For previous “This Month in Eric Adams” columns by John Teufel, click here.
“Re-imagine the experience of membership,” implores the website of Zero Bond, the friends-for-pay nightclub that Eric Adams has transformed into a Manhattan Mar-a-Lago. Specifically, re-imagine it with an annual price tag of $3,500 ($4,000 if you’re over 45), plus a one-time fee of $1,000 ($5,000 if you are over 45! Sorry grandpa!). I’m not sure what my “experience of membership” has been so far in my life — I guess just like, being in something? — but this is definitely a reimagining.
The Adams love for Zero Bond, where he can be seen weekly shaking the hands of anyone else with $4,500 to $9,000 dollars to spend on avant-garde experiential membership, is fitting. Located in the upscale NoHo neighborhood, Zero Bond’s 20,000 square feet combine the aesthetic of a Fort Lauderdale Hilton lobby with a touch of rich girl Sweet 16. It matches the Adams personality perfectly: flashy, edgy, smelling vaguely of money, but ultimately authoritarian and steeped in menace. Ideologically, too, the two are in line. Zero Bond positions itself as elite, luxurious — the reward for those who have stepped on enough throats to climb New York City’s social ladder to its vertiginous top rung. Mayor Bloomberg, one of Eric Adams’ ideological forebears, once called New York City a “luxury product,” where the high cost of admission was worth it for the privileged few.
My contention is that Adams sees New York City like one big Zero Bond, a place where the fee to enter doubles as a marker of your moral worth, where markets and money produce not just luxury but justice. If anyone steps out of line, security is there to rough them up. Can’t make it here? Well, give Tuscaloosa a try. Don’t take my word for it! Like most radicals, Adams is up-front about his beliefs, telling the ominously named PAC, Striving for a Better New York, at a fundraiser that “65,000 [New Yorkers] pay 51% of our income taxes,” and chastising the proles who were happy when the rich fled the city during the pandemic: “No, you leave. I want them here.”
Consider this month’s rent increases on rent-stabilized tenants, which are on track to be the highest since 2013, Mr. Bloomberg’s last year in power. Make no mistake: Those increases are a direct result of Eric Adams’ toxic belief system. His appointees to the Rent Guidelines Board, which determines rent-stabilization, may as well have been picked by Friedrich Hayek. Arpit Gupta is a fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute whose work has involved poo-pooing wealth inequality and concern-trolling over raising taxes on the rich. Adams’ second appointee, Christina Smyth, is a real estate lawyer who likes tweets that say leftists are destroying cities, Good Cause eviction is a scam and landlords are the real victims. Of course when you appoint people to the RGB who are in the pocket of capital — or, in Smyth’s case, who make a living on landlord money — you will get capital-friendly decisions. Adams is nuts, but he is not a fool. Or maybe he is a fool, but he’s a fool with a dedicated ideology.
Bill de Blasio was useless, but — and I resent Adams maybe the most for making me say this — he had ideas to help people. His big first-year initiative was universal preschool, a concrete government benefit not tied to work, income or moral worthiness. In contrast, beyond giving all our money to the cops, Adams policies are either about cutting government services or forcing people to participate in the glorious free market. I think the latter is the most telling. Adams seems personally aggrieved that New Yorkers might want to work from home, near their families, instead of in the belly of the capitalist beast.
The most tragic aspect of this is that it is not being driven by circumstances, but completely by ideology. New York City is in fine financial shape, and if we wanted to expand social services (as we should), it would be easy to do so: Our property taxes are low and heavily favor the wealthy. There’s a tendency to think Eric Adams is just corrupt, in the pocket of business interest. He is that, but he is also a specific sort of creature that New York City has long known: the radical neoliberal.
The True Believer
Neoliberalism can be broadly defined as the belief that government should see as its primary task not as the well-being of its citizens, but rather the functioning of its markets, which are ultimately the best way to allocate resources. (I am simplifying here quite a bit, and I recommend readers to David Harvey’s excellent book A Brief History of Neoliberalism to learn more.) The Democratic Party writ large is a neoliberal party, with individual members differing on their commitment to the ideology. Eric Adams is a neoliberal true believer.
