New York’s Black leaders on Eric Adams’ first five months
We solicited takes on the mayor who tops our Power of Diversity: Black 100 list.
A lot of people have thoughts about Eric Adams.
“8.8 million people in this city, 30 million opinions.” It’s a line he often repeats. He’ll hear any of them. The mayor has made a habit of meeting with just about anyone, from anti-vaxx activists to cryptocurrency billionaires. He may not be holding town halls yet, or taking weekly questions on WNYC like past mayors, but he does make himself available for questions from the press most weekdays.
But the mayor doesn’t always listen. His motto has always been: “no distractions, stay focused, and grind.” He tells his team to “ignore the noise” in government, “ignore the noise” coming from the “culture of disbelief.” He was elected by people on Social Security, not people on social media, he noted on primary night. And he doesn’t care about what people tweet. “I care about the people I meet on the street.” And when New Yorkers do tell him how they feel, like in the recent NY1/Siena College poll? He says it’s nothing to listen to. “New Yorkers are hard judges and graders.”
Unsurprisingly, Adams tops our Power of Diversity: Black 100 list this year. In light of that, we asked Black power players in New York City – many of whom also appear on the list – to share their reflections on the man in Gracie Mansion. We reached out to clergy, activists, labor leaders, lawmakers and academics, hoping to reflect some of the diversity of Black thought in the city. And we asked: “How has Eric Adams, the city’s second Black mayor, been doing so far?”
Adams may not be interested in their takes on his tenure, but we certainly were.
These responses have been edited for length and clarity.
A.R. Bernard, senior pastor, Christian Cultural Center
Of course, his approval rating has fallen to 29% in the last few days. I’ve served with (Rudy) Giuliani, I served the Bloomberg administration, the de Blasio administration, and this is expected. The big issue of crime is not as easy to address as people may think. We have to be careful comparing him to de Blasio at this particular time in de Blasio’s administration because we had 12 years of Bloomberg. And in spite of stop and frisk, the city was in a good place in terms of quality of life. So the big issues of prison reform, policing reform, public safety, homelessness, education, the economy – these are ocean liners. They take time to turn around. The first 100 days was the honeymoon. Now there’s a marriage to work on. And New York City is a wife with high and immediate expectations. So I won’t give the mayor a pass, but I will give him a chance. And he’s got to prove himself beyond the pulpiteering. He brings the charisma. He brings the personality. But at the end of the day, people want to see change. So we’re proud of him. But …
Jawanza Williams, director of organizing, VOCAL-NY
While I hold the complexity of what it means to be Black and in leadership in politics in this country with care, especially in this increasingly volatile period, just the same, I have a responsibility to hold anyone accountable to the full scope and gravity of their words and actions.
Mayor Adams’ “law-and-order, clean up the streets” rhetoric and knee-jerk reactions to homelessness without any meaningful consideration of how these responses are most harmful to Black New Yorkers is a painful erasure of Black history.
I believe that the mayor has moved in lock-step with conservatives, police, and profit-first industry, and made concerted efforts to neutralize critical voices and perspectives that challenge his political power and neoliberal policies.
The mayor needs to come to Black Jesus and honor our ancestors and our community leaders today and do a full 180 to begin to tell the full story of why New York is the way it is and pathways forward that honors the best of the Black traditions.
Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University and co-host of the “FAQ NYC” podcast
Two words: Wild card. The Dinkins era is over, and Adams has shown he will forge his own path as the second Black mayor of the nation’s largest and most complex city. What makes Adams so interesting, frustrating and politically savvy is his ability to hold a myriad of diverse ideological positions that can simultaneously be head-scratchers while making total sense at the same time. Whether we are discussing education, the police force, addiction treatment or nightlife, Adams can glide across the political spectrum defying traditional Democratic Party tropes. Time will tell what will become of his legacy, but if he can pull off solving some decades-old calcified problems while addressing newly created COVID-related ills, the 110th mayor of New York City could go on to be one for the history books. … That is, if some in his inner circle don’t bring him down first.
Olivia Lapeyrolerie, political consultant
To quote the great Zora Neale Hurston, “All my skin folk ain’t my kinfolk.”
Michael Garner, chief diversity and inclusion officer, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
With a focus on equity during these turbulent times, the election of Eric Adams as the second Black mayor of the city of New York is both historic and monumental. By far the first five months have been challenging, but there is no doubt in my mind that Mayor Adams will be successful in both managing and directing the city of New York. Mayor Adams has the legislative experience and has assembled some of the greatest minds to tackle the tough issues that we are facing, including gun violence, safety, educational issues, transportation and empowering ethnic minority-owned businesses. The Adams administration will be successful because they are focused on solutions and not blinded by the problems. In short, Mayor Adams is now the face of solutions to urban issues and in a very short period of time will be “America’s Mayor.” The future is very bright for the greatest most diverse city in the world and for Mayor Eric Adams.
Dia Bryant, executive director at The Education Trust-New York
Mayor Adams has most certainly faced unique challenges in his first 100 days in office, stepping into the role amid an ongoing pandemic and surging infections. Meanwhile, New Yorkers continue to grapple with fear, trauma and uncertainty as the city continues to battle the toll of the pandemic, including upticks in violence across the city. The mayor has rightfully directed attention to getting guns off the street and making the city safer. Yet in other areas we still await swift action on issues that will put more New Yorkers on the path to a bright future, particularly our youngest residents. The city must direct more resources to ensuring students have access to stable housing, high-quality learning experiences and mental health supports so our young people can thrive in the classroom. Ultimately, it will be his actions in the next 100 days and beyond that give us a clearer picture of this administration’s focus and what legacy it will leave behind.
Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party
Mayor Adams is just getting started. He has demonstrated a tireless commitment to improving the lives of New Yorkers, whether through tackling gun violence, expanding housing opportunities, embracing the diversity that is our strength and working to restore our economy after the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Rachel Noerdlinger, partner, Actum
Shootings and the rise in violent crime, especially in Black and Brown communities, is rightfully concerning to many New Yorkers. Look at the recent NY1/Siena College poll, where three-quarters of New Yorkers expressed some level of concern they would be victims of a crime. Mayor Adams deserves credit for taking a nuanced approach of crime and communicating this precarious situation. We shouldn’t overpolice Black and Brown neighborhoods, because that has only led to an abuse of power, mistrust and unjust killings. But we also need to respond when an 11-year-old girl is gunned in the Bronx and people are being shot on the subway. The mayor made the right decision in his first few weeks by steering resources to crisis management teams and violence interrupters but the budget for these services must be expanded. Community intervention that doesn’t require calling the cops when possible is key to keeping someone from going down the wrong path. I hope that’s a sign this administration will continue to put a premium on deescalation instead of overincarceration.
Amoy Barnes, Staten Island-based political strategist
Representation will never not be important, and the fact that Eric Adams is only the second Black mayor is not lost on me; the people will always come first and we must never stop asking how the systems and policies we create impact the disadvantaged. Are we centering the needs of homeless New Yorkers, working class mothers and the disabled? My hope is that as we seek a more equitable and functional city we can ask these questions in earnest and seek accountability at all levels, including from Mayor Adams. There is still time to see the evolution of this administration’s policy, but I am committed to seeking the progress our city needs and that will certainly mean continuing to interrogate the policies of the Adams administration.
Kirk Goodrich, president, Monadnock Development
In terms of affordable housing, the team he has in place is a first-class team of folks. That’s a good place to start if you’re going to make an impact. Even though the housing plan hasn’t been issued yet – I think it’s imminent – I’m encouraged that his team took a lot of time to engage stakeholders and advocates and developers and a really broad swath of people in the affordable housing world to solicit ideas and thoughts. Processwise, in terms of hearing what folks have to say and being meticulous about it, they’ve done a really great job. And I expect the plan to be one that’s responsive and visionary.
The Department of Education, starting with (Chancellor) David Banks, and working down through his team are really focused on connecting young people to jobs that actually exist in industries that are growing and paying good salaries. It’s maybe the most profound thing the mayor could do. Because the affordable housing program, which I’ve spent most of my career focused on, is really a symptom, it’s not a problem. It’s a symptom of circumstances where people’s incomes have not kept pace with housing costs.
The third thing I’ll say, and the mayor figured it out before he ran, was people want to be safe. And it doesn’t mean that meaningful reform around policing and incarceration can’t be discussed and can’t be a focus. But until people feel safe, it’s really hard to have a conversation about almost anything else. And I think the mayor gets it. There’s been some critiques I’ve read that maybe things could be better. But having a perspective that it’s important is where you need to start. Because there are people in our city who don’t feel that public safety is as high a priority as it ought to be.
Assembly Member Eddie Gibbs
Mayor Eric Adams took office facing extraordinary challenges, yet already he is making great strides to provide economic opportunities for every New Yorker, make our neighborhoods safer and help us recover from COVID. I am inspired to see a Black mayor, only the second in the history of our city, at the helm lifting up our communities. Mayor Adams has a vision for a more equitable and prosperous New York, and as his friend, I know he is putting his heart and soul into achieving that vision.
New York City Council Member Sandy Nurse
From a policy perspective, I was disappointed to see the pushback from Mayor Adams when a majority of council members pushed for banning punitive segregation. And I am disappointed that under his leadership some agency commissioners show up unprepared to answer basic oversight questions, such as to the Public Safety and Criminal Justice (committees’) hearings. It doesn’t bode well for building trust with a largely progressive City Council.
That said, I cannot overstate the importance of Black leadership on environmental and climate justice. I am very hopeful that the mayor and the new Mayor's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice will truly demonstrate their commitment to addressing the climate crisis and environmental racism – through transforming energy systems, building climate resiliency and working toward zero waste. On waste issues, he’s made some good strides in rolling out new programs like expanded school organics and smart bins, but we will see if the city budget reflects a deeper commitment to meeting our climate and environmental justice goals.
Lastly, I am eager to work on building resiliency in our food systems as we face growing risks of food shortages and access to fresh, highly nutritious food to fight diabetes and other health problems in New York City.
Kyle Bragg, 32BJ SEIU president
Whether it’s centering the economic recovery of the working New Yorkers who kept the city humming throughout a pandemic, or ensuring that giant corporations like Chipotle treat their workers with dignity and respect, or backing new and exciting models of affordable housing projects, Mayor Adams has stood up for the working- and middle-class people who make New York the global center it is.
Five Mualimm-ak, executive director, Incarcerated Nation Network
We are two years into a global pandemic and six months into a new mayoral administration in New York City. Public health conversations have extended beyond the traditional arenas of academia and health into the daily lives of all New Yorkers. Beyond the COVID-19 crisis, violence has emerged as a major public health topic, combined with the ever-growing homeless population that New York City is so famous for ignoring. Violence between individuals to the structural violence that causes Black communities multiple levels of trauma is now a daily part of our lives. With a mayor that is also a Black man, New Yorkers feel as if they invested in a person of color who does not and will not address the underlying issues that cause suffering of the minority community. Police and Black communities have been problematic for hundreds of years, now we have a mayor who actively increases policing instead of supporting community-based resources that are the proven causes of crime. A mayor that refuses to build young adult supportive housing but will criminalize homelessness and other factors of poverty. I live in the 15th Congressional District, the poorest district in America and, similarly, the most policed community, that actually needs culturally competent resources to bring the poverty level down. These failures impact people of color more than anyone.
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