New York City Mayor Eric Adams has taken heat recently from some progressive Democrats for his dissembling reaction to the killing of Jordan Neely, a homeless man, on a subway car, and for his handling of other issues involving race, opportunity, and public safety in the city.
I believe Adams has the potential to achieve good things if he can bring an agenda to the forefront that serves the core interests of his Black constituents; if he cannot, then I suspect that the current downward spiral of his political fortunes will crash with a thud.
Here are a few ideas for how Mayor Adams can get his seemingly endangered first term back on track—and perhaps improve his chance for re-election.
First, Adams should tap into the spirit of the Black American experience for moral guidance in making policy decisions—a return to the theme of spiritual renewal that he touted after the 2021 election and his trip to Ghana.
Adams should convene the city’s political leaders to discuss and coordinate an agenda for the Black community. The community is blessed with a high level of talented politicians—foremost, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D), New York Attorney General Letitia James, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, city public advocate Jumanne Williams, and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, among others.
Despite holding office, the Black political class lacks a common agenda to advance the needs of their constituency, as many are being squeezed out of the city. New York’s non-Hispanic Black population has declined by more than 125,000, or about 9%, since 2000, according to the Gothamist.
Adams is in the key spot to bring people together to focus on solutions. Yet, he often seems to respond to the needs of other interest groups more readily than to his base of supporters. For example, affordable housing is a central concern for his supporters. Yet Adams has been working to accommodate the competing demand for housing from the unprecedented surge of migrants.
It is an unsolvable problem with few good options, although Adams has supported affordable housing projects like Willets Point in Queens and proposals for other neighborhoods. Still, there are just too many people competing for too few housing units—and the wave of immigrants only exacerbates the crisis.
Adams should organize Black Democratic leaders to say the sanctuary city mandate is unworkable for an influx of global economic migrants. They should voice support for Adams’s legal push to curb the city’s right-to-shelter law that is exhausting billions of taxpayer dollars.
If need be, the city should bus migrants back to border states, sanction employers who hire them over New York job-seekers, and continue pressing the Biden administration to deal with immigration issues at the federal level.
Second, Adams holds one of the country’s biggest megaphones, but has used it to engage in scare tactics over street crime, even as rates of some crimes have fallen. His solutions tend to rely on the policing method that civil rights organizations claim racially profile Black men. Working with other Black leaders, he should come up with practical ideas that address both public safety and the complex issues of mental illness, race, and poverty.
Third, Adams and other Black leaders should make the occupational mobility of the Black working class a priority campaign. The community suffers high rates of adult unemployment even as the city recovers from the pandemic. The rate of Black unemployment is more than 12%, for instance, compared to 1.3% for whites.
The Biden administration has touted programs to train the working class for well-paying technical jobs like X-ray technicians, dental hygienists, heating and refrigeration technicians, and aircraft mechanics, among other fields. Adams should get in the forefront of this initiative.
Under President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law, New York City stands to invest tens of billions in public transit, highways and bridges, and airports, among other projects. Each one will require newly trained workers for a construction industry that historically excluded skilled Black laborers and contractors.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black Americans comprise 5% of the industry workforce, compared to their 14% of the population; about 61% of the workforce is white and 30% Hispanic. The issue is even more grave in New York City, where many contractors favor hiring migrants.
Adams should steer young men toward promising small-business opportunities under his direct control: the street-vending trade, for example. In July 2022, the city began issuing thousands of pushcart permits under a law that the City Council seemingly designed to favor the immigrant population. City street vendors are believed to generate more than $78.5 million in legal income.
Finally, during the summer months, Adams has the opportunity to promote support systems for young men. Growing up without a father, he can be a credible spokesman for the value of programs such as 500 Men of Brooklyn, of which he was a member. His attention may even serve as a catalyst to a national program of youth recovery and street crime pre-emption.
As mayor, Eric Adams has the platform to bring the city’s unprecedented number of Black elected officials together on a constructive agenda for their base. The question is, does he have the political will?
Roger House is associate professor of American studies at Emerson College and the author of “Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy” and the forthcoming “South End Shout: Boston’s Forgotten Music Scene in the Jazz Age.” This article is reprinted from the Messenger.