As Troubles Pile On Adams, Foes Begin to Circle
By EMMA G. FITZSIMMONS and JEFFERY C. MAYS
If Mayor Eric Adams were in search of evidence that his recent spate of troubles had cost him some standing in New York, he would not need to look far.
The city comptroller, Brad Lander, recently restricted the mayor’s spending powers on the migrant crisis, and has playfully alluded to the F.B.I.’s investigation of Mr. Adams’s fund-raising in his own pitch to donors.
The City Council is preparing to fight the mayor over his painful budget cuts to city services and could soon override his objection to banning solitary confinement in city jails. Even his friend, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is eyeing his job.
The reasons for the discontent surrounding Mr. Adams are plenty. He faces a federal investigation into his campaign fundraising, and widespread criticism over his handling of the migrant crisis. He was named in a legal claim accusing him of sexual assault in 1993 and he made unpopular budget cuts to the police, schools and libraries.
The extent of his unpopularity was quantified last week in a stunning Quinnipiac University poll: Only 28 percent of New Yorkers approve of the job Mr. Adams is doing, the lowest for any New York City mayor in a Quinnipiac poll since it began surveying the city in 1996.
Mr. Adams has not been accused of wrongdoing in the F.B.I. investigation, and he is hardly the first mayor who has faced an investigation: His predecessor, Bill de Blasio, also faced an inquiry into his campaign’s finances. But the political world remains abuzz about his future, especially after the F.B.I. seized his cellphones on the street.
One political consulting firm was so curious to know how far the mayor’s star had fallen that it commissioned its own poll to ask New Yorkers who they would support in a special election if Mr. Adams resigned.
“We’re in a period of enormous political uncertainty,” said Evan Roth Smith, a founding partner at Slingshot Strategies. He added: “A special election is far from a certainty, but it’s clearly a possibility.”
The poll found that Mr. Cuomo would be the most popular candidate at 22 percent, followed by the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, at 15 percent. Kathryn Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner who finished second in the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary, came in third at 12 percent.
On Saturday, Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the mayor, criticized the new poll.
“Mayor Adams was voted into office to fight for working New Yorkers,” Mr. Levy said, “and he will keep fighting for them as mayor no matter what any wildly skewed polls or his political opponents say, and no matter what other arrow of injustice is aimed his way. Attempting to tear down the city’s second Black mayor for blatant political purposes is shameful.”
Mr. Adams, famously known for his swagger, has appeared chastened in recent weeks, and has seemed on the defensive.
His aides immediately responded to the Quinnipiac poll by calling it “misleading” and sending out a torrent of book blurb-like hosannas of the mayor — some with nearly identical wording — from loyalists like Representative Adriano Espaillat, a key Dominican American power broker, and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar.
Rob Speyer, the chief executive of the real estate investment firm Tishman Speyer, praised Mr. Adams’s “hustle and successes.” Steven Rubenstein, chairman of the Association for a Better New York, called the mayor a “champion for all New Yorkers.” The mayor’s stalwarts included other business and union leaders, a signal to potential challengers that the mayor still enjoys broad support from some of the city’s most influential constituencies.
At a recent town hall meeting in East Harlem, Mr. Adams addressed his weaknesses head on. He started the event by addressing “two tough issues that you have been reading about,” and told the crowd that he did not break the law by helping the Turkish Consulate and that he did not sexually assault a woman who filed a legal claim against him for an episode she said happened in 1993.
“You know my character,” he said. “You know what I stand for.”
In most mayoral election cycles in New York, Democratic incumbents are virtually untouchable. But amid Mr. Adams’s problems, more Democrats are weighing potential candidacies — either when Mr. Adams faces re-election in 2025, or in the case of a special election if he were to resign or be forced from office.
One past Adams donor, Jean Shafiroff, the wife of a prominent banker, said that she was waiting to see what happens with the F.B.I. investigation and the sexual assault allegation before participating in any more fund-raisers. She said that she works on women’s rights issues and felt conflicted.
“It’s difficult for me right now, as much as I believe the mayor is innocent,” she said in a phone interview on Friday from Miami where she was attending the Art Basel art event.
