Eric Adams’s Win Is a ‘Watershed Moment’ for Black Leaders in New York

Black candidates are poised to occupy some of New York’s top elected offices, including those of mayor, public advocate and two of the city’s five district attorneys.

A cascade of victories for Black candidates in the New York City Democratic primaries — highlighted by Eric Adams’s win in the mayoral race — is redefining the flow of political power in the nation’s largest city.

For just the second time in its history, New York City is on track to have a Black mayor. For the first time ever, the Manhattan district attorney is set to be a Black man, after Alvin Bragg won the Democratic nomination. The city’s public advocate, who is Black, cruised to victory in last month’s primary. As many as three of the five city borough presidents may be people of color, and the City Council is poised to be notably diverse.

“This is a mission-driven movement,” Mr. Adams said in Harlem last weekend, at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters. “If you don’t sit back and rejoice in this moment, shame on you. Shame on you. One of your own is going to move to become the mayor of the most important city in the most important country on the globe.”

If Mr. Adams and Mr. Bragg win their general elections as expected, they will become among the most influential elected Black officials in the state, joining the state attorney general, Letitia James; the State Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins; and Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie.

Black Democrats also claimed two new congressional wins last year in New York City: Representatives Ritchie Torres, who identifies as Afro-Latino, in the South Bronx; and Jamaal Bowman, who defeated the longtime congressman Eliot Engel, in a district covering parts of the Bronx and Westchester County.

Their success was repeated by Black candidates across the highest levels of city government this year, who were often propelled in part by strong support among Black voters.

“Twitter has its place in modern-day campaigning — however, if you’re more comfortable online than in a Black church on Sunday morning, that says something about your likelihood of success,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, New York’s highest-ranking House Democrat, who may become the first Black speaker of the House.

“Black New Yorkers are under siege by rising crime and intense housing displacement,” Mr. Jeffries said. “Our community is closest to the pain, and therefore Black candidates are uniquely positioned to speak powerfully to the needs of working-class New Yorkers.”

Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Mr. Adams won on the strength of more moderate, working-class Black and Latino voters, as well as some centrist white voters outside of Manhattan, with assists from labor unions, his own strong fund-raising and super PAC spending. He ran on a message focused on combating inequality and promoting public safety, and he supported a more expansive role for the police than some of his rivals did.

Donovan Richards, the Queens borough president who is narrowly leading in his re-election battle, called Mr. Adams’s primary victory and those of other Black candidates a “watershed moment” — one that will help determine whether issues of improving infrastructure, public safety and schools can be achieved equitably in a city shaped by deep racial and socioeconomic disparities.

“We had a Black president before we had our second Black mayor, so it’s our time,” Mr. Richards said, recalling the excitement he felt as an elementary school student when David N. Dinkins, the city’s first Black mayor, was elected more than three decades ago.

Other diverse American cities, from Detroit to Kansas City, Mo., have elected more Black mayors than New York City has, while cities including Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta are led by Black women. Los Angeles, like New York, has had just one Black mayor.

But the results in New York this summer, especially at the top of the ticket, underscored the central role Black voters play both in city politics and in the national Democratic Party, less than a year after Black Americans played decisive roles in electing President Biden and flipping the Senate to the Democrats. Some have likened Mr. Adams’s coalition, at least in part, to the one that propelled Mr. Biden to the presidency, a comparison both Mr. Adams and the White House chief of staff have embraced.

Black voters were also vital to the Democratic efforts to reclaim the Senate, a goal that came down to two victories in Georgia. And in New York, Black voters played a significant role in electing Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2013 (though his coalition also included far more white progressives than Mr. Adams’s did).

There was little exit polling available on the New York City mayor’s race, but surveys from other years showed that Black voters were not the majority of the electorate. Still, Black voters are among the most reliable voters in the Democratic Party, and the sparse polling data that was available during the primary showed that Mr. Adams was the overwhelming favorite of those voters — meaning that they packed a more unified electoral punch than other constituencies whose preferences were spread more evenly among several contenders.

“The Democratic Party can’t win anything of significance without Black voters,” said Leah Daughtry, a longtime party strategist. “You have, with every passing cycle, an increasing awareness and acceptance that we make a difference.”

