New York City’s new mayor, Eric Adams, was sworn into office soon after midnight yesterday. It was a fitting time of day for a cop-turned-politico who has indicated that he plans to return some personal panache to a metropolis knocked by a pandemic, political strife and an outgoing mayor whose polling ranks beneath even Donald Trump with state voters.
For the moment, Adams’s administration is, as one acquaintance put it, “in the ether”. The Democrat told the city council last week: “We must allow our city to function. We have thrown $11bn at Covid, so the day has come when we need to learn to be smarter.”
Adams got right to work. He took the subway to City Hall on 1 January to be at his desk by 8.30am, and held a cabinet meeting half an hour later.
Signs are he’ll be more focused than his predecessor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on raising taxes and spoke divisively of a “tale of two cities”. On Friday, the New York Post described Democrat De Blasio as the city’s worst ever. And that’s with 109 mayors to choose from.
The New York Times, nominally friendly, found space to list his achievements only as creating universal kindergartens, eating pizza with a fork, setting a record for tallest mayor and accidentally dropping a groundhog named Charlotte, which later died of its injuries.
De Blasio’s major achievement, the Times noted, was spending money – the city’s budget is at a record $102.8bn and its workforce at a 325,000 record high. Yet over the eight years of De Blasio, the city has come to seem slower and more ponderous, as if the mayor were re-making it in his own image.
Traffic lights were set for delayed green, confusing the timing of jaywalkers, incensing drivers and perhaps benefiting only angry cyclists. Ubers began clogging up the city where yellow cabs had sped – sometimes without stopping for a fare in a fashion that looked anti-Darwinian.
Adams comes with less ideological baggage than De Blasio, whom the Post calls “Cuba-loving” . He is unlikely, for instance, to make his first order of business to try to ban horse-drawn carriages from Central Park and then pointedly allow wealthier sections of the city to go unploughed after a major snowstorm to indicate that he, as a populist Brooklynite, does not consider Manhattan the centre of the New York City universe.
He appears, in many ways, more accustomed to the rhythm of the city and its relationship with its commercial reason for being. Business leaders, hoping to stem an exodus of firms and high-earners, say they see signs that Adams will be more focused on economic development and on addressing rising crime levels.
He has promised not to restore “stop-and-frisk” policing that unfairly targeted minorities, and to revive a plainclothes police unit to focus on gun crime. Black Lives Matter chapter leader Hawk Newsome threatened “riots, fire and bloodshed” if Adams restored the unit. Adams replied: “We’re not going to surrender to those who are saying, ‘We’re going to burn down New York.’ Not my city.”
He has told business leaders to construct a database to match vacant jobs to jobseekers, adding: “This is going to be a place where we welcome business and won’t turn into the dysfunctional city that we have been for so many years.” But he may find resistance from the city council, centre of New York’s shift to progressive politics. Clashes are brewing over a plan to reinstate solitary confinement at the city’s brutal Rikers Island pre-trial detention complex. “I’m going to ignore them,” Adams said last week. “If they like it or not. I’m the mayor.”
But there are subtleties to Adams’s approach. He loves the nocturnal nightlife scene, looking in on a charity dinner, or a play, before dropping by Zero Bond, one of the city’s new private clubs. “When you’re out at night, it helps decrease crime. It attracts tourists to the city,” he said recently, adding that every time a New Yorker goes to a restaurant “we’re making sure that a dishwasher, a cook, a bartender and a waiter is employed.”
It’s a strategy that Serge Becker, nightlife force behind art nightclub AREA, La Esquina restaurants and others, says helped the city reinvent itself in the late 70s and 80s. “Populated streets are safer than abandoned ones. It helped build communities, and Mayor Adams is sending encouraging signals that he has a nuanced view of nightlife – that it has a positive role to play in revitalising the city.”
But there’s a question mark over where Adams sleeps. Some say New Jersey, others Brooklyn or that he puts his feet up at the office for a few hours. It seems that he’s happy to keep people guessing. “I’m just as flexible as the city. I’ll be in New York,” he told NY1 in November. “The 24-7 city that never sleeps. We have heard the alarm clock. We are up now.”