Mr. Cuomo has spoken to people about potentially running for mayor under the right circumstances, according to three people who have spoken to him and who were granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Mr. Cuomo’s allies have insisted that the former governor would consider running for mayor only if Mr. Adams was no longer in the race. Mr. Cuomo resigned as governor in 2021 after facing a series of sexual harassment allegations which he has denied.
“He is not going to run against the mayor,” Charlie King, a Democratic strategist who is close to Mr. Cuomo, said in an interview.
Matt Wing, a former adviser to Ms. Garcia, signaled that she might be open to running, saying in a statement: “In the chaos of a special election, New York City will need stability over political spectacle. And there’s only one leader in the potential field ready to meet the moment with competence, character and deep-rooted city management experience, which is perhaps why Kathryn stands out.”
Scott Stringer, a former city comptroller whose bid for mayor in 2021 was derailed by sexual misconduct allegations, has had conversations with former staffers about moving quickly to run in a special election, according to a person who was familiar with the matter.
When Mr. Adams took office two years ago, he was heralded as a national Democratic star and a moderate who made a compelling case for improving public safety. He called himself the “Biden of Brooklyn.”
President Biden, who once counted the mayor as a trusted ally, has not spoken to Mr. Adams in months, and his aides and allies now view the mayor as a grandstanding opportunist because he publicly criticized the White House for not providing enough help to the city to deal with the migrant crisis.
Now, as the mayor faces questions about his management ability, even his agenda seems more uncertain.
On Monday, City Council leaders will hold an oversight hearing to scrutinize the mayor’s cuts to the Police Department, schools and libraries. They are hoping to reverse some of the cuts and to find ways to raise additional revenue.
Progressive leaders say that the mayor’s low approval rating shows that his budget cuts are unpopular, and they are hoping to capitalize on his weakened political position by pushing to raise taxes on the wealthy.
“What we hear from this poll is that New Yorkers are asking elected officials to invest in a progressive agenda — affordable housing, schools, sanitation, libraries,” said Ana María Archila, a state director of the Working Families Party, which has had conversations with left-leaning candidates about running against Mr. Adams.
Later this month, the mayor may face a battle with the City Council over solitary confinement in city jails. Mr. Adams has threatened to veto a ban, arguing that it would put correction officers in harm’s way. But Mr. Williams and City Council leaders have pushed forward with a bill, saying that the practice is torture.
The City Council may vote on the ban at its Dec. 20 meeting, and likely has enough votes to override a veto, should the mayor choose to do so. Mr. Adams’s first major veto in June — aimed to stop a housing bill that expanded a rental voucher program — was overridden by the Council.
That rental voucher expansion is nearing a Jan. 9 deadline for implementation, and leaders in the City Council are contemplating suing the Adams administration because they believe it is intentionally not moving forward with the plan, according to Council officials.
Diana Ayala, the deputy speaker of the City Council who is considering running for mayor, said that Mr. Adams had undermined the Council and refused to work with leadership to address the city’s many crises.
“He’s arrogant, and that arrogance is not helpful,” she said.
Shahana Hanif, a chair of the Council’s progressive caucus, said that Council members were becoming more comfortable challenging the mayor given his issues.
“These incidents are emboldening our colleagues to feel like this is a mayor who doesn’t have his campaign, personal life, nor the city’s best interests at heart,” Ms. Hanif said. “He is a mess.”
Perhaps the most telling sign of Mr. Adams’s diminished stature can be seen in the recent responses of Mr. Lander, the city comptroller and another possible mayoral candidate. He recently curtailed Mr. Adams’s ability to quickly spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the migrant crisis.
Earlier this year, Mr. Adams openly mocked Mr. Lander’s voice and his left-leaning politics at news conferences. Now Mr. Lander has returned the favor in a recent fund-raising email, chiding the mayor for his campaign’s ties to the Turkish government.
“Turkey should have a special place on your Thanksgiving table,” Mr. Lander’s fund-raising email said. “And that’s the only kind of special treatment that Turkey should have in New York City.”
Several prominent Democrats in New York are considering running for mayor.
New York Times