She suggested that Mr. Adams’s victory — which disappointed the most left-wing forces in the city — may prompt a reassessment of what it means to be “progressive” in New York.

“Is it that Black and brown people are not as progressive as some people want to say they are, or does the definition of ‘progressive’ need to be looked at?” said Ms. Daughtry, whose father, the Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry, was an early mentor of Mr. Adams’s.

Mr. Adams’s relatively moderate message on policing was plainly a significant factor with a substantial number of voters. But his win was driven by dynamics that go well beyond ideology, including a sense among some New Yorkers that Mr. Adams not only felt their pain, but had lived it.

The slate of other Black candidates who won their primaries represents considerable generational and political diversity. Jumaane D. Williams, the city’s public advocate and one of New York’s most prominent younger left-wing leaders, stressed that those results show that voters of color “aren’t a monolith.”

“Voters of all hues want to be respected for their lived experiences and their traumas,” said Mr. Williams, who easily won his primary last month, and may be considering a run for higher office. “They want to feel safe and have all of the access to as good a life as they can and they want to see this city reopened with justice and equity.”

Mr. Torres, who backed Andrew Yang’s mayoral campaign, supported Mr. Adams as his second pick under the city’s ranked-choice voting system. He said the success of ideologically diverse Black contenders was a function of candidate quality, highlighting the deep and growing bench of candidates of color across the city.

“That’s the only variable that explains the widely varied ideological results of the 2021 election cycle,” the congressman said. “It speaks to the caliber of the next generation of Black public figures.”

Another through line for several of the successful contenders was their ability to connect their personal stories to some of the most searing challenges facing Black New Yorkers. Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Bragg speak in strikingly personal terms about the need to combat both police brutality and gun violence that has disproportionately affected neighborhoods with many Black and Latino residents.

Mr. Adams has said he was beaten by police as a teenager. He later joined the police force, pushing to combat misconduct from within the system. Mr. Bragg has described a police officer putting a gun to his head when he was a teenager — and he cast himself as the candidate best positioned to tackle criminal justice reform from the powerful prosecutor’s office.

“It’s not just having a first Black district attorney in Manhattan, but the experiences that for me have gone along with that,” Mr. Bragg said in an interview, ticking through his own encounters with the law enforcement system.

Despite the historic results, racial tensions seeped into some of the contests. Mr. Adams’s allies claimed without evidence that an alliance between Mr. Yang and Kathryn Garcia, who finished second to Mr. Adams by one point, could amount to suppression of Black and Latino voters. And as ballots were being counted for the Queens borough presidency, Mr. Richards wrote on Twitter that his chief rival, Elizabeth Crowley, was “racist.”

“Throughout this campaign I faced the dog whistles and microaggressions and I couldn’t talk about it because people would say I was trying to use race to my advantage in the race,” Mr. Richards later said.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Ms. Crowley decried “slanderous and untruthful remarks made by one of my opponents” and said she was “proud of the campaign of inclusion and optimism that we ran.”

Whatever the result in that race, Mr. Richards and others said that while they were buoyed by Mr. Adams’s victory, his path — he was the first choice of every borough but Manhattan — illustrated stark divides in the city.

Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

“If you look at the demographic maps from this election it paints a very scary story,” Mr. Richards said, adding, “As diverse as we are, we are still a divided city.”

For many Black leaders, Mr. Adams’s election is both a vindication and cause to wonder what might have been.

Keith L.T. Wright, the chair of New York County Democrats, worked for Mr. Dinkins when he was the Manhattan borough president. For decades, Mr. Wright has harbored “extreme resentment” that Mr. Dinkins did not win a second term.

“Can you imagine if David had two terms? The gentrification problem would not be as serious,” Mr. Wright said. “If he had gotten his hands on the Board of Education we would not have the educational inequality problem we have right now.”

Maya Wiley — who would have been the city’s first Black female mayor, but came in third — has said that the diversity of the mayoral field, as well as Mr. Adams’s win, would have implications for shaping perceptions of a suitable leader.

“It shows that we have a pipeline of people of color, particularly Black people, who can run and contest effectively in our important executive offices,” she said. “I don’t think this is a one-time phenomenon. This is really about our democratic process opening up.”

Source: Elections -


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