The Corporate Agenda and Toxic Identity Politics of Eric Adams

 “The Black [corporate] elected official is essentially a vicar for a higher authority, a necessary buffer between the Black majority and the capitalist state, a kind of modern voodoo priest, smelling of incense, pomp, and pedigree, who promises much but delivers nothing.” – How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America, Manning Marable

Eric Adams, the former NYPD Officer of 22 years and current Brooklyn Borough President who won the Democratic Party mayoral primary this past June, is primed to become the second Black mayor of New York City, following David Dinkins (1990-93).

This November 2nd, Adams will defeat the Republican mayoral candidate, conservative and right-wing demagogue Curtis Silwa, quite handily. Following last year’s national and international rebellion against the brutal murder of George Floyd and the ascendancy of popular demands to defund and abolish the police, the ruling elite had to confront this new militancy. A new generation of radicalized youth, activists, and organizers advanced defunding the police in order to provide funding for critical social and public services that have been picked to the bone by the profit-driven vultures of neoliberal capitalism and now COVID-19.

Big business and their two-party system have sought to quell this generation’s righteous anger, which will no longer tolerate any form of oppression and exploitation towards Black workers, women, the environment, and LGBTQIA+ people.

Big business has utilized the carrot of donating or pledging $2 billion to NGO racial justice organizations/prominent figures, false promises to defund the police, and inclusion/diversity programs throughout corporate America. But we have also witnessed the stick, with vile examples of law enforcement violence to belittle protesters with mass arrests, the deployment of chemical weapons, and outright brutality in the course of the rebellion across the country.

These weapons of mass destruction and distraction by big business and law enforcement are meant to impede the possibilities of building a sustained, independent grassroots mass movement against racial oppression, law enforcement terror, and ultimately the capitalist social order.

The ascendency of Eric Adams follows the convoluted rhetorical left-populism of Bill de Blasio, who famously campaigned in 2013 to address the “Tale of Two Cities” in NYC. Today, New York is even more unequal, a devastating critique of de Blasio’s reign. Adams’ rise, which should be alarming to the broader segments of the working class, poor, and youth, is rooted in the crisis of big business and the lack of popular support for the institutions of capitalism in New York City. The absence of a coherent left working-class movement, with leadership and organization rooted in our labor movement and communities, is profoundly apparent as working people in the city continue to struggle with the fundamental issues of precarity, lack of jobs, and housing. 

With the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) being by far the largest left formation in NYC and throughout the state, it is unfortunate that no socialist candidate from their ranks was prepared to take on the power of the NYC political and economic elite by challenging Adams. Even if unsuccessful, with DSA’s not-insignificant electoral machine, such a candidate would have afforded NYC’s working class a left electoral chance to cast their discontent with the parties of Wall Street. Such a campaign could have also served as an organizing center for the pressing social and political struggles workers and youth face and which could be the foundation to build a sustained grassroots movement. Despite their significant electoral victories in the state legislature and city council, a sustained mass movement with independent organization, militant leadership, and program remains absent and very much needed in this period of capitalist crisis.

Eric Adams’ incoming mayoralty in 2022 speaks to this profound crisis that demands a further critical examination.

The Rise of the Dark Knight 

According to his own self-mythologizing, the main reason Eric Adams was driven to become a law enforcement officer was the brutal beating he received at 15 years of age in 1976, alongside his brother, by police in the basement of a precinct in Queens where he grew up. Adams sought to change the system from within a stark counter to the radical consciousness of Black youth of the previous era who rejected racism and capitalism. By 1976, the radical elements of the Black freedom movement were on the decline due to governmental attack, public assassination, imprisonment, and social alienation. At the same time, we also witnessed the rise of a Black middle-class layer with deeper ties to big business and the two-party system, specifically the Democratic Party and Black political and social conservatism.

Eric Adams’ political ambitions began early in his law enforcement career as he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress after a few years wearing the NYPD blue. As the founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, Adams’ years as a law enforcement officer in the 1980s through the 90s were fraught with challenges to the department’s internal culture and racism. Adams also staked out carefully crafted political positions, for example opposing then right-wing mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Stop and Frisk program. After Adams’ ostensible project to change policing from the inside, however, it must be noted that today Rudy Giuliani, notoriously known as Donald Trump’s lawyer, announced his support for Adams during the primaries as if he were the last hope for the city. Adams has now come out in support of a revised and “legally” applied version of the Stop and Frisk program that grabbed local and national headlines for terrorizing communities of color and youth throughout the city under former mayor and billionaire, Michael Bloomberg. Adams has also stated that he intends to bring back the notorious plain clothes officers’ Anti-Crime unit in a “reformed” manner. (The Anti-Crime unit was shut down last year as part of the political elite’s concession to the mass social explosion folllowing the murder of George Floyd.)

