Can the Eric Adams Campaign Achieve Black Political Redemption?
Eight years ago, Black voters in New York became the laughingstock of urban politics when they foolishly voted themselves out of power. The Eric Adams campaign may provide a chance at political redemption.
Adams has a strong political base in the Black community as the Brooklyn Borough President. And as a former captain in the NYPD, he can forge alliances of mutuality with segments of the Latino, Asian, and moderate white communities concerned about public safety and police accountability.
Moreover, Adams can promote safe streets initiatives without throwing young Black and Brown men under the bus to appease public anxieties. He understands better than other candidates how these communities desire law and order. As a former police officer, he served when too many elderly and hard-working residents of color were afraid to leave their homes in fear of thugs.
Among the mayoral candidates, Adams has a practical understanding of how city government and municipal unions work. He can push back against the good old boys in the NYPD, lobby for diversity in the police union leadership, and promote accountability in the police command structure. He can safeguard city finances against the spendthrift whims of the city council.
Unlike the other candidates, Adams can be a credible mayor for the neighborhoods and not just a front for the progressive movement — or a brand name candidate that parachutes into elections absent preparation and governing experience. He can push for the creation of jobs that benefit the ordinary residents with labor skills and not simply the highly-educated transplanted elites.
For Black voters, moreover, the Adams campaign can make up for the embarrassing outcome of the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary. Few want to remember how they abandoned the campaign of one of their own — the moderate former comptroller Bill Thompson — for the false promise of De Blasio progressivism.
Thompson was a well-qualified candidate who nearly defeated the incumbent mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009. By all accounts, he should have had the inside track in the open election of 2013. All he needed was for the people that had supported his earlier pragmatic campaign to hang together. What happened, however, was a political bamboozle for the ages.
Black voters were unduly seduced by the racial trickery employed by the De Blasio campaign. It manipulated the imagery of a biracial family to ignite the myth of a post-racial city. It even used the afro hairstyle of his son to resurface the symbol of Black power of the 1970s.
In the heat of the Democratic primary, Black and white liberal voters abandoned Thompson to support the illusion of a “white savior.” It was a shocking reversal of fortune and, for the Black community, a sad demonstration of a legacy mindset that sociologist Joyce DeGruy has called the “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.”
Needless to say the De Blasio Administration went on to disappoint them on the critical issues of the day: the failure to appoint Blacks to major city agencies, the cowering before the police unions, the reluctance to demand meaningful Black and Brown enrollment in the elite high schools, and the loss of jobs for the middle class.
Looking ahead, Black voters comprise over 26 percent of the population and play a sizeable role in city politics today. As a voting bloc, they are competitive with the shrinking 33 percent white, 26 percent Latino and 13 percent Asian according to “The Changing Make Up of New York City Neighborhoods,” a 2010 study by the Furman Center.
In their favor, Blacks tend to vote at higher rates than the other minority groups, according to the 2019 “Voter Analysis Report” of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The advantage is fleeting, however, as media savvy figures like Andrew Yang, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others mobilize their groups to vie for political power. Meanwhile, Black leadership increasingly has become an appendage to the liberal wing of the Democrats in ways that can put the moderate interests of the community at a disadvantage.
In closing, the Black community must understand that its time is at hand. Eventually, liberal Democrats will find a way to leverage influence with a growing but unsophisticated racial group. Such is the thrust of the Kathryn Garcia campaign – a liberal white woman sporting a Latina surname from marriage. That being the case, the Eric Adams campaign may be the last best hope for Black New Yorkers to get it right.
Roger House is an associate professor of American studies at Emerson College in Boston and the author of “Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy.” He grew up in East Elmhurst, Queens, attended the public schools, and received his undergraduate degree in history from Columbia University.
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