Eric Adams is now nearing the homestretch of the race to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio, but faces over two dozen men and women who seek the same job
Eric Adams, now a front-runner in the New York mayor’s race, has called himself “the poster child of endurance.” He is not nearly as flamboyant as his predecessor as Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, who installed “Fuhgeddaboudit” signs on highways and stood on the iconic Brooklyn Bridge during the 2003 blackout yelling into a megaphone, “Welcome home to Brooklyn!”
But in his nearly eight years as Brooklyn’s chief promoter, Eric Adams, 60, has been there with the community. Adams has tirelessly attended lavish fundraisers and rebbishe chasunahs, hosted Chanukah parties and thank-you press conferences, distributed food before Pesach, purchased a shofar before Rosh Hashanah, and extended Purim greetings.
In all, Adams courted New York City’s Orthodox community more than perhaps any of the other candidates for mayor. He was therefore mystified when a group representing every major yeshivah in Boro Park, as well as Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, threw support behind Andrew Yang, a newcomer to city politics.
An NYPD cop for 22 years, Adams has gone through more than one metamorphosis in his public life. Thirty years ago he was a flamethrower who said things that were borderline anti-Semitic and black supremacist. During the Giuliani years, he registered as a Republican, then became a mainstream Democrat. He worked his way up through the political system, starting off as a state senator faithful to the party line; his loyalty was rewarded in 2013 when the field was cleared for him to become borough president with nary an opponent.
No such luck this time around. He is now nearing the homestretch of the race to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio, but he faces over two dozen men and women who seek the same job, six to eight of whom are seen as credible candidates. He is not fazed, holding daily appearances, snapping up as many endorsements as he can get, and doggedly doing what he has done for the past 15 years — making the case to voters.
It seems to be paying off; for the first time last week, he topped the polls. He is widely seen as affable, so with the new ranked choice voting system that allows people to choose three top preferred candidates, he might garner enough second- or third-place votes to win the job.
Adams began the interview with a power move of his own. He whipped out his phone, showing me a picture of the two of us at his first press conference as borough president back in 2014, after the murder of Williamsburg businessman Menachem Stark, when he condemned a New York Post front page reporting the crime.
“We are going to do this again when I am mayor,” Adams tells me.
“Is that a campaign promise?” I asked.
“Yes,” he responded.
Move over, Covid, property taxes, and police reform, we got a campaign promise here — Mishpacha will have an interview in City Hall.
You just came from Times Square, where a shooting sadly injured three people, including a four-year-old girl. You have a proposal on how to counter crime, but most of it deals with getting guns off the streets. Our community doesn’t have a problem with gun violence; most anti-Semitic violence are assaults. Do you have a proposal with the same level of detail on how to counter this?
First of all, your concerns are real. And as Jewish Americans, you should always be concerned, coming from probably one of the most horrific experiences known to man. Representing Brooklyn, which I like to say is the Tel Aviv of America, we have one of the largest Jewish populations in America, and this is one of the issues that is always on my mind, not only as constituents but as friends.
There are a few things that we must do. We must ensure that we never decrease our patrols in this city, we must use technology — that is why I put a substantial amount of money into street cameras — and we must protect our children. I worked with David Greenfield in putting security guards in our yeshivos.
We also must stop trying to downgrade hate crimes. We need to call it what it is, and make sure that individuals who are responsible are apprehended in a no-plea-bargain deal.
You said a couple of things here. Number one, will you be lobbying Albany to include hate crimes on the list of crimes for which judges have the discretion to hold the defendant on bail?
Yes, I would. That is important to me.
A recurring problem on our streets has been a yo-yo effect with crime and police patrols. There is an increase in assaults and beatings, and after a few weeks the police increase their patrols. The crime rate goes down, the patrols decrease, and the crimes begin again. Will you be looking at this and perhaps increasing patrols permanently in areas where there are higher rates of assaults, such as in Jewish areas of Crown Heights, and parts of Williamsburg and Boro Park?
Where we are falling short is the proper deployment of police. If I am in a neighborhood where crime is low, we need to shift the resources where they are needed.
Some of your anti-police rhetoric and past reputation scares members of my community. You were considered anti-establishment when you were in the NYPD, and you have recently talked about diverting funds from police. How can you reassure the community that instead of decreasing patrols you will instead increase patrols?
