Understanding Eric Adams

Eric Adams on April 26
Eric Adams on April 26
lev radin/Shutterstock
Eric Adams on April 26 during Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr's endorsement of his bid for mayor.

Understanding Eric Adams

The Brooklyn borough president discusses some of the biggest controversies during his political tenure and why he’s not actually as shocking as some may think.
April 28, 2021

Last week, an old video of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams made during his time in the state Senate began making the rounds on social media.

In the short clip, Adams walks the viewer through how to search for drugs and weapons in their child’s bedroom. Pulling a crack pipe out of a “popular knapsack” and revealing bullets hidden behind a picture frame on a bookshelf, just to name a few pieces of “contraband” unearthed in the video

Anyone familiar with Adams knows that he’s an eyebrow-raising pro, who has developed a penchant for unleashing surprising, and at times disturbing, new ideas or plans at press briefings. High on the list of shocking moments is when Adams unveiled the “cutting-edge” Ekomille rat trap, to tackle the city’s rodent problem in 2019. And then there was his BolaWrap 100 press conference in 2018, when he unveiled a new high powered lasso gun obtained by the NYPD, which is intended to subdue individuals experiencing mental health issues. And in a somewhat beguiling move, Adams also launched a campaign to encourage men to pull up their pants in 2010. Adams paid to have several billboards in Brooklyn, targeting Black men in particular, to raise their pants up, suggesting that they were indicators of delinquency and a lack of self respect.

However, as one commentator on Twitter noted, that while Adams’ contraband video may seem goofy and unnecessary on the surface, it may actually be of value to families who have real concerns when it comes to fighting crime in their neighborhoods and homes. And if you ask Adams about any one of his most controversial incidents he’ll tell you that there was more to what he was trying to accomplish than what was initially reported on. Or at least that was the case when City & State spoke to the Democratic mayoral candidate about some of the more contentious aspects of his political record.

Perhaps there’s more than meets the eye, when it comes to Adams’ outlandish statements and proposals, especially when it comes to neighborhoods still grappling with issues such as pest infestation and crime that often go unrecognized by the media when covering Adams. Or maybe he’s just a skilled politician who has the ability to put a positive spin on every strange or ill-advised issue he’s discussed in the past. We’ll leave it up to you to decide.This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Over the years you've made some controversial comments and proposals that people have kind of given you a hard time about like, the rat trap reveal, the campaign to get young men to pull up their pants, saying that you would carry your own firearm if you were elected mayor. I'm just wondering how you feel about people having shocked reactions to those things? And if New Yorkers should expect similar kinds of comments and proposals from you if you become mayor?

Who was more shocking than Ed Koch? Look at Mayor Bloomberg's greatest news and read his comments. Things are controversial until other people acknowledge it and understand it. Let's take the rat trap, for a moment, okay? I had, around Brooklyn Hall for eight years, a rat infestation problem. I started receiving calls from New Yorkers, particularly in Brooklyn. A mother came to see me that had rat bites, a group of mothers came to see me that had rat bites on their children. 

I put out a call, saying, “Let's think differently about dealing with these rodents.” One response was the rat trap. We put 96 traps around Brooklyn Borough Hall. They (the rats) used to be in your cars and going across your feet when you were coming out of the building. In the last two years, we have not seen another rat around or inside Borough Hall. We have mounted the project to Prospect Park and took it off to other locations to try out the apparatus so that we can see, do we have something here that we can finally give people relief that are living with this type of rat infestation. 

So you have those individuals, whose babies are not being bitten by rats saying, "Oh, look at him, he's killing these poor rats." Are you kidding me? I believe in animal rights but let me tell you about another animal: human beings. It's a luxury to sit back, not waking up and seeing rats hop out of your stove or opening your cabinets and seeing rats. It's a luxury to say, “How dare we kill those poor rats?” I had a real crisis and put it out into the universe, in the city and state, and we found a solution. And we had been successful with a solution – and it was the same with Stop the Sag.

A group of young girls, college students, came to me. They were on the train and this young man was standing in front of her, almost showing some of his body parts from sagging. You know, this was an epidemic. I don't know your age, so you probably don't even realize how bad it was. It went from just showing the top of your nylon to just about everything.

Oh no, I'm old enough to know.

Do you see sagging in the city? Do you see people dressing that way again? If you start eroding the basic principles of who you are, it continues to go further and further and further. I am an adult. Many of us as adults just ignored the problem. That's not the role of an adult. I don't want my son to say, “Dad, I think you're the coolest.” I want my son to look back later and say, “Dad, now I know what you were talking about.” I was not trying to be the cool state Senator, I was saying we have a problem here, that these young people have come to me and I'm a problem solver if there is something that is brought to my attention. And that is what those young girls did. And you look at our city now, we don't see that crisis anymore, that we saw at one time during the early 2000s. Everyone hated it but no one was bold enough to be controversial. I am bold enough to be controversial to solve problems. 

