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A Tale of Two New York Election Nights

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A Tale of Two New York Election Nights

Mayor-elect Eric Adams struck a different tone—and a more encouraging one—than his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, did in 2013. November 3, 2021
New York
Politics and law

Unlike the rest of the East Coast, New York saw few surprises on Election Night. In south Brooklyn, a Republican, Inna Vernikov, won a city council seat, bringing the party’s grand total so far to four out of 51 (Seth Barron wrote on the results nearby). Manhattan elected a progressive district attorney, and the city elected and reelected garden-variety left-wing candidates for comptroller and public advocate, respectively. The most interesting thing going on remains Eric Adams, the new mayor-elect. The contrast between Adams’s victory speech last night and Bill de Blasio’s own speech eight years ago was telling.

Adams ran a centrist campaign based on cutting the city’s soaring murder rate—up 42 percent in two years—and bringing back the 453,700 jobs the city has lost since Covid. Voters picked him, twice, as the best of an eclectic bunch, ranging from Andrew Yang to Curtis Sliwa. Adams cares about New York and will imbue the city with something missing for a while: personality.

We have no idea how competently Adams will govern. A former police captain, state senator, and Brooklyn borough president, he’s never run a large organization. For now, New Yorkers can give him their goodwill and wait and see.

But we do know that Adams represents a radical change in tone at the top. That was clear last night. Taking the stage in downtown Brooklyn, the mayor-elect showed a mixture of joy for his personal accomplishment and awe for his new responsibilities. He wasn’t merely pleased; he was shell-shocked giddy. Adams got on his knees; he broke into a broad smile. “I’m the mayor,” he said. He was gracious to his supporters: “If they only knew the level of energy I get when I walk in your crowd,” he said. He spoke movingly of his mother and her example as a Queens housekeeper and cook.

Adams basked in his success but said that he owed much of it to his city and country. “It is the proof that this city can live up to its promise,” he said, that a poor son of a cleaner and a butcher could become mayor. He offered himself as an inspiration to the “person cleaning bathrooms and the dishwasher in the kitchen,” the person in a homeless shelter and the person in a holding cell. “America is the only country, we are the only country on the globe where dream is attached to our name,” he said. “Damn it, there is an American dream.”

Adams spoke of New York’s diversity. “It doesn’t matter if you are in Borough Park in the Hasidic community, if you’re in Flatbush in the Korean community, if you’re in Sunset Park in the Chinese community. . . . Today we take off the intramural jersey and we put on one jersey, team New York.”

Finally, he asked New York’s better-off citizens for something. “We’re going to talk to the C.E.O.s of our city’s biggest corporations and ask them to offer paid internships to students from underserved communities.”

None of this is memorable, groundbreaking oratory—except compared with the words of his predecessor. Eight years ago, mayor-elect Bill de Blasio inherited a record-high number of jobs and a record-low crime level. Yet in his victory speech, de Blasio barely managed to crack a smile. He didn’t offer himself as a personal inspiration; he didn’t have any direct words of hope for people watching on their phones from homeless shelters or precinct holding cells.

Instead, de Blasio clung to the words of his lackluster campaign, abstract concepts seemingly cooked up by a bored grad student for a master’s thesis. “The people of this city have chosen a progressive path,” he said, woodenly. After the obligatory thanking of his wife and kids, de Blasio moved mechanically onto his already-stale “tale of two cities” theme. Without varying his tone, de Blasio said, “progressive changes won’t happen overnight, but they will happen.” De Blasio, too, had an “ask” for New York’s better off: “We call on the wealthiest among us today to pay just a little more in taxes.” Unlike Adams, he wasn’t thinking of jobs for poor youth, but a bigger city budget.

Eight years ago, de Blasio spoke of disasters that the city would have to overcome. But they were largely imagined. He had little to fret about besides “the growing inequality we see.” He warned that “there will be many obstacles that stand in our way”—but didn’t actually name any.

De Blasio had to manufacture an urban crisis as a background; Adams faces a real one. “Midtown turned into a ghost town and our parking lots became morgues,” Adams reminded New Yorkers, who don’t need reminding. “We saw the most vibrant city on earth reduced to silence.” His “three-headed crisis” of “Covid, crime, and economic devastation” is not some bloodless thesis. In fact, Adams’s only negative note was an allusion to the current office-holder. “You pay your taxes . . . and we have failed to provide those goods and services,” he said. “January 1, that stops. . . . That betrayal stops on January 1.”

Eight years ago, de Blasio made it clear that he would be accountable for nothing. He chose the passive voice: “problems . . . will not be solved overnight.” Adams, by contrast, embraced his new responsibility. “I will be the person in charge of that precinct,” he said of the police department. “I will be the mayor in charge of the entire Department of Education.”

Adams is having some fun before the deluge. After his speech, the mayor-elect, sporting a glittery blue patterned jacket, hit up private NoHo club Zero Bond. Why not bring some midnight glamour back to New York City before getting down to what will be hard and serious work? It’s more exciting than the Park Slope YMCA in the middle of a sleepy morning.

Photos: Mario Tama/Getty Images (left) / Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images (right)

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