Does NYC Want a Cop for a Mayor?

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S1: I went to Harlem a few weeks ago to see one of the Democratic candidates running to be mayor of New York. His name is Eric Adams.

S2: I am Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Bowl president,

S1: and Amy Adams has consistently polled at or around the top of the heap of people running in the Democratic primary, and the Democratic primary is widely considered to be what will determine who wins the mayor’s office this fall.

S2: We have the long march towards equity, justice and just the right of people. How do we end the historical inequalities in this city?

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S1: Adams is trim and usually smiling. He squares his shoulders like a cop. He used to be one. He was an officer in the NYPD for over 20 years and he has centered that experience during his campaign.

S2: So I understand proper policing, but I also understand public safety. And that is what I’m going to lift up in this city.

S1: We are standing with the police is not an obvious or surefire way to win a Democratic primary right now, not after the year we’ve had not after the decade New York has had. The debate over police brutality has been going on a long time in this city. When I saw Adams, he was getting peppered with questions about his views on stop and frisk, this notorious police tactic of stopping and searching people, predominantly black and brown men with scant reason.

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S2: So, so, so, so. Because it’s important. Because if someone is in your backyard 4:00 in the morning hiding themselves, you call the police. The police officer has the right to stop and question that person. That is how you used properly stop and frisk.

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S1: I was watching this exchange. Reporters around Adams were not satisfied. And with each follow up question, Adams would nod and launch into a very qualified defense of stop and frisk. The theory of it.

S2: See, when people think stop, question and frisk, they think that all of it goes together. No, the first action you take to stop the second action you take is to question the person to have a legitimate reason. This is my house. This is my apartment. Now, you leave as an officer. You don’t for that person. You don’t search that person. So if you if you have a police department, will you said you can stop and question that is not a responsible form of policing, but we abuse.

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S1: It is a little puzzling that stop and frisk is a persistent issue in this race. Stop and frisk are not gone in New York, but they’re much diminished. The last time they loomed large in the news was in 2013. That’s when a federal judge said the city was using stop and frisks unconstitutionally. That same year, Bill de Blasio won the New York mayoral race in a landslide, and he did it by promising to end stop and frisk. One of his most memorable ads featured his son, Dante, who’s black.

S3: There are hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who’ve never experienced stop and frisk. And I’ve talked to Dante many times about the fact that someday he will be stopped. Parents all over the city are having that conversation with their kids. Bill de Blasio, the only candidate to

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S4: end a stop and frisk era that targets minorities. I mean, it wasn’t just an issue in the 2013 mayoral race. It was the

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S1: issue. Eric Lache is a staff writer at The New Yorker. He’s been covering the mayoral race and the debates it’s kicking up.

S4: No issue has galvanized public opinion against police abuse in New York City. The way stop and frisk did. I mean, it was just this it crystallized a lot of the debates and just provided a kind of clear example of something that people could point to and say, look, this the police department, this is out of control. I mean, you know, with this this is intolerable.

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S1: But violent crime is up in New York. It’s up in large cities across the country. The people who study this kind of thing are finding it hard to explain why. And public safety is on people’s minds as they clue into the mayoral election here. So while it struck me as weird that any mayoral candidate would want to talk about stop and frisk, let alone get bogged down in explaining why it’s actually kind of complicated, Eric Lache says that message is working for candidate Eric Adams.

S4: He has a kind of like don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater kind of argument in defense of stop and frisk, where he treats it as a kind of, you know, police should be allowed to preserve stop and frisk as a tool in the toolbox used when necessary in an appropriate way. I do think that like this crime debate in in New York City, it’s important to think about it. And it’s important as a kind of testing ground for arguments and it’s important as a testing ground for real solutions, like after somebody gets elected. Yeah, I mean, you know, some people make. And I you know, I think it’s an interesting one that, like arguments about safety in New York City in the 70s, turned into arguments about public safety and crime on much bigger scale, as in the 80s and 90s, stuff that starts at the city level, you know, ends up kind of filtering up.

