers, and his stated support for charter schools. Adams has made clear that the distrust is mutual. “How dare those with their philosophical and intellectual theorizing and their classroom mind-set talk about their theories of policing,” he said on Primary Election Night. “You don’t know this. I know this.” More recently, Adams shared with a group of wealthy donors his message to those who are unconcerned that high taxes would cause the wealthy to leave: “No, you leave.”

This cohort includes not just DSA-type progressives worried about Adams’s fealty to real-estate and Wall Street elites but also Bloombergian progressives who worry an Adams administration will slide the city back into a transactional, unenlightened style of governing. In this sense, Adams is certainly correct that he will loom large in national politics. College-educated voters of all stripes have moved en masse to the Democratic Party, while in 2020, Trump received more of the Black and Latino share than he did in 2016, driven largely by non-college-educated working-class voters drawn to his law-and-order messaging, his promise of economic growth, and his support for traditional gender roles. Adams has positioned himself right in the middle of this growing rift, framing his election as a rebuke to the left and situating himself closer to Trump than, say, his fellow Democrat representing New York’s 14th Congressional District. That almost 700,000 New Yorkers will soon be represented by both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Eric Adams suggests how fluid, and up for grabs, the Democratic Party’s identity currently is.

An Adams mayoralty is a bet against ideology, against hard choices, against the technocrats of the Bloomberg era and the activists of the de Blasio one. It will be an administration promising a “both and” agenda — cutting crime while kicking overly aggressive cops off the force, luring back business while reducing poverty — powered by an amount of presence New Yorkers haven’t seen in a mayor since Ed Koch. It should be an awfully entertaining ride.

The Latest on Eric Adams

See All
Eric Adams Has Already Won