Eric Adams Has Declared War on Socialism. So Far, the Socialists Are Winning.

Socialists are becoming a problem for New York’s Democratic establishment. Mayor Eric Adams declared war on the socialist movement and endorsed candidates to challenge the Democratic Socialists of America. For the most part, he failed.

New York City mayor Eric Adams speaks during a news conference with NYPD officials, August 3, 2022. (Michael Nagle / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A year ago, mayoral candidate Eric Adams declared war on socialism.

At a fundraiser in Douglaston, a pretty waterfront neighborhood and one of the fanciest parts of Queens, cohosted by a Republican city councilman, Adams said, “I’m running against a movement.” Shifting, as he often does, to the oddly dissociated and grandiose third person, the candidate continued, “All across the country, the DSA socialists are mobilizing to stop Eric Adams.” DSA had not endorsed any candidate against Adams in that primary, so the comments might have seemed gratuitous, but they were not. Adams was building an anti-left coalition — real estate interests (including landlords like himself), rich people, Republican voters, and ordinary New Yorkers nervous that criminal-justice reforms would worsen violent crime — to oppose the growing socialist movement in New York City. As Ross Barkan, reporting these comments at the time, observed, with no strong left candidate unifying progressive organizations and voters, Adams was able to deploy the race card against the Left, arguing, for example, that stronger tenant protections were racist because black landlords could suffer.

Shortly after his Douglaston remarks, Adams went on Bill Maher and continued to fixate on socialism, insisting, “This is not a socialist county, let’s be clear on that.”

As mayor, Adams has continued this ideological warfare, vocally opposing socialist-led achievements like bail reform and butting heads with the left-wing city council on budget priorities. He endorsed several candidates in this year’s primaries, an unusual step for a New York City mayor. In every case, he used these endorsements to continue waging his war on socialism.

As of last week, that war was not going well for him. Although Adams easily mobilizes the monied interests he represents, and the New York Democratic establishment is far more prepared to fight the Left than it was in either 2020 or 2018, socialists, especially NYC-DSA, are holding their own against the mayor.

In last week’s state senate primaries, Adams endorsed three candidates running against those endorsed by NYC-DSA. In two of those races, the mayor’s candidates lost by a wide margin.

In Queens, Adams had endorsed centrist Elizabeth Crowley against NYC-DSA’s Kristen González, a tech worker and ecosocialist activist who understands the political challenges of our society’s most pressing crises: she had been a leader in a successful drive to shut down a pipeline in Astoria and has also been joining striking gas workers on the picket line. If the Crowley name sounds familiar, that’s because Elizabeth is a cousin of former congressman Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic party boss famously unseated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) in 2018. It was a new district and therefore an open seat, but its lines were DSA-positive, overlapping with districts that had recently elected socialists to office. The anti-socialists wanted badly to win this seat — real estate interests spent big on Crowley despite her pledge not to take their money — and they lost it anyhow. González crushed Crowley, with 57 percent of the vote to her opponent’s 32 percent.

Adams had also endorsed Reverend Conrad Tillard, a challenger to Brooklyn socialist state senator Jabari Brisport, who was backed for reelection by NYC-DSA. Tillard ran against bail reform, but has a history of much more controversial views, including opposition to gay marriage and abortion, and some disgusting antisemitic bigotry. Luckily, Brisport wiped the floor with this clown, winning 69 percent of the vote to Tillard’s 15 percent.

One of Adams’s Brooklyn candidates, incumbent senator Kevin Parker, bankrolled by real estate and fossil fuel interests, and one of the most violent politicians in Albany, prevailed against NYC-DSA activist and Lyft driver David Alexis. But Alexis did well, considering the forces against him and the political diversity of the district, which includes centrist areas like Marine Park and Flatlands, as well as some conservative neighborhoods like Mill Basin.

In addition to NYC-DSA, Adams sometimes wages his proxy war against socialism by targeting candidates endorsed by AOC. In that spirit, he endorsed Miguelina Camilo, a challenger to Gustavo Rivera. Rivera is a progressive state senator; Camilo was backed by real estate and charter school interests (including the Walton family, heirs to the founder of Walmart), which spent big on this one, and the Bronx Democratic Party leadership took the unusual step of supporting the challenger over the incumbent. Still, Rivera prevailed, and the contest was another blow for the mayor and his plutocrat cronies.

Adams got involved in at least one race that most New York politicos would consider akin to hunting drunken game animals. The Nassau County (Long Island) chapter of DSA — God bless them for even existing — endorsed Jeremy Joseph, a primary challenger to moderate Democrat Anna Kaplan, who defeated him by a wide margin. Adams was also a winner in that race, having endorsed Kaplan. But considering Long Island is the land of lawns and party boats festooned with Trump 2024 and Thin Blue Line flags, betting against socialism didn’t take special political chops there.

Losing so many elections to socialist forces must have been disappointing to the mayor, especially since in June’s state assembly primaries, his war on socialism was far more successful. He had then endorsed two incumbents facing socialists supported by AOC (but not endorsed by NYC-DSA). Both of those incumbents kept their seats. Adams also endorsed against two NYC-DSA challengers in the assembly primary, and in these, too, his incumbents prevailed. He endorsed Nikki Lucas over Keron Alleyne, a protégé of longtime East New York socialist leaders Inez and Charles Barron, both of whom have held the seat in the past. Alleyne (who we interviewed in April) lost by a wide margin. Lucas also defeated Inez Barron for district leader, a bigger surprise since it was the first time either of the Barrons had lost an election in decades. Adams also endorsed incumbent Erik Dilan, who eked out a tight victory against NYC-DSA’s Samy Olivares, a district leader in North Brooklyn who has been closely allied with socialist Julia Salazar, who ousted Dilan’s father from the state senate in 2018.

Adams didn’t just endorse against the socialists: one of his close associates created a PAC called Striving for a Better New York, which contributed heavily to the mayor’s candidates and raised money from Trumpers, real estate moguls, nightlife interests, and other businesspeople.

Ten years ago, no mayor of any major American city would have declared war on socialism. In fact, when Republicans would call Democrats like Barack Obama socialist, it was an easy Daily Show laugh line. That’s because socialists were so marginal and disorganized back then that no one in power would have bothered to talk about us, much less spend money and political capital keeping us out of power. Indeed, as Barkan noted last year, in contrast to those times, Adams’s “direct attack on DSA proves that they matter.” Having serious, well-funded enemies is a challenge for the movement, but it’s also a sign of our success. What’s even more encouraging is that we seem able to defeat them. As Kristen González said last week upon learning that she won, “We really proved that socialism wins.”