Let’s be clear. Number one, about my advocacy in the police department — we all know that the police were abusing stop-and-frisk, they were stopping a million black and brown children every year. That is unacceptable. That is not the city that we want to live in. People say that I have attacked the police, but that is a contradiction to the reality. I have always been endorsed by the PBA [Police Benevolent Association]. The rank-and-file members know that I believe in public safety and in social justice — they go together.
But also, what many people don’t realize is that I have advocated against anti-Semitism in the police department, against the unfair treatment of my chassidic brothers and sisters. We saw what happened during COVID-19 — you couldn’t even go to the funerals of your rabbis without being treated unfairly. I spoke out against the governor and the mayor when they attempted to turn Covid into a Jewish issue.
So the same advocacy I showed to the young black boys to not be treated unfairly, I have shown to the Jewish community. I am consistent. People should be treated fairly.
Now to what you asked about defunding the police department, I have never supported the bumper sticker slogan of “defund the police.” I don’t believe in that. What I do believe in is that we have to use our resources and our dollars to properly deploy our police. We have, probably, $500 million, believe it or not, in police officers doing clerical duty. I say, “We didn’t hire you to be a telephone switchboard operator, I need you on patrol. I need you to go into our synagogues, patrol our streets.”
I also said, we are spending over $400 million on overtime — a lot of that is due to officers being in court for five or six hours, waiting to testify. We could use Zoom or Webex.
When we save all that money, we now have more money to put into cameras in Boro Park or into youth programs. Now we become preventive, not just reactionary.
I will never do anything that will erode public safety. Never. I am not part of the “disband the police department” or “defund the police department” crowd. But I will be telling all my agencies, including the police department, that you must do your job efficiently.
Of all the candidates, you are closest to the Orthodox community. Why are all the endorsements going to Andrew Yang?
Those leaders, I don’t believe they are speaking on behalf of the people. All of a sudden they see this shiny new toy of Andrew Yang, they see him 24 points up in the poll, so they said, let’s all go here right away.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life was not investing in Microsoft when my buddy came and told me, “Hey, this is a good investment.” He is worth millions now. That is what I say to the Jewish community: You have invested in this candidate. We have been together for 15 or 20 years. The second you see that the shiny new toy is no longer so shiny, and Eric’s message is getting out, don’t allow someone else to take your investment away. I am your Microsoft.
This community knows me. The number of Succoses, the number of Passovers — we stood together over and over again. I am not a new friend, I am an old friend. You can critique my record, because I have a record. Some of these other guys, where were they when Stark, the real estate developer, was killed? Where were they when members of the Boro Park patrol were shot and I bought them vests to protect them?
The worst thing you can do right now is abandon your old friend.
Well, the main issue for the community in this election is yeshivos. They feel that Yang came out with unqualified support for yeshivos, while you were asked on three separate occasions and you refused to do the same — you called for sensitivity, called for working with the community, but never said you would not interfere if the state education department mandates changes.
The first interview — it was a setup, I had no idea... Listen, I am not interfering with the way of life of the Jewish People. So when I’m hearing someone come to me and basically say, “Well, someone broke the law, what are you going to do?” How would you respond to that? I went over to my Jewish brothers afterwards and I asked, what is he asking here?
Let me be clear right now. There is a big debate that is taking place in this city, not only in the Jewish community — African American, Chinese, South Asian — people are saying that they want a culturally sensitive education. My commitment to you is — I am not going to do anything that is going to dismantle your successful educational system, and you will have the support you need to continue to produce the qualitative students that you’ve seen.
Now, what has really been missing from this, while you are talking about a small number of yeshivos that are not meeting with their standards, the overwhelming number of them are doing a good job. And if we are going to use an indicator to shut down schools based on failures, let me tell you about a real failure — 65 percent of black children in the Department of Education never reach proficiency. So we need to start looking at the House of DOE before we start criticizing the House of Yeshivos.
Just to clarify, the SED does not have its own enforcement agency, they are going to be using the NYPD. You are saying that by the end of your four- or eight-year term, we will not see scenes of police officers padlocking yeshivos because of their secular education or sending letters to children that their yeshivos have closed down?
