It's His Town Now
New York magazine|October 25 - November 7, 2021
As he coasts to general-election victory, the post-technocrat, post-progressive Eric Adams mayoralty has already begun.
Text by David Freedlander

BO DIETL SAYS ON THE PHONE to come by the South Street Seaport at six, where he’ll be hosting a fund-raiser for Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee and all but assured next mayor of New York City. Dietl favors shiny suits and gold watches the size of a baby’s arm, and he was, like Adams, a New York City police officer for two decades. Unlike Adams, Dietl went into the security-and-private-investigation business. Then he made a name for himself as a loud and gruff commentator on Fox News and Don Imus’s radio show, where he once said Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, wanted to build a privacy fence around Gracie Mansion so they could “doobie-doobie-doo,” by which he meant, apparently, smoke marijuana. A longtime acquaintance of Donald Trump’s, he was encouraged to run for mayor back in 2017, first as a Democrat, then as a Republican, and, still unsuccessfully, as an independent, spending much of his time heckling “Big Bird de Blasio.”

Down at the Seaport, Dietl’s company Jeep with the words BEAU DIETL & ASSO­CIATES SECURITY AND INVESTIGATIONS written on the side (he has been hired by Fox News to dig up dirt on the women who accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment and by Steve Bannon to do the same for an ex-wife who accused him of domestic violence) is parked in front of the restaurant. Inside, the crowd looks more like the kind found in a high-roller room in Atlantic City than at a fundraiser for a Democratic politician: blonde women in cocktail dresses and half-inchtoo-high heels, men sporting two-tone collared shirts and thick pinkie rings.

Despite the personal invitation, when I get there, Dietl starts shaking his head and tells me I need to leave. I stand on the boardwalk in front of the restaurant, where I am close enough to see the guests mingle, to see donors exchange business cards with Ingrid Lewis-Martin, Adams’s top aide, and hear Dietl introduce Adams as “someone I have known for a lot of years.”

“We need a mayor who is a hero, who will bring us out of this abyss,” Dietl continues, his voice carrying outside. “We get rid of crime, real estate will go up, people will come back! Eric Adams, he will get it done—don’t listen to any bullshit!”

When Adams rises to speak, he quotes a familiar line about how we spend so much time pulling people out of the river but never go upstream to stop them from falling in. He says that he and the assembled are from the “no radio stickers–on–windshields generation” and they aren’t going back and that “I’m going to tell my police officers, ‘I have your back.’ ” He thanks Dietl, describes him as someone who “always had my back,” and tells his donors the reason he won the Democratic primary a few months before is his opponents were too timid: too scared to address the rising crime rate, too afraid to go into the neighborhoods he went into to hear the concerns of New Yorkers, too in thrall to their gatekeepers.

The next day, Dietl says kicking me out wasn’t his fault; Adams told him if there was any press there, he wouldn’t come. (Adams declined to be interviewed for this story.) Dietl knows Adams from back when the future mayor was a captain in the police force. “He is a big texter,” he tells me, explaining that he and Adams spoke before he ran. He told Adams the three big issues facing the city were “crime, crime, and crime.”

“I really, really like him,” he says. “If I can help him in any way, I am there for him.”

ALTHOUGH MAYOR DE BLASIO HAD declared the past several months the “Summer of Bill” as he wore a Hawaiian shirt and rode the roller coaster at Coney Island, it was really the summer of Eric Adams. On June 24, two days after the primary election he would win by only 7,000 votes, he held a press conference in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall declaring himself the new face of the Democratic Party. If national Democrats hope to retain their majorities in 2022 and the presidency in 2024, he warned, they should heed his example— and watch as he shows the United States of America how to run a city.

And with that, the Adams mayoralty effectively began. National Democrats rushed to embrace him. Joe Biden invited Adams down to Washington, D.C., for a meeting, and so did Nancy Pelosi. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand appeared alongside him in New York, de Blasio and then-Governor Andrew Cuomo (who have famously never agreed on anything) both declared Adams’s victory an endorsement of their point of view, and when Cuomo resigned, Kathy Hochul picked up where he left off. The city’s power brokers and media elite showered praise. “This is a great relief,” said Kathy Wylde, the head of the probusiness Partnership for New York City, days after Adams was declared the winner. “We have eight years of a mayor who was completely disparaging of wealth and business, and New York City barely survived it. Adams has been very clear that New York City needs corporations, needs the wealthy, that we have always needed them, and we don’t want to demonize them.”