Neoliberalism first walloped New York City in the 1970s. At the time, and unlike now, New York City really was experiencing a fiscal crisis. The City was (and still is) in large part financed by bondholders, essentially investment banks giving the city money in exchange for guaranteed rates of return — think of them as loans. In March of 1975, shaken by the national recession and the city’s credit needs and driven by a fervent belief in the then-emerging neoliberal doctrine, New York’s bankers informed Mayor Abraham Beame that they would cease investing in municipal bonds, thus threatening a major source of New York city’s operating funds. (Before they informed him, they simply failed to show up at the scheduled bond sale. Then the city pushed it back at their request, and again they failed to show. It was what we now call a “dick move.”)
The end of this financial arrangement (which, it must be stressed, was profitable for the bankers) was a real emergency, albeit one that was manufactured by wealthy extremists. To appease the bankers, New York State created an entity that would police the city’s budgeting, but it wasn’t enough for the barbarians at the gate. In September of 1975, with a financial gun pointed at its head, New York State enacted into law the infamous Emergency Financial Control Board, an unprecedented government body run by bankers and having, to quote Arpit Gupta’s Manhattan Institute colleagues, the “Power of No” — the ability to veto huge swathes of the city’s financial plans if it deemed them fiscally unhealthy, or, not friendly enough to capital. It was an early experiment in handing the reins of government over to the private sector.
The EFCB first got to work dismantling the city’s unions. Pay was frozen, work rules instituted, fringe and pension benefits cut, and thousands of city workers were summarily fired. Beyond the damage to labor, subway fares were hiked even as repairs and investment declined, and, for the first time in its history, CUNY began charging tuition. Public hospitals and drug clinics were shuttered. Class sizes skyrocketed. In 1981, the state formalized a transparently regressive property-tax system that’s still in place today.
The 1980s saw another statutory scheme that, in theory, would utilize the free market to dribble down some benefits to the city’s poorest. In 1971, the state passed 421-a, that controversial tax provision Mayor Adams is currently struggling to keep in place. After “reforms” passed during the 80s, 421-a used breathtaking tax incentives to convince developers to build new housing in exchange for setting aside a portion of apartments to be “affordable.” But there were never enough “affordable” units to offset the introduction of wealthy tenants into previously working class neighborhoods. The results were severe. Take the most extreme example, Williamsburg, which went from being a thriving haven for Hasids, Italians, Puerto Ricans and broke newcomers, to a place where the children of hedge funders can LARP as bohemians.
Nearly all the city’s current woes can be traced back to the initial invasion of the neoliberals, and Eric Adams contains within him the worst impulses of that sad time. He is far more right-wing in disposition than Bill de Blasio or even, incredibly, capitalist superstar Michael Bloomberg, who raised taxes on the rich and grew the city’s workforce. Adams is the ultimate believer in free markets, in unbridled business power, in offices and suits and power lunches. This also explains his police obsession — a successful neoliberal state requires a strong hand, well-versed in the grip of the whip, to ensure profitability. So when someone steps out of line — when they, say, try to sell unregulated fruit outside the thick red lines drawn by the state — they must be theatrically escorted to the gallows by the bouncers.
Adams’ preoccupation with frivolity — celebrities, nightclubs, the fetishization of the healthy body — isn’t accidental. Capitalism’s continued success depends on an endless series of distractions that grow increasingly convoluted to the point where we strap on headsets on and live inside a computer. By emphasizing the emptiest parts of our culture, Adams draws attention away from our breathtaking inequality and the state violence that enables it.
This is now the Zero Bond metropolis. (My god, the mayor has even appointed Zero Bound’s brainless founder as his representative to the Met, creating a weird sort of conflict where Adams is either paying his own appointee thousands of dollars per year — or worse, is now getting a free ride at the Bond.) Eric Adams has a plan, and that plan is further reducing New York to one big tacky nightclub populated by the most boring, richest losers you’ve ever met.
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