Adams’ policing policies and tough on crime stance will mirror elements of the 20 years of Giuliani and Bloomberg. As NYC’s big business and political elites attempt to control this politically combustible and economically unstable period, it’s no wonder they’ve lined up behind Giuliani-endorsed Bloomberg-in-Black-face: Eric Adams.

During the Democratic party primaries, it became clear that Adams would run to the right of his challengers, ripping a page out of the two-party system’s playbook of pathologizing Black and Latino youth and their mistrust of the NYPD. Adams played on the fears of “rising” crime rates and the emergence of a radical consciousness during the George Floyd rebellion in Black and Latino working-class communities to garner deeper support. As Paul Pakler recently wrote for Socialist Alternative New York City: 

However, in June [2021], the month of the primary, NYPD’s own crime statistics showed that shootings and murders in New York City were down compared year-over-year. Shooting incidents in the city were down nearly 20%. Murder was down over 23%. And the number of shooting victims was down 26%. Although one could argue the exact number in the uptick in murders in the past year, which sits around an increase of 25%, one can in no uncertain terms lay the blame for this on “Defund the Police,” which had little to no concrete success in actually cutting police budgets. One may instead point to the once-in-a-century pandemic, and the economic fallout that followed, as a culprit for the rise in urban violence. The system does not prevent violence, and it surely doesn’t provide public safety. We have witnessed time and again the way that “law enforcement” enforces some of the laws for some of the people some of the time. The lack of economic opportunities and desperation are the major motivators for violent crime and theft.”

Eric Adams won over Black and Latino voters in every borough in New York City. He weaponized crime rates, false charges of racism, and corporate identity politics against mayoral hopefuls Andrew Yang and Kathryn Garcia. Yang and Garcia teamed up to cut across Adams’ lead during NYC’s first endeavor using ranked-choice voting. Adams’ invoked the language and bloody legacy of the “poll tax” and “voter suppression” during the Jim/Jane Crow years following the end of the radical Republican reconstruction period in the 19th century that ushered slavery by another name in the south for over 90 years. 

Adams’s charge fell flat among more radical activists as he cynically attempted to use his skin tone and the systemic oppression of Black workers and youth under capitalism and racial oppression to garner more significant support and sympathy in the Black community. Adams claimed Yang and Garcia attempted to “steal” the election.

But the absence of a militant and independent workers movement with radical Black workers and youth at the center to explain the corporate politics of Eric Adams coherently and patiently is a tragedy. That lack of left-wing, grassroots leadership left genuine layers of Black and Latino workers, families, and elderly people with legitimate concerns and questions about the state of their communities, New York City, and its direction. As a consequence they voted for Adams in overwhelming numbers.

The question we must ask is, who does Eric Adams serve: the Black working-class or Wall Street? We must be clear; being part of the same skin folk alone doesn’t make you kinfolk.

Wall Street Has A New Servant For Their Agenda

“New York will no longer be anti-business.”- Eric Adams

What interesting bedfellows do corporate politics produce? Eric Adams has received the endorsement and mayoral guidance from the former three-term mayor and billionaire, Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg has hosted several meetings and fundraisers for Adams, and both are former Republicans. This partnership speaks to what is in store for the working class and poor. Adams’ political endorsements from Rudy Giuliani and especially Michael Bloomberg indicate that the priorities, whims, and profits of New York’s corporate elite will come first before the needs of the working class, poor, and oppressed.

While Adams highlights the need for affordable housing in his general election campaign television ad, he is simultaneously a happy recipient of significant donations from real estate titans and big business, which is a profound contradiction. (Adams has amassed a powerful electoral war chest of $7.9 million over this election cycle.) Adams has also found himself entangled in several scandals around his taxes, homes, fundraising tactics, and dirty deals in Albany when he was a New York state senator promoting his brand and career as a corporate politician. When asked about his scandals and fundraising tactics, he again uses the race card to deflect from his shadowy business dealings. As an example of Adams’ utilization of corporate identity politics, he has stated that “Black candidates for office are often held to a higher, unfair standard — especially those from lower-income backgrounds such as myself….” While this is undoubtedly true for Black politicians, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to cover up nefarious corporate ties which will inevitably have negative consequences for the Black workers (and all workers) they represent. All politicians should be held to the same high standard regardless of background.  

In recent days Eric Adams has come out in support of maintaining the divisive Gifted and Talented entry-level tests that outgoing mayor Bill de Blasio stands against despite having had eight years to address this unequal program in the NYC public school system that benefits white and Asian families with greater access and resources than poorer families. Adams’ support contradicts de Blasio’s 11th hour decision as he attempts to solidify support among more middle-class and wealthy voters.  