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S1: Today on the show, when we look at New York’s mayoral race right now, are we seeing a pendulum swinging back away from the past year of protests over abusive policing and away from criminal justice reform? I’m Mary Wilson, filling in today for Mary Harris. This is what next? Keep listening. So Eric Adams’s campaign message, what’s very interesting to me about it is that it fits beautifully with his personal story, as he’s put it, as he’s put a story forward. Can you give us the highlights of his trajectory in New York City, law enforcement and politics as a kid? I mean, one of the most compelling starter points of his story is that as a kid, he was a victim of police brutality and then he went on to become a cop himself.

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S4: Eric Adams is like an outer boroughs son of New York who like at age 15, I think, you know, is beaten in the basement of police precinct house. And, you know, and a few years later, at the urging of mentor, he joins the police in order to sort of advocate for change from within. And it’s even less lofty than that because he’s like, you know, he’s in his 20s. And he sort of I think there’s also this idea that, like, you know, we need to diversify the police force to better represents the communities that are being policed. You know, and Eric Adams is part of that wave of officers. But he also gets involved in. Speaking out against police abuse from inside the department, another interesting aspect with Adams is that the touch tones of police abuse and brutality and violence for him are a previous generations, such as Amadou Diallo and Abner Louima, which were which were, you know, men who Diallo case was killed in Louima. His case was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted by officers in the 1990s. So it’s not George Floyd era names. He’s calling back to sort of an earlier era of names that were used to push for reforms and change within the police department.

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S1: Adams was organized. He started a group within the NYPD to bolster his calls for reform. It gave him a platform from which to talk about police brutality. He developed a reputation as an activist cop.

S4: If you watch local news in New York City in the 1990s, I mean, he was doing press conferences, he was on TV. He was somebody who was in the news and involved in sort of a presence, you know, all along. I mean, he’s he’s sort of eyeing a political career. I mean, I think sort of from from very early, he he’s kind of like, I want to be mayor. And I think this was in a in a times piece a few weeks ago, a profile of him. But, you know, he went to he went to a guy named Bill Lynch, I believe his name was, who’s a sort of famous political operative and kind of was like, Bill, how do I become mayor? And it was like, you know, rise the ranks of the police department. Then, you know, it was sort of a series of steps that was like then when elected office, then become a borough president. And, you know, so he Adams, he sort of checked everything else off on the list. He sort of retired as a captain from the police department. Then he was elected to the state Senate representing a district in Brooklyn, and then he was elected Brooklyn borough president, which is kind of a funny kind of local sort of

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S1: ceremonial kind of position at this point.

S4: It’s kind of a still sort of a vestige of when, like New York City was like five cities, like when all the boroughs weren’t actually sort of one political entity, but rather kind of a cluster of them. And it’s sort of at this point, like the borough presidents are kind of boosters for the city and have a little bit of a hand in sort of some of the municipal decisions. But it’s kind of ceremonial, like you say. And but he’s you know, but he’s checking these boxes on a list that was given to him of how you become mayor and then, you know, and then this year, he sort of is is trying to fulfill that that goal.

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S1: Did he launched his campaign as the public safety candidate or is he making use of concerns about rising crime?

S4: The answer is no. When he launched his campaign, you know, we were coming out of, like the George FOID protests, you know, so it would have been crazy to launch. The campaign is the public safety candidate. And so he he kind of took a couple of different tacks along the way, trying to trying to position himself. I mean, he’s also, among other things, he’s a strict vegan. He was diagnosed with diabetes a number of years ago. And he was you know, he was he he was half blind and sort of overweight and had a lot of health problems. And he, after getting the diagnosis, started cooking all his own food and sort of subscribing to a strict vegan diet.

