New York City Mayor Eric Adams will meet with anybody – and we mean anybody. Even people most public relations consultants would probably rather have their clients avoid.
Would Adams meet with disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned rather than face impeachment over multiple sexual harassment allegations, among other potential scandals, for a two-hour dinner in midtown Manhattan? Yes he would. Gang members who have murdered people? Yep. Republican billionaire John Catsimatidis the very week that Adams won the Democratic primary? Sure. Self-styled leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement who threatened “riots,” “fire” and “bloodshed” if Adams brought back the New York City Police Department’s plainclothes anti-crime unit? Why not? Bitcoin billionaire and independent presidential candidate Brock Pierce? Yes, Adams was with him on primary night – and then flew on his private jet to Puerto Rico, where Pierce hopes to build a (nearly tax-free) cryptocurrency utopia.
While Adams has had many eyebrow-raising meetings, none stack up to the time when Adams invited representatives of a raucous, angry, anti-vaccine mandate protest into Brooklyn Borough Hall for an audience with him. None of them, presumably, were vaccinated against COVID-19.
A remarkable video posted by Jo Rose on Instagram at @jospeakstruth2 shows the mayor-elect wading through the raucous crowd on Nov. 3, 2021, as a protester calls him “a fucking scumbag” and “fucking house negro.” They lead a chant of “Fuck Eric Adams!” and “you are a puppet.” In the middle of that mess, Adams took the microphone: “I walked out of Borough Hall because I wanted to sit down with your coalition and hear you. There’s back entries of Borough Hall. There’s side entries to Borough Hall. I didn’t have to walk out the front door. I am the incoming mayor of the city. The first place we go is to sit down. And I’m saying to you, if you’re willing to have a small coalition come in and sit down, I’m willing to do that. If you don’t, then that’s up to you.”
They took him up on the offer, and Adams sat down with them in a Borough Hall meeting room.
Why does he take these meetings? In some cases, it’s about the former transit cop giving off the perception that he’s not backing down from a fight.
“I rode a subway system in the mid-80s where the radio didn’t work, by myself, from 8 at night to 4 in the morning. There are not too many things that intimidate me or scare me,” Adams told City & State in November. “So when people see me walking inside a large crowd of people yelling and screaming and I’m drinking my smoothie unfazed because I’ve seen all that before. And I know a lot of people don’t understand that I see anger and I know anger is just saying I want to be heard. And the same people that were yelling at me at the demonstration, when we went inside, they talked to me.”
Did he learn anything? “Some people had legitimate concerns,” the mayor said, like those with religious exemptions against mandated vaccines that were no longer recognized – since the state ended such exemptions in 2019. “That’s not right. It’s been accepted for 20 years!”
But Adams hasn’t just learned things from controversial meetings with anti-vaxxers. “When I sit down with gang members, I’m asking, ‘Why are you in gangs?’ And I’m hearing, ‘I’m dyslexic. I have a learning disability. I grew up without any parents,’” he said. “So if we don’t sit down and ask people questions, you’ll never be able to dissect the problems that we’re having.”
Taking these meetings, be it with billionaires, gang members or former governors, is an explicit strategy by Adams. It’s not just that he’ll meet with anybody, it’s that he’ll meet with people who former Mayor Bill de Blasio would not talk to.
Adams said his style isn’t responding to anyone else, but he also brags about being the only one who will meet with some people. “They say, it’s the first time anyone ever talked to us of your capacity. Our city is divided. No one is talking to each other. They’re yelling at each other,” he said. “We’re all saying the same thing, but we’re not willing to listen.”
Some who have seen de Blasio in action pushed back on that, to a point. Adams is meeting with everyone now, but de Blasio changed over his eight years in City Hall, explained Freddi Goldstein, a former press secretary to de Blasio. “Nobody entered the building the way they come out. I think it’s great that Adams is willing to sit down with anyone.” De Blasio talked with people who were protesting him too, Goldstein added – but there’s a limit. “(De Blasio) probably would not meet with anti-vaxx protesters.”
Adams has been taking meetings that might be bad for optics since the 1990s. New York magazine reported in 1994 that Adams, then a NYPD officer, joined a gang summit organized by the Nation of Islam, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton. And as he tore up the campaign trail over the past few years, Adams has been known to freely give out his cellphone number and text supporters, sometimes including a memoji that looks like him.
“Eric likes to challenge the status quo a bit,” Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, who represents Adams’ former home of Brooklyn Borough Hall, told City & State. “Traditionally, that has been my experience, that he’s willing to talk to people, even if they’re screaming at him.”
Other electeds have praised Adams’ strategy too. “I think that’s exactly how it should be,” state Sen. Julia Salazar said. “When we’re elected, we are not just elected to represent certain ideologies. Each of us, in our respective roles, we’re elected to represent all of the people.”
Adams may have some limits though: leftists. Brandon West, the former president of the New Kings Democrats, said he’s never met with the mayor who once told fundraiser attendees that he was running against the socialist movement. State Sen. Jessica Ramos said she has never had a sit-down. He hasn’t met with his own state senator, Jabari Brisport, in over a year. And has the Brooklyn democratic socialist Salazar ever met personally with Adams? “Not that I can remember,” she said. “But I don’t hold that against him.”