You are not going to see my police department come into yeshivos and act in a disruptive manner like that, and you are not going to be receiving those letters stating that at all. There is a disgruntled group of people in your community who have really amplified this. I have walked through the yeshivos and I’ve seen the results. Not only that, I know the men and women who have gone through the yeshivos and I see how well they’re doing in society.
The subject of social justice has been a painful one. But many people now associate it with violence and looting. We’ve seen images last year I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, of streets in Manhattan burning, major department stores looted and burned, with police standing by and not intervening, reportedly on orders from the top. Regardless of your feelings on the underlying subject, can you assure New Yorkers that looting will never be tolerated, not for whatever reason or cause and not for one night or even for one hour?
First of all, let me answer that question specifically — yes.
We all agree that we have the right to protest. But what we don’t have a right to do is firebomb police vehicles, break into stores, burn houses, write graffiti on buildings and statues in the city — that is not acceptable. We are not going to allow outside agitators to come in and create that form of violence, and we are not going to allow New Yorkers to do that. It won’t happen in the city that I am in.
We discussed anti-Semitism before — the other side of the coin is, I wouldn’t call it anti-Semitism, but Orthodox Jews get a feeling of insensitivity when dealing with the city’s bureaucracy, whether from a government agency or jury duty. Will you commit to appointing more Orthodox Jews to positions of influence and authority in your administration?
Yes. That’s an easy one. When you look at my office, I have a very small staff, and a very small number of people that I can hire — many of them are civil service protected. So I can only bring in about 20 people. Two of the advisors I have hired are chassidic. I trust them and they have been great advisors. So if I am going to have now thousands of employees, you are going to see the community represented in every level of government.
On the subject of metzitzah b’peh, when Mayor Bill de Blasio came into office he came up with a compromise that seems to satisfy everyone. Will you commit to continuing that?
Families should have the right to do what they want with their children within the boundaries of not being abusive. There is nothing abusive about being circumcised.
I am not getting in the way of your way of life — I cannot emphasize that enough. Your way of life is cost effective for our city — you don’t overburden my educational system, I don’t have a crime problem in your communities, your economic development is amazing — I am not getting in the way of your way of life, and that includes the circumcision.
There’s been stories about your past with Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton percolating around the Internet for years, but was recently brought to the fore in a New York Times article, that you praised Farrakhan and hung out with Sharpton. Do you want to address that?
If you do the math, 1993 was 28 years ago. If anyone ever had a question, is Eric anti-Semitic? Look at my 20-year run. I am not anti-Semitic and I don’t subscribe to the philosophy of the Nation of Islam. We were part of using the local members here as part of the crime-fighting initiative — we were in a different city back then, with 2,000 homicides a year, 98,000 robberies. They had a security program that was like the crisis management of today.
Eric is not anti-Semitic, Eric is a friend of the Jewish community.
And does Eric condemn Louis Farrakhan for his remarks over the years about Jews?
Yes, I do.
Here’s the Israel question. If elected, do you plan on doing the job New York City mayors have traditionally done, to be an advocate for Israel?
I’ve visited Israel twice, I am going back again, and I am going to try to find a plot of land so it can be my retirement place. I love the people of Israel, the food, the culture, the dance, everything about Israel.
Where in Israel do you plan on retiring?
(Laughs) In the Golan Heights.
Of all the major candidates in this race, you are the only one to refrain from criticizing Mayor de Blasio. According to a source in City Hall, the mayor has noticed that. Is that a calculated move on your part?
No, I just strongly believe that when you are in a crisis — Covid was the enemy of our city, and I felt that it was appropriate not to get into the petty fights between governors and mayors. The public needed to see that as leaders, we had this under control. It was important to me not to criticize but to be part of the solution.
Would you accept Governor Cuomo’s endorsement or campaign with him if you become the nominee?
I am clear — I want the support of every New Yorker, and that includes the governor.
The city has so many neighborhoods with their own unique character, but they are all governed the same uniform way. Take traffic patterns, for example. On Sunday afternoon in Boro Park, the streets can be a madhouse. Come Shabbos afternoon, there is no traffic. Yet the city assesses parking violations on four o’clock Friday afternoon with the same severity that it does on a regular day. Would you consider a more focused enforcement?
Without a doubt.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 860)
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