Spurning liberals, Adams wins NYC's Democratic mayoral race with 'blue-collar' appeal

·4-min read
FILE PHOTO: Eric Adams speaks during a news conference outside Brooklyn borough hall in Brooklyn, New York

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) -Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and a former police captain, won the Democratic nomination for New York City mayor as a moderate who vowed to improve public safety and give voice to working-class residents.

The message resonated in the pandemic-weary city, where media reports of a spike in shootings drove crime to the top of voters' concerns even as New York confronts deep-seated issues including wealth inequality, a lack of affordable housing and struggling public schools.

Adams' two closest rivals, former city sanitation chief Kathryn Garcia and civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley, conceded the race on Wednesday, a day after newly released vote totals from the June 22 election showed him maintaining a narrow lead.

Adams' victory makes him the strong favorite in November's election in the heavily Democratic city - and could give national Democrats some signs of where voters stand as the party strives to maintain a fragile alliance between progressives and centrists in Washington.

Adams has been dismissive of critics of his agenda on the left whom he says do not speak for mainstream Democrats.

"I say that it's time for us to stop believing that we should have the right tweets. We should have the right safe streets," Adams told CNN on Wednesday.

Adams spent less time campaigning in Manhattan than some of his rivals in the crowded race, instead targeting minority and working-class neighborhoods in the four outer boroughs - Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, all of which he carried.

Adams centered his campaign on fighting crime. But as a Black man who portrayed himself as a "blue-collar" New Yorker, he also argued that working-class Democrats had been ignored by the party's more liberal wing, including current Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration.

"He was talking about issues that resonated with them," said Christina Greer, a professor at Fordham University who followed the race closely. "For a lot of people, this past year and a half has been – putting COVID aside – economically just devastating."

Adams prevailed with a coalition that resembled, in some ways, the voters who helped elevate President Joe Biden to the Democratic nomination last year, particularly his support among more moderate Black voters.

ADAMS' AGENDA

Perhaps no issue has animated Democrats more in the last year than policing, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked months of demonstrations across the country.

Unlike Wiley, a liberal who favored diverting $1 billion from the police budget to social services, Adams bluntly rejected the "defund the police" movement as a product of left-wing activists.

As a police officer who had a reputation for speaking out against racial injustice, however, Adams appeared to have credibility with voters when he insisted that he could simultaneously increase police resources while reducing systemic bias.

During the campaign, he emphasized his humble upbringing in Brooklyn and Queens, including getting beaten by police officers as a teenager.

Adams, who secured key union backing, is seen as labor-friendly. He has promised to bring diversity and reform to the senior ranks of the police department. He has also said he will work to connect more low-income residents with city services they are eligible for but do not use.

He has expressed support for charter schools and selective schools, despite concerns that the latter exacerbate racial segregation. He has proposed creating a permanent remote learning option - even after the pandemic - to allow students access to better teachers.

Progressives worry he will cater too much to the real estate industry, a powerful lobby that gave generously to his campaign.

Adams' win could be seen as a rebuke to the city's ascendant left wing, with Wiley finishing third despite backing from liberal luminaries such as U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens.

But Sochie Nnaemeka, the executive director of the liberal Working Families Party that endorsed Wiley, noted that more progressive candidates won other key races, including city comptroller, public advocate and Manhattan district attorney.

"There are bold governing progressives surrounding him on all sides ready to push for more," she said.

Adams has not been shy about suggesting that his triumph can serve as a blueprint for national Democrats. When he built an initial lead in the vote on Election Day, he warned Democrats would face an uphill battle in next year's congressional midterm elections if they did not heed the lessons of his campaign.

"We have reached the point where we are allowing the dialogue to get in the way of moving us in the right direction," he told CNN on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, and Bill Berkrot)

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