S1: Adams is also big into meditation. Begin mindfulness in general talks about that a lot in terms of even incorporating it into like policies,

S4: all of that stuff. I think at the beginning he was sort of flirting with being the public health candidate. You know, in a pandemic, you know, it was kind of like we’re going to run a campaign on sort of public health and healthiness. And I think, you know, school lunch and and sort of nutrition for kids is going to be a big component of that, that kind of thing. And as the pandemic sort of receded in New York and the news became came to be more dominated by the spike in shootings in the city and reports of crime on the subway and hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the city, Adams really kind of committed to to sort of, you know, bleed into his record and and said, OK, no, this is going to be a public safety election, which is not unusual in New York City. I mean, lots of mayoral elections historically have turned on issues of crime and public safety and the balance of policing and civil rights and things like that. But but Adams really kind of seized on it. And the moment, I think, for me that, you know, Adams goes on to win, that I think will be sort of a key moment is that there was a shooting in Times Square in April, I believe, where two brothers who were CD vendors in Times Square got in an argument and one brother pulled out a gun and started firing at his brother, missed his brother, but hit three passers by. It was a there was a little girl in a stroller and then two two women who were just visiting the Times Square, you know, tourist, tourist, central hub, you know, of of of New York City, if not tourist, central hub of the universe. And Adam. You know, within hours of the shooting, held a press conference in Times Square to talk about it and to talk about the spike in shootings and what was going on,

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S2: I don’t know why all the other candidates in this race are attempting to ignore that. We are dealing with the gun violence crisis in the city and we must be honest about it and we must be clear on stop.

S4: Andrew Young held a press conference there, I think, the next day seeing sort of an opportunity to talk about public safety. And then Adams just turned right back around and held a second press conference in Times Square.

S2: Well, I have not heard the other candidates lean into this imminent threat that we’re having in the city.

S4: I mean, he he was like, if you want to make this campaign about public safety, I am all in. You know, I think he I think he saw it clearly from like when this stuff started to bubble up in the news that if this became a campaign about crime, which which it looks like it very much is going to be, that Eric Adams is going to be very well positioned in that kind of race.

S1: And from what I’ve read and seen, Adams’s pitch is that New York can have policing that is proactive and also ethical, that you don’t have to. I think the way he puts it on the at campaign events, I think the way he puts it is you don’t have to choose between public safety and justice. You’ve talked to him and you’ve also taking a close look at some of his opponents in the Democratic primary. And I’m curious if his policies are different from those of his opponents or if he’s standing apart, mostly because that’s the message he’s homed in on and that that’s what he chooses to emphasize.

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S4: Yeah, I mean, there’s a couple of things. I mean, he’s definitely rejected all arguments about cutting police budgets. You know, so so, you know, it’s like there’s there’s really I mean, there’s really one candidate left in the very large Democratic primary field who still embraces the the language of the defund the police movement. But other other candidates, my Whiley, Scott Stringer, have called for cuts to the police budget. Eric Adams is not you know, he’s not here for that. I mean, on the nitty gritty of, like police reform. Adams has various proposals that I think are interesting and serious and sort of, you know, you know, where the debate is not at odds with some goals of what, you know, policing reformers want. He certainly wants to make that argument. You know, I mean, he he kind of if you talk to him, he’s very much like, you know, I’m in a dialogue and debate with reformers, but I’m not against reform, you know, I think is kind of his his sort of stance. But, you know, but the vision of policing that Eric Adams has is a cop on a smiling cop on every corner, you know, and at the top step of every subway station saying hello to every passer by and how’s it going? And have a good day and be safe and and people smiling back and saying, thanks so much, officer. See you later. You know, it’s like this kind of like blanketing the city with happy, proactive cops, which, you know, to me, you know, in some ways more difficult to imagine than the police abolitionists goal of of just doing away with policing entirely. I mean, this sort of idea of like, you know, I mean, Adams when I when I interviewed him, talked about like, yeah, I want people like taking bringing their corner cop like a birthday card, like on his birthday. And it’s just like that, you know, it’s like that he thinks it’s you know, policing is is a good job. He thinks policing provides middle class jobs, you know, tens of thousands of middle class jobs. I mean, that’s the other aspect of this, that he you know, he he you know, I think he thinks, look, the department sixty thousand people, there’s like thirty five thousand uniformed police officers. And he’s like, these are all middle class jobs, you know, and then and increasingly they’re middle class jobs for black and brown New Yorkers. You know, it’s not just a totally white police department anymore. So there’s that aspect of it, you know, but then there’s the grand vision, which is like, yeah, the cop as the necessary component to the corner in all kinds of ways to the neighborhood and all kinds of ways.