In the New York Times, center-right columnist Bret Stephens has all but anointed Adams the next Democratic presidential nominee. “In New York City! Which is supposed to be the liberal icon!” Joe Scarborough has said on Morning Joe, marveling at how Adams took a tough line on crime to win. “I love this fucking guy,” said Bill Maher. “This is what the Democratic Party needs.”

Graced with a thousand-kilowatt smile, Adams, who will wrap up a noncompetitive general-election campaign on November 2, is poised be the most charismatic man to hold the job in a half-century. A natural politician, he is a favorite of Wall Street, of real estate, of the Trumpified elements that remain in New York City, as well as many of the city’s most powerful labor unions and the Black and brown working-class base of the Democratic Party. There is, in many circles, a palpable excitement about the prospect of an Adams mayoralty. You see it in the hotel workers’ union halls and along the parade route for essential workers, where Adams has been hugged, kissed, and fussed over, a kid from the other side of the tracks whose mother was a cook at an early-education center making it to City Hall. And you see it at the fundraisers in the Hamptons, on Martha’s Vineyard, and at the new Noho private club Zero Bond, where Adams has become a regular and was spotted with Paris Hilton as she celebrated her recent engagement.

“He is someone who is actually going to enjoy the job of being mayor,” says Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy at NYU and onetime adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “He is going to be a physical presence in people’s lives. It is going to be very refreshing.”

Before winning the Democratic primary, Eric Adams never had to endure a competitive election. The closest he came was in 1994, when he surprised many by challenging Major Owens, a longtime incumbent congressman and one of the most revered liberals in the House of Representatives. Owens had been critical of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, which was rising in prominence in the early 1990s, and his comments made him a target of Black talk-radio stations, in particular WLIB, then such a force in the Black community that some had credited it with helping get David Dinkins elected mayor five years prior.

Adams was best known at that point as a proud police officer and a fierce critic of the department from his perch as spokesperson for the Grand Council of Guardians, a Black officers’ fraternal organization. His story is, by any account, a remarkable one. His parents moved to New York from Alabama at a time when New York had an activist government and a broad social safety net. Adams was the fourth of six children—he likes to say his mother wore out her knees praying for him. His father worked as a butcher, and his mother was a cook at Amistad Child Care Center in South Jamaica. “Salt of the earth, down-to-earth, super-friendly, super engaging, cared for the children, and endeared herself to everyone,” recalls Dennis Wolcott, a teacher at the center back then and later schools chancellor under Bloomberg. “I can still hear Dot’s laugh. I had the greatest respect for her.”

Adams went to Bayside High School, one of the best comprehensive high schools in the city. The billionaire hedge funder John Paulson was a few years ahead of him; Jordan Belfort, of The Wolf of Wall Street fame, a few years behind. (It is also the school where the members of Anthrax met.) Adams has said he had undiagnosed dyslexia. He went on to John Jay College and earned a master’s degree from Marist College in public administration, but the real story of his life happened, he says, at age 15, when he was arrested along with his brother and beaten up by officers back at the precinct. He got involved with a youth group led by the Reverend Herbert Daughtry, a politically engaged Black activist and preacher who encouraged young people to join the police force even as it was terrorizing their communities.

“Law enforcement was acting as our enemy. What I was asking was a tall order,” says Daughtry. “I was telling these young men to join an organization that was killing young people, that you need to show the world what it was like to be a good cop, and you need to go inside this organization and find out why they have such hatred and resentment of people of African ancestry.” Adams, Daughtry recalls, would provide security at the church’s youth events. “He attached himself to us, but he understood what was being asked of him and he had something inside of him. I think that is why he is the mayor. He was willing to go into the lion’s den.”

Inside the department, Adams became known less for his police work and more for his activism. To his detractors in the brass, he was more interested in self-promotion than in the cause of reform. To his supporters, he was the savvy counter to the harsh policing practices of the 1980s and ’90s and a fierce advocate for Black officers. He served as a personal bodyguard to the Reverend Al Sharpton, traveled with a group of police officers to Indiana to escort Mike Tyson from prison following his rape conviction, and was blamed by some for contributing to Dinkins’s loss to Rudy Giuliani in 1993 when Adams criticized Herman Badillo, Giuliani’s running mate, for marrying a Jewish woman instead of a Puerto Rican, comments that caused days of controversy for Dinkins. (Adams went on to say, “We are going to have to arm ourselves with the ballot to ensure that these forces of evil do not come into office, or we’re going to have to consider arming ourselves with bullets to prevent the lynchmob mentality that is coming from this kind of Republican administration.”)

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