New York Mayor Eric Adams Is a Do-Nothing Mayor

New York mayor Eric Adams, whose first one hundred days in office just came to a close, has had few accomplishments to brag about. But his hidden source of political strength lies precisely in the fact that he never promised he’d do much in the first place.

New York City mayor Eric Adams attends the ReelAbilities Film Festival on April 07, 2022. (Dia Dipasupil / Getty Images)

More than one hundred days have passed since Eric Adams was sworn in as New York’s 110th mayor. The milestone is arbitrary, dating back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and there’s little reason to believe grand conclusions can be drawn from a few months in power.

But it’s worth taking stock because politicians do make promises they try, in some cases, to keep. For the ambitious, one hundred days is enough to lay the groundwork for a greater agenda. Bill de Blasio, much maligned now, was already fighting to get funding for the universal prekindergarten expansion that would remake New York’s social safety net. One hundred days in, the former mayor had signed into law significant pieces of legislation, like the mandating of paid sick days in the private sector.

Adams, conversely, has pitched very little. He does get around plenty. He shows up at the scenes of street crimes and parties with celebrities like Cara Delevingne. He has been an unabashed booster for big business and promised to bring the city back from its COVID doldrums.

Some of Adams’s act can be helpful. The public expects the mayor to be a cheerleader and a performer; it’s fine to have swagger when leading the biggest city in America. Getting tourists back to Manhattan is integral to the city’s economic future.

So much of the Adams agenda, though, is lacking. There are no big-ticket policy items or large safety-net expansions. There are few tangible programs or projects for New Yorkers to grasp on to. Adams does not empower his agency heads to dream up proposals for the parks or streets that break credibly from the past. It has been, for all its noise, one of the least imaginative administrations in modern times. Rather than fight for new affordable housing and the return of single-room occupancy hotels to house the poorest, Adams has deputized police to kick the homeless off the subways. He is nowhere close to ending the problem.

Rather, there has been much bellowing about lowering the crime rate and failure, thus far, to bring it down to pre-pandemic levels. Predictably, Adams has leaned into heavy-handed policing as the solution, and threatened at various times to bring back some version of stop-and-frisk. Adams, a former police captain, is a booster of dangerous surveillance mechanisms like facial recognition technology. He has floated the implausible idea, in the wake of a mass shooting at a subway station in Brooklyn, of installing metal detectors in stations.

When Adams touted his one-hundred-day milestone, his list of achievements included many that weren’t particularly impressive. Connecting “three hundred unhoused New Yorkers to shelter” is nice sounding but represents a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands who are homeless. Shelter, also, is not permanent housing.

Adams’s city hall bragged that he had “surged resources” to the city’s tenant helpline and “launched a campaign” to help protect tenants from eviction, which may mean little if his new anti-tenant appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board dramatically hike rent on stabilized tenants next year.

Much of the Adams administration’s approach to governance has been distressingly small-bore. Adams has been canny so far in courting the media and maintaining popularity. The public, hungry for leadership that appears commanding, has been willing to support him. This is Adams’s greatest strength — absent a compelling vision for the future of the city, he is able to react to daily crises and perform nimbly for TV cameras. Local stations and tabloid newspapers, drawn to his law-and-order politics, remain in his corner.

For much of the Left, this presents an ongoing challenge. Adams is a wily opponent with a working-class base that remains loyal to his brand of politics. When critics attack him, he defaults to his identity, and he is not above disingenuously invoking race to defend policy positions that favor elites. He is not to be underestimated. His most important promise has been to drive down crime, and the political wounds could be serious if he doesn’t deliver on that goal. But on other fronts, under-promising may mean he never has to meet lofty expectations.

De Blasio was mocked because he wanted to end income inequality in New York, the so-called “tale of two cities.” Adams accepts that status quo, and media organs won’t yet count that against him.