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S1: After the break, what Eric Adams is view of public safety still has to answer for. The vision Eric Adams has for policing in New York is colored by two experiences. There’s his role as an activist within the NYPD, and then there’s his role as an operative. Adams was a computer programmer with the police at the very moment the department was starting to use data to drive its approach. The shorthand for this is cops that it spread across the country. But COPS debt was pioneered by the NYPD.

S4: It was the application of data to policing, I think is the simplest way to sort of but involved like the department would have these famous meetings. If you watch The Wire, it’s like the wire sort of goes into some of this stuff, too. It’s like they have these meetings where, like all of the police officials, the lower down officials have to like present their stats to the higher ups. And kind of it’s like, you know, and they get grilled, you know, what are you doing about, OK, you know, there’s like there’s there’s been a there’s been a spate of robberies on this street. What are you doing about that? You know, there’s been that you’ve got three murders in this district in the last month, like what’s happening here. You know, it’s like and it’s sort of like it’s kind of using the numbers to make arguments about the deployment of resources. Adams has a front row seat to this work, which ends up getting credit. I mean, this is debated, but it ends up getting, you know, credited with having a hand in, you know, the kind of crime miracle in New York City. You know, that the city goes from thousands of murders a year and high crime rates to becoming the safest big city in in in the country in in a relatively short order. And Adams is sort of like part of his pitches. Like I was there. I was in the room. This was amazing. You know, it’s like it’s like when this happened, I mean, nobody thought that this was going to work. And then it and then it did. I mean, and sort of there’s debates about how it worked and how much credit policing should get. But he’s he’s like this is almost like a lived experience argument that Adams makes. This is like I just sort of close.

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S1: Eric Lache says the problem with STAT is that numbers don’t tell the whole picture

S4: by basically going numbers first. You’re like creating as sort of a context for police to basically like the numbers of the be all and end all. So, you know, so you just need to raise numbers. You need to look like you’re doing something. And stop and frisk became an easy way to look like you’re doing something because you can just stop anybody on the street, you know, for any reason, and so that you could quickly pile up like, well, what are we doing while we look at all these stop and frisk stops? And so, you know, one of the things that Adams needs to answer for in this is, you know, when I when we talked, I sort of pressed him on. This is is is how do you stop? Comp stat numbers driven policing from turning into stop and frisk abuse, which is like numbers driven policing, run rampant. How do you like arrest that process somewhere along the way? And his argument and, you know, it’s like, I think leave it to voters to sort of see whether they’re persuaded by this is that transparency is key and that what you need to do and that what Rudy Giuliani, when he was mayor of New York City, when Comsat was sort of instituted and stop and frisk stop started to rise, is that Rudy Giuliani was not interested in this is what I am says and not interested in in sort of analyzing and auditing the numbers in real time and seeing if the the numbers were legit, like like were they helpful stops with a good stops or they abusive stops with the racial profiling stops.

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S1: Adams’s his opponents in the Democratic primary take issue with his views on policing. The strongest candidate and the most natural foil to Adams is Maya Wiley. She’s a civil rights activist. And for a few years she was counsel to current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. At a debate last month, while she was quick to bring up Atom’s and past comments he made about stop and frisk,

S5: there was nothing OK about it, and it certainly was nothing more than lazy. Policing certainly kept people’s constitutional rights violated. How can New Yorkers trust you to protect us and to keep us safe from police misconduct?

S4: Yeah. So while she’s kind of got a tricky position where, you know, she’s a defender of the aims and kind of hopes of the defund the police movement without actually subscribing to the defund the police movement, she wants to cut the police budget, but she doesn’t you know, she doesn’t use the term. She I think she thinks the term is a little bit of a distraction at best. And the race has tried to, you know, was kind of for a while jostling with a couple of other more lefty progressive candidates. And I think, you know, at this point, with the with a couple of days to go before the start of early voting has, I think, made a persuasive claim to being the kind of last one standing the other sort of candidates have had issues in their campaigns or about their past that have come up.

