The contest to become New York City’s next mayor effectively ended early this summer, when Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams won the Democratic primary.
But on Wednesday night, Adams shared a stage with the Republican nominee, Curtis Sliwa, a founder of the Guardian Angels and media personality, for their first debate. The event was less a showdown over who will win the election on November 2, when Adams is expected to romp to victory, than a chance for the moderators and Sliwa to cross-examine the future mayor.
Adams, as he’s done on the trail, largely refused to engage directly with Sliwa, whom he has described as an unserious candidate. Sliwa took his shots, questioning Adams’ credibility, jabbing him for being mean to Andrew Yang during the Democratic primary — “a great candidate who you besmirched every opportunity you had” — and railing against the city political establishment.
Still, when it came to some of the thornier issues he will face at the beginning of next year, Adams offered some new insight into how he will govern and faced questions that underscored the depth of the challenges facing the first American city to be devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Adams backs new de Blasio city worker vaccine mandate — mostly
Adams and Sliwa are both vaccinated against Covid-19, but they disagreed on whether and to what extent the city should mandate that workers and, in the future, young students get the shot.
Adams pledged to “follow the science” when it came to vaccines for students 5 to 11 years of age and that the requirement for those schoolchildren would only come into effect following full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. He also suggested that a “remote option” could be made available for students who choose not to get vaccinated.
The Democrat left less leeway for city workers, who will come under a full mandate, according to a new order from outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Adams said he agreed with the decision but tweaked de Blasio for not engaging more with union leaders before announcing the decision.
Sliwa opposes vaccine mandates for young students and city workers.
Law and order takes center stage
Adams and Sliwa each focused their campaigns on public safety and policing. Adams framed concerns over crime as an existential problem for a city desperate to lure back tourists and former residents who fled during the depths of Covid-19’s first wave.
So it was a reversal of sorts when Sliwa, during the debate, attacked Adams for being too soft on crime and inadequately supportive of the police department. Adams, a retired NYPD captain, laughed off the suggestion and reminded voters of his credentials and past work.
“New Yorkers are going to make a determination of a person that wore a bulletproof vest, who protected the children and families of this city and fought crime against a person who made up crimes so that he could be popular,” Adams said, drawing a line between him and Sliwa, who has in the past fabricated stories of criminal behavior — by his own admission — to sensationalize the issue.
Adams directed his message, again, mostly to average city voters — Democrats — and talked up his testimony in the court case that ended with the department’s use of “stop and frisk” under Mayor Michael Bloomberg being declared unconstitutional. Adams has said he would continue to use the tactic, but under stricter, lawful guidelines.
Adams also addressed the ongoing crisis at the Rikers Island jail complex. City leaders have plans to close it, but the details remain contentious. Adams said officials still “have to look at the placing of the new jails,” but, in the meantime, called for an end to “the bottleneck.”
“Those who are going to court, let’s get them to court so to determine if they’re innocent or if they can serve time in the state facilities where they’re supposed to,” he said.
Adams again faces a question of trust
During the primary, Adams was dogged by questions over how much time he actually spent in his Brooklyn home.
Questions about his residency became loud enough that, in one of the campaign’s most surreal episodes, Adams led reporters on a daytime tour of his apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
“This is my block, my neighbors,” Adams said at the time. “I’m proud to be a resident of Bed-Stuy.”
That followed a Politico report that asked whether Adams was more likely to be found overnighting in his co-op in Fort Lee, New Jersey, over the George Washington Bridge from the city, than the borough he runs.
On Wednesday night, Adams brushed off the issue — blaming an accountant for flubbing paperwork that added to the controversy — and refused to respond directly when asked how many nights he’s spent in his Brooklyn apartment over the last six months.
“I stay at my brownstone. I live in Brooklyn,” he said. “That’s my primary residence, I don’t jot down the number of days I’m there.”
Sliwa, getting in the last line, poked at Adams for taking a recent trip to Europe, joking that the Democrat “spent more time on vacation in Monaco” than the city.
Climate change concerns get (more) real after Ida
The death and destruction that racked New York when floods caused by Hurricane Ida killed dozens in the East, a number of them in basement apartments, in early September has touched off a larger debate over climate change and the city’s preparedness.
De Blasio and other top officials, including in New Jersey, have also been criticized for not acting swiftly enough when Ida struck.
“We were caught off-guard, that can never happen again,” Adams said, promising to install a more efficient and organized system that can be easily prodded into action when a serious storm is bearing down on the city. “We learned from terrorism, you don’t wait ’til the day when a plane attacks,” he added.
And unlike Sliwa, who mostly demanded sea walls be built in Staten Island and other vulnerable locations, Adams sought to frame the concern as part of a bigger effort to combat climate change and its effects.
“This was rain, it had nothing to do with sea walls,” said Adams, who has promised to expedite existing green programs and published a detailed “resiliency plan.”
“Climate change is here,” the document begins, calling it an “urgent public safety issue” before laying out what it described as the “interventions we need right now to warn, educate and insulate New Yorkers from damage and death.”
Making the pitch for New York City
Asked to make the case for New York City as a place to live and work, Adams leaned on a longtime campaign promise: public safety.
“We’re going to have a safe city,” he said, before offering a sharp elevator pitch.
“You will be bored in Florida,” Adams deadpanned. “You will never be bored in New York.”
Sliwa was less amused and, after previously saying he would spend his first night as mayor on Rikers Island to help the corrections officers there, ripped Adams over a promise that he would go to Florida immediately to lure businesses back to the city.
“January 2, Eric Adams is going to Florida like he just won the Super Bowl?” Sliwa said. “How about staying here in New York City and helping to improve and not to move. Keep the people that are already here.”
Offered a chance to reply to Sliwa’s salvo, Adams, in keeping with another theme of the night, demurred.
“I’m speaking to New Yorkers,” he said, “not buffoonery.”
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