New York City Mayor Eric Adams host a a reception celebrating the heritage and culture of the Puerto Rican community at Gracie Mansion on Thursday, June 9, 2022. Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Politicking. Part one: Former NYPD cops enter into the political arena

4 mins read

In one of the country’s most controversial institutions, a cop won NYC mayoral elections. There might be more.

A tumultuous 2020 saw the shooting deaths of Breonna Taylor, then George Floyd, further escalate the historical tension between Black citizens and the police. Nationwide, demonstrations took over cities for months. Within these protests, the call for law enforcement accountability, and in some cases, the defunding of police budgets reverberated throughout rallies. Included in long-standing turbulent relationships was the one between the City of New York Police Department (NYPD) and the New York City (NYC) community, who are majorly people of color. 

Irrespective of the animosity towards law enforcement, Eric Adams, a 20-year NYPD veteran and Brooklyn native won the mayoral campaign. His landslide victory against conservative activist and radio talk show host, Curtis Sliwa, showed overwhelming support across socioeconomic and racial lines. So much so, the former Brooklyn Borough President who retired as a police captain, may now be considering a 2024 presidential run.

“[New York] City is low key on fire. Rent is soaring, people are starving. So, I think [Mayor Adams] is a familiar face who brings comfort, one of us,” says Bronx native and current inhabitant Sheana Stokes. She continues, “Yes he was a cop, but I think he had a greater turnout because everyone was so sick of [the politicians] who came before him.”

In spite of the NYPD’s troubled past, some can see how a cop like Mayor Adams may have won. He stands in the political gray area between Black and white populations. A previous Democrat-turned-Republican who then switched back to Democratic party lines, Mayor Adams is a Black vegan from around the way. He has a mètier for public speaking with a focus on public safety and a penchant towards big real estate development. While being an unapologetic opponent of Black Lives Matter, he is a proud and ardent supporter of law enforcement, which many take to be a Blue Lives Matter advocate. 

Somehow, his many left-leaning supporters overlooked his previous job title amid terrible misconduct, and bad press, for police. Yet, Susan Kang says his relatability is more of the answer. Kang is an associate professor of political science at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice where Mayor Adams received his bachelor’s degree

She explains, “I think that Eric Adams–by really emphasizing his identity as a working-class, Black person in New York who came from modest means, who made his way up through the ladder of public service–really spoke to a lot of the constituency concerns of a lot of voters.” 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams host a a reception celebrating the heritage and culture of the Puerto Rican community at Gracie Mansion on Thursday, June 9, 2022. Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

New York City is composed of five boroughs–Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. The new mayor’s hometown of Brooklyn is the second largest, yet arguably most popular, especially when you ask a Brooklynite. In all, NYC voters’ major concerns run the gamut of social inequities such as public safety, economic issues , eviction and gentrification. Even voter suppression is a glaring problem. Particularly, in minority-dense districts affected by newly drawn lines in the proverbial sand. Minorities, many of whom are immigrants, makeup about 68 percent of the city’s population.

For these residents, this could mean another four years of government neglect regarding increasing crime, housing, income, and discriminatory policing among other issues. At a time where “the public starts to think all law enforcement officers are bad and we are the enemy,” Officer Kyle Hamlett thinks civilians should be able to approach any law enforcement officer without fear or intimidation.

For Officer Hamlett who works in the New York Metro area, Mayor Adams “happens to be a former law enforcement officer, [who] was selected to become the next mayor of New York City to help repair the relationships with the community.” 

On the other hand, the Gotham City head has not gone without criticism. Prof. Kang says Mayor Adams’ narrow win was difficult to categorize because multiple, impressive candidates shared similar identity politics, or “affected reasons,” with constituents. Like queer New Yorican, Queens native, and 22nd District city councilwoman Tiffany Caban. Or, Black lawyer and civil rights activist, Maya Wiley. Yet, it was not enough to win against Mayor Adams. 

Plainly said, locals may have voted for the NYC mayor because he is a bridge between the institution and the people. A bridge between social identities that many, including officers on the other side of the political pendulum also have. As evidenced by Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin’s selection for lieutenant governor–another NYPD alum, former Deputy Inspector, Alison Esposito

Alison Esposito at the New York State Young Republicans March 2022. Photo credit: Wikimedia

The fellow Brooklyn native, who is openly lesbian, is heavily backed along party lines, although its its most conservative sector has a history of  pushing  anti-gay rhetoric and legislation. Also, Esposito has no formal elected political experience. Even so, she could likely become the first GOP nominee for the position since 2002 to not have any political experience.  If the duo wins, they would be the first Republican team to take the governor’s office in twenty years. 

Nonetheless, Mayor Adams’ win shows that a demographically diverse range of balloters may very well continue to vote for former police officers as leaders of their constituencies. This, despite the miles-long history of career-ending misconduct between the NYPD and minority residents, of whom make up much of  his hometown of Brooklyn. 

Regardless of the fractured pasts between cops, politicians and civilians, there are New Yorkers rooting for a better city. “I don’t know if [Adams] is the best man for the job, but he is certainly palatable to the public,” Stokes tells Ark Republic. If Mayor Adams carries out a successful administration, he might be the beginning of voters gradually seeing more police entering into  the political terrain.

This story is part one of, Politicking, a 4-part series that is part of a fellowship funded by Center for Community Media at the Newmark J-School.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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