What Eric Adams’ New York Means for America
A somewhat confounding politician has triumphed in the Big Apple. Now tipped to be mayor, his rise carries implications galore for a fractious nation writ large.
The Big Apple is likely to anoint its second black chief executive later this autumn, the city’s 110th mayor. The latest, likely occupant of Gracie Mansion is something of a surprise. Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough president, won the Democratic primary this week, it was announced, in a city where Republicans have increasingly failed to continue to transcend their general status nationally as afterthoughts, even pariahs, in urban politics.
Adams, a former police officer seen by his critics as an incoherent opportunist, is expected to rout Curtis Sliwa, a sort-of, longtime vigilante crime opponent, who succeeded in achieving the career capstone of Republican nominee for mayor of New York, a distinction that once fell on such giants as Fiorello La Guardia, even John Linsday. Adams was very arguably the most moderate candidate in the Democratic field. Though he has a background as a police critic from within, he closed with a tough-on-crime message, and his electoral power was anchored by fulsome support from black voters.
His success, in other words, very close to shatters a year-plus of often-strident discourse anchored around: a new anti-racism, “wokism,” critical race theory and the like. It adds to a raft of of-late confounding variables, such as Donald Trump keeping the game as close as it was in 2020, on the back of basically shocking, enhanced minority support.
For a candidate defined by his haters for (perhaps purposeful) contradiction, Adams, in victory, couldn’t have been more clear. “America is failing in running cities,” Adams said, adding he was “the new face of the Democratic Party.”
Adams’ critics used to be to his right, seeing him in the Nineties as a “Brooklyn race hustler,” but with the added wrinkle that he was mobbed up with the NYPD. But in recent years, he’s shown a true pol’s panache, surviving atop the Brooklyn borough throughout the length of his would-be predecessor Bill de Blasio’s lowly mayoralty.
And now: Adams has outlasted the celebrity, former presidential candidate (Andrew Yang), the late choice of the democratic-socialist left (Maya Wiley) and the late favorite of the Manhattan Democratic machine (Kathryn Garcia), all while simultaneously maintaining his seemingly preposterous status as the least “woke” figure with a shot at the prize, but also the most enmeshed in the black community, and the even more preposterous drama that he might actually, technically live in New Jersey.
He found late believers.
Adams “passed the test,” said veteran New York Post city mouse Bob McManus, as the future mayor pledged personal money to bolster the reward for information that could lead to an arrest in the latest outrage from the streets, this time visited upon a ten-year-old girl. “Today he’s showing New York City the money, his own, and while there is a lot of theater in the gesture, it’s not hard to imagine Ed Koch smiling in approval—him being the master of the exquisitely relevant signal. And Ed Koch was a pretty good mayor,” McManus argued.
Indeed, history would seem to loom large.
Across from McManus’ column in the Post, one can read a rather wailing lament from Rudy Giuliani, in an interview with Miranda Devine. Donald Trump’s now supremely controversial attorney is dispensing his five tips to save New York, advice that doesn’t completely fall on deaf ears, as the reality is thus, for many. Even if Rudy has disturbed his legacy in recent years, he’s still in the city’s pantheon, for delivering the miraculous 1990s, replete with even the revitalization of the New York Yankees, showered in World Series victories as Bill Clinton’s presidency drew to a close.
The last three mayors of this city have run for president, albeit, as it turned out, vaingloriously.
No mayoralty is as preeminent—of the nation’s largest and grandest city. The bee-line access to the New York media industry is the stuff of salivation for even most senators and governors.
But bad omens and bad history linger.
For one, the previous and first black mayor, the elegant if feeble David Dinkins, was a disappointment. Dinkins died last year, not of but in the middle of COVID-19, and retrospectives of his reign trended toward consensus, even in a time deprived of such a thing. Dinkens was outmaneuvered by Giuliani’s determination and knife-fighting, and seemingly fate itself.
