Eric Adams, a former cop who climbed from poverty in Queens to become a fierce voice for frustrated working-class voters, was elected the second Black mayor of New York City on Tuesday, positioning him to lead a city confronted by cascading COVID challenges.
In reaching his decades-long ambition, Adams joined David Dinkins in the brief log of African Americans elected mayor of the nation’s largest city, and became the first former police officer to achieve the feat in 75 years.
His general election victory over Curtis Sliwa, the Republican nominee and founder of the Guardian Angels, came in the form of a thumping, according to early returns, and capped a day of woeful turnout across the five boroughs. The Associated Press called the race shortly after polls closed at 9 p.m., and Sliwa conceded within the hour.
The election had a preordained feel — Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York City by nearly seven to one — and left much of the public unenthused. Voters who dripped into polling places on a drizzly day met nonexistent lines.
Sliwa provided perhaps the most dramatic moment of the day when he showed up at a voting site on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with a sling around one arm after a recent cab crash, and one of his 17 cats, Gizmo, wrapped in his other arm. He became enraged after he learned he would not be allowed to bring the feline in to vote.
Outside the polling station, he said the “wrath of Gizmo was upon” the city’s Board of Elections.
The kitty kerfuffle offered a fitting finish to Sliwa’s quixotic bid. The former talk show host became a Republican shortly before his run, and was poorly received by some members of his own party.
Adams, the Democratic candidate, campaigned on a promise to strengthen and reform the Police Department, and to bring a pro-business, pro-labor ethic to City Hall. The Brooklyn borough president’s ascension was cheered in disparate corners of the city, from Brooklyn housing projects to posh Park Avenue pads.
“The campaign was never, never, never about me,” Adams declared in his victory speech at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Brooklyn. “This campaign was for the underserved, the marginalized, the abandoned. This campaign was for those who have been betrayed by their government.”
Armed with an inspirational biography, a million-watt smile and a reputation as a tireless worker, he proved popular in a city increasingly irked by two terms of Mayor de Blasio’s sometimes aloof posture.
Adams was raised in Jamaica, Queens, and served 22 years as a cop before becoming a state Senator. After voting Tuesday morning in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, he said: “I’m not supposed to be standing here.”
“Because I’m standing here, everyday New York is going to learn that they deserve to stand in this city also,” Adams, 61, said. “This is for the little guy.”
Yet his victory also arrived after a bruising primary election that was decided by a fraction of a percentage point, and that laid bare divisions between moderate Democrats and progressives who want to cut deeply into the NYPD budget and direct the money toward social services.
A chilly reception seems likely to greet him from portions of the left-leaning City Council, and he figures to face hard choices as he hammers out post-pandemic policy with large gaps in the city’s budget looming in future years.
Adams sometimes elided policy pronouncements as a candidate, and portrayed himself, perhaps paradoxically, as both a working-class hero and a friend of Wall Street, a champion of real estate and renters.
On the campaign stump, he hugged his personal story, recalling the beating from cops he faced as a teen, and his brash work to reform the Police Department in the 1990s. He touted his union card like a jewel.
He seemed careful to avoid missteps against Sliwa, a political novice who largely disregarded the need for a traditional platform and instead leaned into stunts and theatrics.
Sliwa, 67, traveled to Albany and offered to “rescue” outgoing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s dog. He contemplated closing the zoo. He stalked Adams at campaign stops. In the final hours of the race, he focused on opposing vaccine mandates, apparently in a bid to activate Republicans.
Adams characterized Sliwa’s campaign as a “circus,” painting his red beret-clad opponent as a charming knave who would damage the five boroughs. He even compared his rival to President Donald Trump, though Sliwa despises the former commander-in-chief.
Still, the occasional jawing didn’t create any sense that the race was close.
De Blasio, an Adams ally, tacitly acknowledged the lack of drama after casting his vote Tuesday in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“I predict Eric Adams will be our next mayor,” he said, adding dryly: “Big prediction.”
The sense of inevitability did not appear to take the sheen off the day for Adams, who long ago, as a member of the NYPD, whispered of his dream to become mayor.
Adams has often railed against the failures of New York City, a place he says failed his mother, who died in March at 83, and untold others chewed up by municipal dysfunction, racism and sexism.
But as he carried a photograph of his mom, Dorothy Mae Adams, outside his Brooklyn polling place on Tuesday morning, he struck notes of redemption.
“Every little boy or little girl who was ever told they’d never amount to anything, every child with a learning disability, every inmate sitting in Rikers, every dishwasher, every child in a homeless shelter: This is for all of you,” Adams said, his voice breaking and his face wet with tears. “I only have three words: I am you.”
With Brittany Kriegstein and Dave Goldiner
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