And it’s the same with that, "Eric said he's going to carry his gun as mayor.” I'm licensed to carry a gun 24-hours. I rarely carry but as a retired officer it’s a nice thing to do. People who are authorized to carry guns and are licensed to, should be able to. 

People need to feel as though their leaders are going to lead them, generals lead people into battle, they don't tell them to go in and ask “How was the war?” If I'm the mayor of the City of New York – imagine this for a moment – and I'm saying the city is safe, don't worry about it, oh and by the way, ignore the four cops that are walking around with me right now. The greatest symbol I can show as the mayor of the City of New York, is to walk the streets, as (Mayor John) Lindsay used to do alone, saying I believe in the safety of this city. 

I'm not going to walk around like John Wayne, you know. I don't carry a gun now, although I have the right to do so. It was a light-hearted way of saying in that interview, that I'm going to be moving through the city from time to time by myself to send a signal to New Yorkers that this is a safe city. And you know what that is? It's controversial.

How do you feel about people who are shocked by you, or who call you controversial? Do you feel it's because they don't understand you? Or do you think it's because they don't want to understand you?

Eric Adams resonates with New York, New Yorkers, we have an edge. I don’t know if people realize that. I am a New Yorker. I come from the spirit of New York. We have an edge to us and sometimes that edge doesn't fit with the profile of what some people like – but it fits with the profile of New Yorkers. That blue collar image that comes from (Mayor Fiorello) La Guardia, that's who I am. I'm efficient. I'm hard working. I get things done. 

Look at my Bellevue project, a first of its kind in America. After becoming diabetic, losing my sight, I was told I would go blind in a year and have permanent nerve damage. They said I was going to lose some fingers and toes. I went and reversed my diabetes without medicine and started the first of its kind of an American program at Bellevue that reverses the disease. I got our city to stop purchasing processed meats, which is a Group 1 carcinogen, which people said was impossible (to do). I started the movement to decrease the speed limit in the city to save lives in the state Senate. When you start digging into my record, you may say, you know what, maybe the guy isn't controversial. Maybe it's possible he's seeing things that we have not seen. And that's what controversy is, the ability to see what's going to come, not what is.

I know you've gained some heat for accepting real estate donations and some people have called attention to the fact that you’ve made free trips to different countries that have been known for human rights violations. What’s your take on this?

I have the largest population of people from Azerbaijan than anywhere else in the city, if not the country. There was some strife between the Jewish leaders and the Muslims leaders. My Baku residents asked me to go there and go to a synagogue, coordinate meetings and send the right message back here to the city. I have the largest Turkish population anywhere in the country outside of a place in New Jersey. They requested me to go and create a sister city agreement (in Turkey). And my Sephardic community asked me to go to the border where refugee camps were located and visit the refugee camps, and I felt honored to be able to do so. I have the largest Chinese population in the country, so I was going back and forth to China to sign sister city agreements. When the city was unable to get PPE, my sister cities in China reached out to me and I received over 600,000 pieces of PPE that I gave out to NYCHA and poorer communities because I established those relationships. But people often ignore those facts. They also ignore the fact that I went to Africa and started the first sister city agreement with Gorée Island – where the slaves would leave, that was the last place they would leave from Africa to come to America. I've been to Israel twice, in spite of all of the calls to boycott Israel. That was never included in the articles. 

I am blown away when candidates that have built their entire career on real estate dollars all of a sudden wake up and, wink wink, say, “I'm not taking real estate dollars.” Yet, you're not giving it back either. If you're saying real estate dollars are dirty, then they're also dirty in your bank account. So the real test is to give it back. 

I was on a forum and everyone said I'm not taking money from landlords. But (I’m thinking) some of you are landlords. I'm a landlord. I have a four story, three-family house. And instead of people asking, “Hey, Eric, what do you think about landlords?” How about asking my tenants and letting them tell you that when they moved in, they signed the lease that I had put together that says I can never raise your rent as long as you stay in my building.

And the people on my block who are small property owners who own three family, two family homes. They want to donate to me. So should I say, “No you can't, because you're a landlord?” Because all of a sudden the new progressives have defined you as enemies of the state. Come on, this is silly.

We've covered a lot of your different controversies, but I really want to know if there is something that you think or feel that New Yorkers really get wrong about you. 

I think New Yorkers get things right about me. If you follow me through this city sometime, you’ll see, the response in Brownsville is no different than in Breezy Point, or Bay Ridge or Bayside. People know I authentically care. And I cannot tell you the number of times that people have stopped me to say, “You know, I don't agree with you all the time, but I just love your real commitment to what you believe in.” Those are New Yorkers. 

You know, I love people. I love the city. I love a good merlot. I love a good beer. And I love a good single malt scotch with a cigar. I am just an everyday New Yorker, not only someone that can bear the weight of the city, but I'm someone that people don't mind having a beer with.

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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