S1: Maya Wiley has been racking up progressive endorsements for months, but two biggies came down in the past few days, one from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and another from Senator Elizabeth Warren. Eric Lache says those endorsements answer a question that’s been looming over this race.

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S4: Everyone’s been asking in this race for months, is the left going to coalesce? Is the left kind of coalesce? And sort of when she came out this past weekend and said, I’m backing my while, it was finally like, OK, maybe it is going to coalesce. Like maybe there will be a kind of just left candidate and, you know, with Adams. Yeah. I mean, you know, while she has wanted to fight with Adams, in part because Adams has been the front runner, and I think candidates in large races always want to fight with the front runner, because if you’re fighting with the front runner, then there’s a good case to be made that you’re like, you know, your front runner adjacent. And so that’s good, you know? And then and then on policing, I think, like she has tried to find a kind of counter argument to what Adams is talking about in terms of, you know, public safety and kind of what the response to this spike in shootings should be and sort of how, you know, how we should treat and how we should think about policing in this city. And and, you know, while she has tried, I think, to make Adams a figure of like, well, well, let’s not go back, you know, let’s not go back to old tactics that have failed us. Let’s like, you know, Wyly’s cases much more, kind of like let’s move forward and figure out what’s next. I think is is sort of her her her argument.

S1: Are there other candidates in the Democratic primary that you find interesting, especially in relation to Adams and how they challenge Adams?

S4: A lot of the coverage of this race. But even even like, you know, even when you talk to political operatives or the campaigns, you know, it was like the question for months was, will the left come together? Will the left come together? How strong is the left? And now actually, at the very end, the left may well come together. And it’s actually the center that’s kind of fractured. So, you know, you’ve got Adams, you know, in the polls kind of battling with Andrew Yang, who was the front runner, you know, for much of the winter and has started to fade a little bit at the end here. But it’s still sort of pulling, you know, I mean, it’s funny. It’s like we talk about know, it’s like it’s hard to talk about these things without polling because, like, what do you point to? You know, what do you point to for evidence of how people are doing without it? But, you know, and then the other kind of weird thing is that like strong in the polls in this race is 20 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, which is going to be like, you know, 10 percent of the city if that, you know, so you’re talking about 20 percent of 10 percent of the city being like they’re doing great. This is the next mayor. So so, you know, like with the caveat that we’re talking about, relatively small groups of people like Yáng seems to have his supporters, and then Katherine Garcia, who’s a longtime city agency official, she ran the Department of Sanitation under de Blasio. She was a senior official on the Bloomberg administration. Before that, she got The New York Times endorsement a couple of weeks ago. The Times sort of defended her as a competent but boring, but like in a field of nobody making a great case for a kind of ideological case to be the next mayor, a kind of defensive of experienced candidate, somebody who knows the city, knows that the city government knows how it runs and has some ideas about climate resilience and and and sort of infrastructure. That would be helpful. I was based on the Times is sort of argument endorsing her. And so, you know, the situation, though, like here we are like with days to go and it’s the left has stopped short of having an argument about who they’re going to support. And it’s actually now the more center, the less progressive voters who suddenly have a number of options in front of them and the more moderate candidates in the race splitting votes.

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S1: Eric Lache, thank you so much.

S4: Mary, thanks so much for having me.

S1: Eric Lache is a staff writer at The New Yorker. That’s the show special thanks to Bruce Jaurès, who spoke to us at length about this mayoral election for further reading. If you live in New York and you want to know more about the mayoral candidates, including people we didn’t even mention in the show, check out the city, NYC. They have a cool questionnaire that will show you who aligns most closely with your views. If you don’t live in New York but are interested in it and want trenchant political analysis that takes progressives seriously, look up Ross Barkan and his substract newsletter What Next is produced by Kamal Dilshad, Danielle Hewitt, Elena Schwartz, Davis Land and me Mary Wilson. Alison Benedikt is Slate’s executive editor. Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcasts. Mary Harris will be back tomorrow. Thank goodness. And thank you for listening.