Adams’ potential mayorship will use many political approaches with law-and-order overtones, toxic Black-corporatist identity politics, and populist rhetoric to disarm and confuse many workers and youth.

From Defund to Refund Law Enforcement

Amid the mass youth and working-class rebellion following George Floyd’s murder by law enforcement officer Derek Chauvin, the cry to defund and abolish the police was echoed throughout the nation. There were modest shifts in law enforcement budgetary priorities or empty promises in several major cities like New York and Minneapolis to defund the police. The national Black misleadership class and Democratic Party played a dastardly role by directing the justified rage of millions into safe channels like advocating for Black capitalism and entrepreneurship. This effort was led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, like Black South Carolina congressman Jim Clyburn, alongside Barack Obama and Eric Adams, who outright attacked demands like defunding the police.

The open attacks on the defund demand by big business and the two-party system, and the overall weakness of the post-George Floyd movement with its lack of coherent leadership, organization, and working-class approach to clarify the demand among ordinary working people, families, and youth, left the demand to defund the police in a weakened and disoriented position. It became a demand popular among activists but not broader layers of the working-class, specifically among Black and Latino workers.

One year since the rebellion, we have witnessed a total reversal of the defund demand into calls for refunding law enforcement. As the New York Times stated in a recent article: 

In cities across America, police departments are getting their money back. From New York to Los Angeles, departments that saw their funding targeted amid nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd last year have watched as local leaders voted for increases in police spending, with an additional $200 million allocated to the New York Police Department and a 3 percent boost given to the Los Angeles force.”

Big business and nationwide law enforcement organizations have aimed to remedy their political and institutional crisis from 2020. Temporary concessions were made to the mood and consciousness of the radicalized youth and workers during the rebellion, but now the argument for refunding law enforcement is being driven by the pressures of losing officers alongside supposedly increased crime rates. Today, big business and law enforcement are making it very clear they will defend the system of capitalism and its institutions by any means necessary.

Organizing in the Era of Eric Adams

The task of building a sustained, grassroots, working-class and youth-led mass movement with a politically coherent leadership, democratic organization, and a straightforwardly broad working-class approach to challenge the corporate and toxic identity politics of Eric Adams is vital. A movement will have to rest on the historical and traditional methods of social struggle led by New York’s working-class, radical labor movement, socialist, and youth that made NYC a unique city that ushered in landmark social programs, housing justice campaigns, and workers’ rights victories throughout the 20th century. 

We are still facing a weak economy and the ravages of COVID-19 in the most impoverished communities in NYC. We are still facing housing evictions, mass unemployment, and questions about the direction of the city. We still have significant questions and struggles around Rikers Island and the proposed smaller jails in the boroughs. In the context of these accumulating crises which disproportionately affect Black, Latino, and working class communities, we could see a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter banner pushed into action by the policing policies of the Adams administration. The enactment and effects of those policies on working-class communities, specifically among young people of color, could be explosive.

We will have a new City Council with some DSA-backed candidates, led by Tiffany Cabán from Astoria, Queens, entering the City Council. This is an excellent opportunity to build a viable socialist movement as the backbone to any struggle in the city to confront Eric Adams’ corporate agenda.

Eric Adams has made it very clear he has his sights on defeating the socialist movement, specifically naming figures like AOC and DSA in campaign speeches as threats that must be curtailed in the city. 

There is a rich history of the radical socialist movement in NYC. In recent years we have seen a resurgence of socialist ideas and organizing, but it will have to find a pathway to working-class communities in general and communities of color in particular. The only way for the socialist movement to make inroads among working people is for our organizing and analysis to be rooted in understanding their consciousness and mood on the issues that matter to them like healthcare, jobs, unemployment, childcare, and law enforcement violence. Developing a radical program and working-class approach that seeks to win material gains for the workers, youth, and oppressed through intense social struggle and organizing is urgently needed.

DSA and its elected members in the city council and state legislature are well positioned to lead a fightback against Adams and corporate power. But for the fightback to be effective and sustained, DSA NYC must break away from the dead-end politics of the Democratic Party, the mortician, grave digger, and graveyard of all social movements. Socialist Alternative NYC is prepared to join in with genuine forces among the labor movement, youth, anti-racist activists, civic, and religious organizations who want to organize, mobilize and agitate around building a grassroots mass movement of the working-class, poor, and oppressed. 

There will be challenges forthcoming, but the conscious building of a working-class political alternative and socialist program to confront the corporate agenda and toxic identity politics of an Eric Adams administration is paramount to dismantling the dictatorship of Wall Street and, ultimately, capitalism.