Posted on December 31, 2021

The Rise of Eric Adams and Black New York

Mara Gay, New York Times, December 22, 2021

It was winter in Black New York, and the last thing Eric Leroy Adams wanted to do was join the New York Police Department.

It was the early 1980s and waves of joblessness and crime were sweeping over working-class areas of the city. In Black neighborhoods, the Police Department, still overwhelmingly white, had become an occupying force, deepening the misery and the injustice.

Inside a Brooklyn church, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a veteran of the civil rights movement, told a young Mr. Adams, then a local college student, that it was time to join the N.Y.P.D. The Black community, Mr. Daughtry said, needed someone to make change from the inside.


On Jan. 1, when Mr. Adams, 61, is sworn in as mayor, Mr. Daughtry’s vision will be realized. Working-class Black New York, which makes up the heart of the Democratic base but has long been shut out of City Hall, will finally have its moment.

To many, the future mayor is still an enigma. He talks of law and order, but also Black Lives Matter. He courts Wall Street, then travels to Ghana to be spiritually cleansed. He parties late into the night alongside the rapper Ja Rule and the former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. His talent and intellect are obvious. But he sounds nothing like Barack Obama.

What exactly Mr. Adams intends to do once at City Hall is unclear. What is certain for now is that Mr. Adams knows who sent him there.

New York’s Black Democratic base had endured a plague and marched for Black lives. {snip} Their choice for mayor was Eric Adams.


New York’s first Black mayor, David Dinkins, died last year at the age of 93. A soft-spoken Marine, in his signature bow tie, he made plain he intended to serve the entire city, which he famously called a “gorgeous mosaic.” Mr. Dinkins served just one term in office and was ousted by Rudy Giuliani in 1993 in an election fraught with racist backlash. It was a bitter defeat Black New York would never forget.


In the decades since David Dinkins had left office, the center of Black life and political power had shifted firmly from Harlem to Brooklyn. Letitia James, the state attorney general, is from Brooklyn. Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, is also from Brooklyn. Representative Jeffries represents part of the borough, as well as a part of Queens.

Making the rise of these Black politicians possible was a decades-long shift to an increasingly diverse electorate from one that had once been dominated by white voters. Some white Democrats have proven more willing to vote for Black candidates. The changes have turned Brooklyn into a political powerhouse.

In 2013, that Brooklyn coalition, led by Black voters, sent Mayor Bill de Blasio to Gracie Mansion.


Mr. Adams’s political showmanship doesn’t hurt.

In 2016, when Mr. Adams became a vegan, reversing a diabetes diagnosis, he promoted the diet as a way to liberate Black Americans from the history of slavery and published a cookbook.

Years earlier, in the State Senate, Mr. Adams produced a dramatized video from his office encouraging parents to search their children’s belongings for contraband. “You don’t know what your child may be hiding,” Mr. Adams tells the camera, pulling a gun out of a jewelry box. The stunt left political insiders giggling. But it demonstrated how deeply connected Mr. Adams was to the voters he represented.


Outside a public school in Brooklyn recently, Mr. Adams stood with David Banks, a veteran Black educator he tapped to serve as schools chancellor. “If 65 percent of white children were not reaching proficiency in this city, they would burn the city down,” Mr. Adams said to the enthusiastic, largely nonwhite crowd.

From the moneyed corners of Manhattan to the gracious brownstones of Cobble Hill, there is a creeping sense of shock: The new mayor is not necessarily speaking to them. Power in America’s largest city has changed hands.