For 20 years (1994-2013), the city of New York, capital of Blue America, was governed by Republican or Republican mayors (Michael Bloomberg proclaimed himself independent during an electoral cycle). Crime plummeted, subways shone, homelessness was handled smartly, control of the school system returned to the city from Albany (although not much good was done).
During this auspicious era, the anxious wondered what might happen when it ended. During Bill de Blasio’s two terms, we learned about it. De Blasio reflected the culture of the city’s Democratic politicians – he was ideological and unimaginative. To that, he added his own personal flaws: laziness – he was usually late for nominations and appearances – and arrogance – he had the nerve to run for president (only fellow New Yorkers wished him good luck: America’s loss would be our gain if, miraculously, he won). To top it off, he got into endless feuds with Governor Andrew Cuomo (in fairness, Cuomo was more aggressive than him). De Blasio was cunning enough to know he had to try to reduce crime, and his first Police Commissioner, Giuliani-era veteran Bill Bratton, handled it first. But the mayor must also lend a hand, so time and inattention have taken its toll; Floyd’s summer was the last straw. After that ?
The city’s GOP has returned to its default state of helplessness. Two men are running for his candidacy. Curtis Sliwa is a self-proclaimed private crime fighter and radio personality for decades. Fernando Mateo has been the spokesperson for taxi drivers and bodega owners. Neither has a prayer.
The Democratic primary is crowded, mostly dwarfs. Scott Stringer is the complete liberal of the Upper West Side. He started with a string of endorsements, but decades-old sexual harassment accusations (strongly denied by him) slowed down his campaign. Maya Wiley and Kathryn Garcia worked for de Blasio (Wiley as counsel, Garcia as sanitation commissioner). Anyone who worked for him and parted on better terms than Brutus parted ways with Caesar should thus be disqualified from all other public office. Wiley also offers Cut the police budget. Three others – Shaun Donovan, Raymond McGuire and Dianne Morales – limp to single digits.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, fresh out of a vanity run for president – he finished eighth in New Hampshire, behind Tulsi Gabbard – entered the mayoral race and for a time led the pack. He brought a new face and a new way to the competition, and he said unorthodox things, defending the tests as the criteria for admission to the city’s elite public schools – a question dear to Asian Americans. – and, more recently, urging the mentally ill to be removed from the streets where they injure themselves and others, and receive appropriate care. There lingers on him the question that torments all foreigners: does he know the way to the bathroom? that is, does he even begin to know how to do the job? Bloomberg didn’t, but he could buy aid and buy troublemakers. Yang, who is only a millionaire, does not have these options. His occasional unorthodox instincts don’t seem to be accompanied by the spine to force them on the city’s encrusted forces of inertia.
That leaves the current favorite, Eric Adams. Adams has been around for a long time (he will be 61 on September 1). Years ago, when he was the cop at the head of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, criticizing the NYPD from within, a reporter for a local TV show, Les Payne, called him ” bomb launcher “. It expressed both awe and irony. Les was a man of the left, with a skeptical eye for the police, especially whites. But he was also a knowledgeable journalist, who recognized a showboat. Adams kept a strange company: in the 90s, he first rubbed shoulders with Louis Farrakhan, then the GOP. In the new millennium, he returned to the Democratic fold and was elected first to the state senate and then to the Brooklyn Borough President.
In campaign now, he hammers the crime. In the aftermath of the May shooting in Times Square that injured two women and a four-year-old child, he held not one but two press conferences denouncing the state of affairs. “Thirty years later, we are back to where we started. And this is unacceptable. The enemy is winning and we are waving a large white flag of surrender. He proposes to restore the plainclothes anti-crime unit, disbanded last year. He defends the limited use of the stop and search.
Adams’ economic program is, to put it charitably, shapeless. He says the rich whose city needs tax revenue won’t stay in a dangerous city, which is true. But neither will they stay in the pocketbook. Tackling the first problem without tackling the second is, in the old phrase of Gotham political guru Fred Siegel, like trying to cross a chasm in two leaps.
Crime and disorder may be enough to win it over for Adams. The latest hot spot is Washington Square in Greenwich Village, which has become a late-night drug souk and unlicensed boxing venue (you read that right). Hopefully the bomb thrower has learned his lessons.