But for conservatives, they have now a new benchmark for failure — it’s De Blasio — and even leftists are not exactly leaping to his defense. Given a terminal De Blasio’s thrown-in-the-towel press conferences — and undisciplined Twitter posts — as of late, it’s not even clear if De Blasio is interested in a defense of De Blasio.
The anointing of New York mayors has a way of predicting national trends. Even if none of the mayors have been able to ride that prescience to the presidency.
Giuliani’s ascent in 1993 presaged the real rise of tough-on-crime policies nationally that essentially sterilized cities of much of their former mayhem, to the detriment of character, say some hardline critics, to say nothing of the tradeoff of mass incarceration. But it worked. As Giuliani himself, however faded as a figure, pointed out to Devine, contrast Times Square in July 2021 with July 2001, and even progressives know the choice voters would make, and may soon make again (if they haven’t already with Adams). Giulani’s rise was a triumph for neoconservatism at its best, on domestic policy. It would be too bad for Giuliani’s political fortunes and for the country that he would embrace whole hog that perspective’s foreign policy during the weirdly long interregnum between his leaving office in 2002, and his first bite at the presidency five years later.
A former Giuliani associate described him to me in this period—2002-2008—as a man fresh off of winning Time person of the year. He was someone treated internationally like he was Henry Kissinger (and capitalizing in similar fashion in a business sense). Most importantly, he was feted as a world leader, without portfolio. More than anything, it went to his head, and Giuliani for President 2008 was the kind of frontrunner affair turned disaster not seen again until Jeb Bush. Next up: Michael Bloomberg.
The on-again, off-again richest citizen in the city was ahead of the curve in predicting America’s craving for sops to bipartisanship. The eventual three-term man left the GOP in 2007, as George W. Bush’s party, and the country, careened toward disaster. But after much hemming-and-hawing over whether he’d run — which he started in 2004, and continued in 2012, 2016 before giving in last-minute in 2020 — Bloomberg didn’t run in 2008, either. It might have been his year, as the country cried out for a transpartisan savior, but unlike with Bloomberg, settled for one without financial experience: Barack Obama.
Bill De Blasio also ran in 2020, but with a different reason for being.
Embarrassing as it may be for all involved, if one had to trace back the leftward tilt of the young, urban electorate — the one that delivered Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Chesa Boudin in S.F. and on to power — one could plausibly identify De Blasio as patient zero. Like Adams, he was a surprise victor, and in retrospect, those paying attention to the former Sandista taking the oath of office on New Year’s Day 2014 would be less surprised by Bernie Sanders’ truly great 2016 performance and relatively durable, if failed, repeat showing in 2020.
The Republican nominee, Sliwa, is not tipped as at-all plausible contender come November, a continuation of Republicans’ piss-poor standing since Bloomberg bolted the party. In 2009, when Bloomberg sought a third term, the Republicans stood in alliance with the lover who left them, and in 2013 and 2017, they were routed by De Blasio, who if hapless, was not hapless at demolishing Republicans.
Sliwa is longtime leader of the Guardian Angels, an aspirant, almost League of Shadows-style citizen crimefighting unit. He has the support, naturally, of local Republicans. But his campaign is consistent with the local organization’s penchant for attracting national attention, but not necessarily wiedling true local power.
Among his vocal backers are Gavin Wax, the president of the New York Young Republicans Club. Another millennial politico on-the-make, Andrea Catsimatidis, was a booster of Sliwa’s vanquished primary opponent. If the Republicans here are far from Gracie Mansion, they’re not so far from national relevance, hosting Steve Bannon, Matt Gaetz among others in recent years, often provocatively flouting COVID-19 prohibitions. In a sign of conservative interest in the Democratic primary, perceived as the real contest, Andrew Yang made a desperate, last-ditch appearance on the radio program of Andrea Catsimatidis’ father, the Republican billionaire John Catsimatidis, in an attempt to salvage his campaign, to no avail.
But as Adams’ success just proved, at least on a long enough timeline, one can never be sure of what is and what is not a wave of the future—particularly in America’s marquee city.