One week after New Yorkers resoundingly rejected President Donald Trump, a Brooklyn politician with aspirations to run the city addressed a small crowd outside Borough Hall about a push to allow residents with green cards to vote in municipal elections.
The City Council bill, which would cover an estimated 1 million people, had won the support of immigration advocates and a slate of local politicians, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams wanted to join the chorus.
“How dare we celebrate our emancipation from the bigotry and hatred of the previous president when we are still silent where millions of Americans are still living on the plantation of not participating in government,” Adams said. “So freedom must not be for some. Freedom must be for all.”
He wasn’t simply using the opportunity to discuss local legislation. He was addressing potential supporters about a far-reaching issue in a borough that consistently turns out the highest number of voters.
On Wednesday the 60-year-old politician is expected to announce his candidacy to succeed Bill de Blasio as the city’s 110th mayor. A Brooklyn native and former police officer, Adams joins a crowded and growing field of Democrats angling for the job at a time of unmatched crisis. He brings a dramatic flair to the race — a champion of veganism who said he would sometimes carry a gun as mayor, Adams drew national attention last year when he touted a new rat trap that drowns the rodents in a vat of water and alcohol.
Signifying the challenge in campaigning for office amidst a deadly pandemic, he is planning to announce his campaign over Zoom rather than at a customary rally alongside supporters.
In an interview Tuesday, Adams said his campaign will zero in on public safety and reinvigorating the economy — issues that highlight his perceived strengths as well as the ideological gulf between him and left-leaning Democrats who have been racking up legislative wins across the city in recent years.
“We have to get our economy up and running, and feeling safe to get on our subway system is crucial,” Adams said. “My business communities, they have to open up again. If I don’t have that accountant inside that office, then they’re not going down to the local deli, they’re not going down to the Dunkin’ Donuts.”
“The unskilled, uneducated — they have to get back to work, and we have to do that by really opening up our economy again,” he added.
He criticized the city’s decision to close schools when the Covid-19 positivity rate reaches a 7-day average of 3 percent, saying they are “probably the safest place for our children at this time.”
Adams comes to the campaign from eight years as borough president, a role that lacks the heft of jobs held by many of his competitors. Scott Stringer is the city comptroller; Maya Wiley served as de Blasio’s lead attorney; Ray McGuire was an executive at Citigroup until he left to explore a mayoral bid; Kathryn Garcia and Loree Sutton ran agencies under de Blasio; Shaun Donovan held high-ranking positions in the Bloomberg and Obama administrations; and Dianne Morales oversaw a large nonprofit.
Opponents will grouse that Adams lacks the managerial experience he professes the city needs, and some will say his 22 years in the NYPD — 1984 through 2006 — make him ill-suited to a moment of national reckoning with policing and race. “He’s built a glass house of management-speak and given out rocks to the neighbors,” one person working for an opposing campaign said.
But Adams has life experiences many New Yorkers can relate to.
He and five siblings were raised by a single mother who cleaned houses. They often worried about paying rent and buying food. At the age of 15, he was arrested on a trespassing charge and then beaten by police while he sat in a precinct house in South Jamaica, Queens, he said.
“I’m potentially the first blue collar mayor,” he said. “My nails are not manicured, they’re chipped up.”
He rose through the ranks as a police officer in the high-crime era of the 1980s and 1990s, beginning as a transit cop and retiring as a captain before becoming a state senator in 2007. He also founded 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement to protest the mayoral policies of Rudy Giuliani, a Republican and former prosecutor elected in 1993.
Adams separated himself from calls for sweeping NYPD reforms by Stringer, Morales and Wiley, who chaired de Blasio’s police accountability panel. Rather than shift low-level cops tasked with responding to traffic accidents, mentally ill homeless people and school safety incidents to other agencies, he said they should be promoted within the department if they show promise. That would help diversify the agency and ensure officers have better track records in resolving conflict, he said.
After learning he had developed diabetes a few years ago, Adams changed his eating habits and credits a plant-based diet and exercise with reversing his diagnosis. He has since become an evangelist for a healthy lifestyle.
Adams and Stringer are currently leading the pack in fundraising, with more than $2 million each in their campaign accounts. Both have taken money from real estate executives, though Stringer has recently jumped on the anti-development bandwagon and said he will stop taking their contributions.
When asked about such donations at a recent mayoral forum, Adams declared, “I own a small property so I am real estate also.”
Among Adams’ donors is Frank Carone, a lawyer affiliated with the Brooklyn Democratic Party, which is likely to back Adams in the primary. The importance of that type of support is waning as upstart campaigns across the city continue defeating incumbents.
Nevertheless, Brooklyn voters turn out in disproportionately high numbers, which Adams’ team believes will help him at the polls next year. In the last mayor’s race, for instance, 358,085 ballots were cast in Brooklyn, compared to 286,130 in Queens and 272,080 in Manhattan.
As borough president, Adams has shown a knack for grabbing headlines with quirky behavior and occasionally incendiary speech.
During the early days of the pandemic, he began living out of his office in borough hall, inviting a TV crew to film him lying on an unmade mattress. At a Martin Luther King Jr. event in January he commanded gentrifiers, “Go back to Iowa. You go back to Ohio!”
And last year he ladeled out servings of liquid surrounding drowned rats in a demonstration about ridding the city of rodents. “We were promised dead rats, and goddamn did we get them,” a local reporter wrote at the time.
Following the deadly shooting inside a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, Adams said police officers should bring their firearms to houses of worship. He more recently said he would carry a gun if elected mayor. On Tuesday he said he would bring it with him if he felt he was in danger, and he would opt for a smaller police detail than past mayors.
“We’re at a time now where we need a mayor who has gone through a lot to understand people who are going through a lot,” he said. “The city is ready for me.”