Anticipating the Adams Administration: Clues, Contradictions and the Hegemony of Capital

Issue 268

Eric Adams has been loyal to the wealthy and powerful who largely financed his campaign. He is also a vegan and a cycling enthusiast.

Tom Angotti Dec 7, 2021

As Eric Adams prepares to become the next mayor of New York City, many on the left are being pulled in opposite directions. After eight years of disappointments with Bill de Blasio, an avowed progressive, should we not expect worse from someone who harshly criticizes progressives and openly embraces big business and real estate? 

The local press wants us to feel upbeat because the incoming mayor talks about reducing violence and improving health and livability in communities of color.  They think he’s cool because he rides a bike and is vegan. Even his Republican rival, Curtis Sliwa, praised him for his lifestyle choices. 

However, if we listen carefully to his campaign rhetoric, there are obvious signals that we may very well be in for more business as usual.  Adams says repeatedly he wants to “get things done” and that he knows how to do so. This is standard code for keeping the machinery running without being clear where it’s going or whether it’s fair and equitable. 

Transportation advocates hope the new mayor  will revolutionize the planning and management of the city’s chaotic street network. 

Of the city’s previous mayors, he identifies most with billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who touted the virtues of his “luxury city” and succeeded in vastly expanding inequalities and creating giant luxury enclaves like Hudson Yards in Manhattan. Will Adams continue feeding the financially bloated real estate market, which promotes new luxury development, saps government subsidies, undermines tenant protections and is the main generator of displacement and evictions in communities of color? Will he continue promoting “affordable housing” subsidies to mask the rise in housing prices and property taxes for working people caused by new real estate deals that are backed by city policy? 

The Second African American Mayor

Especially for those of us who supported the city’s first African American Mayor, David Dinkins, it is tempting to conflate our thinking about Adams with Dinkins. The two men both rose from within powerful political clubs — Adams from the Brooklyn Democratic machine and Dinkins from a Harlem-based political dynasty. Dinkins supported the civil rights movement as it evolved and brought community activists and progressives into his administration. Adams confronted racism within the NYPD as a police officer and had two terms as Brooklyn Borough President, where he built ties with African American and immigrant communities, many of them facing gentrification and displacement. 

Being the parent of a Black son and candidate who ran on a crime-fighting message is reassuring to his core supporters as is his promise                                                                                 to use his first-hand knowledge of the NYPD to weed out its worst practices. However, Adams avoided criticism of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s “law and order” and “quality of life” campaigns that targeted communities of color.

While Adams is most likely to follow the path opened by Bloomberg, he may adapt some elements from the two terms of Bill Di Blasio, who was also backed by big real estate. 

Another Wave of Unchecked Gentrification?

It is clear that Adams has been loyal to the wealthy and powerful who largely financed his campaign. He unequivocally promotes development without seriously confronting the pandemic of displacement of communities of color driven by real estate speculators and abetted by city policy. He seems to endorse de Blasio’s “affordable housing” policies that have stoked neighborhood rezonings and favor market-rate housing while increasing land values, rents and property taxes that displace more affordable housing than they create. Unsurprisingly, Adams praises the Bloomberg and Koch administrations, which were openly pro-business and spurred waves of abandonment and displacement from the Bronx to Brownsville. 

Both Adams and De Blasio have solid roots in the most powerful political engine in the city, the Brooklyn Democratic Party, which has been a faithful adjunct to the massive downtown and waterfront development that swamped the borough in the last decade, displacing working class communities of color and small, locally-owned businesses.

The Adams program reads like the usual wish list of well-intentioned ideas to increase government efficiency while also addressing inequalities.  It could have been written by political consultants pushing a third de Blasio term or a team from the banking and financial sector acknowledging the big changes that occurred in the economy and city over the last decade, in particular the fallout from the COVID pandemic and Black Lives Matter. In the end, it carefully protects the hegemonic role of capital.

Bike Lanes, Violence Prevention, Public Health

On the hopeful side, Adams talks about more community-based violence prevention in high-crime neighborhoods and has promised to hire a woman police commissioner, though he still resists cutting the bloated police budget. 

It remains to be seen whether Adams will follow through on his criticisms of the wide disparities in public health that disproportionately affect communities of color. 

The local press has trumpeted the possibility that Adams the cycling enthusiast can revolutionize the planning and management of the city’s chaotic street network. A succession of mayors has tried and failed to improve street safety and reduce auto dependency. Ed Koch put a bike lane on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and was forced to close it. The city’s 1994 bicycle master plan has yet to be fully implemented. Mayor Michael Bloomberg hired a biker and transportation expert as transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan. She started the process, but left an incomplete and often dangerous network of bicycle lanes. Neither Bloomberg nor de Blasio were known for walking the streets, riding the subway or riding a bike. However, to be successful the new mayor (and city council) will have to do more. They will need to tame the most powerful lobbies representing big retailers, the car, taxi and trucking industries and refashion the transportation network in a way that builds communities and commerce instead of interrupting them. These lobbies will continue to resist in the name of saving business and commerce. While Adams advocates the implementation of congestion pricing and more express bus lanes, so did de Blasio — only to be thwarted in Albany by outer borough and suburban state legislators who don’t want their car-loving constituents to be inconvenienced. 

It also remains to be seen whether Adams can follow through with his criticisms of the wide disparities in public health by combating the commercially-fueled epidemics of obesity and heart disease that disproportionately affect communities of color. And will Adams widen inequalities in the public school system by propping up the racially skewed gifted and talented programs while continuing to support privately run charter schools? 

Finally, all of us on the left end of the political spectrum need to be mindful of the disastrous effect of Rudy Giuliani’s revanchist attacks on David Dinkins, most memorably the 1992 police riot outside City Hall that Giuliani egged on. Dinkins ended up a one-term progressive mayor followed by five terms of conservative administrations, two under Giuliani and three under Bloomberg. Adams could continue to move to the right to counter such an event, or he could surprise many of his detractors and move to the left. In either case the left and progressive movements will need to stay engaged to prevent the worst and to force a better outcome.

Tom Angotti is author of New York For Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate and co-editor of  Zoned Out: Race, Displacement

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