Big Apple Blues: Why 'Very Liberal' New York City Picks Mayor With Strong Law Enforcement Background
15:30 GMT 03.11.2021 (Updated: 08:34 GMT 04.11.2021)
Former police captain and 18th borough president of Brooklyn, Eric Adams, won the race for New York City mayor on 2 November, defeating Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa. Why has the Big Apple chosen a retired NYPD officer as its new mayor?
Before his November victory, the 61-year-old retired African American police officer
won the Democratic mayoral primaries in June, outperforming former New York City Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.
The primary vote was mired in controversy after Adams raised the alarm over an abrupt massive increase in voter totals that threatened his election odds. This prompted some left-leaning reporters to mock the mayoral candidate, comparing him to Donald Trump
, who threw the 2020 presidential election outcome into doubt. However, the NYC Board of Elections later acknowledged a "discrepancy" and re-tabulated the results.
Liberal NYC Chooses Law & Order
"Adams’ victory is significant because the very liberal city of New York has elected an African American mayor with a strong law enforcement background who has staked out a fairly moderate position on key issues", says Robert J. Spitzer, distinguished service professor of political science at the State University of New York College at Cortland.
Spitzer believes that Adams' win "adds fuel to the belief of many Democrats that they do better when they steer a more moderate course as opposed to the more progressive tack taken by some more liberal Democrats". The recent events also indicate that support for someone with a law enforcement background has vote-getting power even in the very liberal NYC, according to the professor.
"At the time Adams won the Democratic primary, many analysts expressed surprise at this outcome, imagining that Democratic voters remained interested in a strong programme of reducing police presence", recalls David Plotke, professor of politics at New School for Social Research in NYC.
Plotke notes that after the death of George Floyd, an African American man, in police custody in May 2020, "there was an upsurge of criticism of police practices and of the scale of police activity in general". A wave of racial justice protests calling for defunding the police engulfed the country in summer 2020.
At the time, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the BLM cause by participating in painting the "Black Lives Matter" slogan on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower and turning a blind eye to the creation of the "City Hall Autonomous Zone" (CHAZ) in Manhattan amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July 2020, eyewitnesses shared a video on Twitter featuring racial justice protesters at the CHAZ mocking and berating the police, and even calling an African American officer a "f**king black Judas"
"The critics of policing had trouble coming up with a plausible programme - that was crucial", says Plotke says. "When parts of the left, including part of the Black Lives Matter movement, briefly took up 'defund the police' as a slogan, they got a resoundingly negative response. Another reason for this shift was a notable increase in crime rates in the last couple of years in many cities, especially in murders".
In December 2020, NYPD records showed a spike in shootings, from 748 in 2019 to 1,480, with murders up 40%, from 312 in 2019 to 436.
Although Democrats in NYC very much want reforms that would make another George Floyd case very unlikely, they also want substantial policing, the professor notes, adding that this includes public opinion among Blacks in NY, whose communities suffer the most from any increase in crime.
NYC's Two Acute Problems: Crime and Homelessness
Adams' victory is not surprising, in "particular since crime was the most important issue and Adams was seen as the most law and order candidate in the primary and in the general election", echoes Spencer Kimball, an assistant professor of political communications and director of Emerson Polling.
Kimball notes that Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa also has a crime-fighting background, being the founder and chief executive officer of the Guardian Angels, a nonprofit organisation for unarmed crime prevention. This is by no means a coincidence, according to Kimball.
"Adams voters felt that crime (24.4%) and homelessness (22.8%) ought to be the top priorities for the incoming mayor", says Dr Harvey Schantz, professor of political science at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. "Whereas Sliwa was very much a one issue candidate with over half of his prospective voters, 51.5%, claiming that crime ought to be the priority for the next mayor, Sliwa voters placed jobs as their second highest priority, 13.2%, and homelessness third at 11.0% according to the PIX 11/Emerson College poll".
However, Adams was boosted to victory by the sheer number and loyalty of Democratic voters, with active enrolled Democrats outnumbering Republicans by over 2.8 million in New York City as of 1 November 2021, Schantz underscores, recalling that over the past three decades, NYC elected only two Republican mayors, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
"Three strengths that Adams brings to the table are his penchant for working for many hours at the office, his experience as a police captain, and his status as the second Black mayor of America’s largest city", Schantz says.
These assets should afford the new mayor an opportunity to deliver on his promises and address New Yorkers' concerns, the academic concludes.