Recently, some in New York City labor and left circles have begun discussing the possibility of backing a primary challenge against incumbent mayor Eric Adams, previously off the record but now made public by the New York Times. This is an idea whose time has come.
Though he billed himself as a mayor for the “working class,” Adams has been a disaster for workers. His approach to every serious problem the city faces is more austerity and bureaucratic ineptitude. His administration is a solutions desert.
Faced with thousands of migrants in need of temporary shelter, Adams’s solution has been nothing short of barbaric, seeking a court order to repeal New York City’s obligation to provide shelter for those in need, a humane law that has been on the books since 1979. Rather than offer respite for this group of living, breathing human beings in dire straits, he has repeatedly demonized and rejected them.
Migrants are now camping out on the city’s sidewalks. The Daily Beast recently reported that hundreds were sleeping on cardboard boxes outside the Roosevelt Hotel, not far from the Yale Club and some of the city’s most profitable finance firms.
Speaking of that right to shelter, migrants aren’t the only people Adams is failing to house. Homelessness has become impossible to ignore in any New York City neighborhood or on any subway line. People are sleeping on the street everywhere. Mothers are begging with their small children on trains. These feel like scenes from a country suffering a serious depression or economic collapse. But that’s not what’s happening.
The economy isn’t doing badly by any conventional measure. The problem is a lack of political will on the part of Mayor Adams to help suffering people.
When it comes to housing people, whether migrants or homeless New Yorkers, the mayor’s office claims that “while our compassion is limitless, our resources are not.” That’s rank nonsense. One of the richest cities in the world, New York City could solve this problem; Adams’s austerity politics and utter incompetence are all that has been standing in the way.
In an interview with NPR, the Legal Aid Society’s Joshua Goldfein explained why. “There is a staffing shortage crisis in every city agency in New York City,” he said. “And as a result, most city agencies can’t perform their basic functions in the way that they’re supposed to.”
An example: many homeless people are living in shelters despite actually having found permanent housing and qualifying for vouchers. They could move into their new homes tomorrow — if there was someone at the appropriate city agency to write the check to their new landlord. That would create more space for migrants and anyone else in need of shelter.
Speaking of austerity, the city’s recent budget cuts were horrendous. The mayor insisted on slashing education programs at Rikers, the city’s most notorious jail — cuts that will only make it more difficult for people to thrive after they are released. And City Comptroller Brad Lander has pointed out that while the mayor tried to use the “migrant crisis” as an excuse for austerity in other areas, the recent budget failed to make the kind of investments that would end that “crisis” by addressing the migrants’ long-term needs like scaling up legal services that would help them find work and long-term housing. Lander called the mayor’s policy a “short-sighted approach to a pressing budget and human issue.”
This budget would have been even worse if Adams fully had his way. Luckily, numerous members of city council fought back and stopped the mayor from making some egregious proposed cuts to libraries, schools, public universities, trash collection in public spaces, and many other essential services.
New York City has many progressive councilmembers, including several socialists. With a less reactionary mayor, these lawmakers could do more than simply fight austerity measures: they could work together to solve the city’s problems.
Adams has also changed the political atmosphere in the city for the worse. In a time when socialist and progressive ideas have great traction, he’s openly declared war on socialists and the Left, blaming humane policies like bail reform (without evidence) for urban crime. That false narrative has become a useful right-wing talking point. Adams has seemed utterly indifferent to the fact that his rhetoric on bail reform, as well as his exaggerated account of crime in the city, almost helped far-right Republican Lee Zeldin unseat Democratic governor Kathy Hochul in the last election.
Adams is far from a mayor “for the working class” — he is a mayor for the 1 percent. And they’ve stepped up to support him. He’s a magnet for rich donors, especially those from the real estate industry. He’s especially popular with the donor class outside the city, which of course does not have to see the chaos and human misery Adams is wreaking upon New York.
It’s time for a working-class challenge to this mayor.
The Left can beat Adams in 2025, but only with real unity and hard work. No single group can do this on its own. The Democratic Socialists of America have built significant power in the city in recent years, but the money involved and the size of the city make this race too big for them. The same could be said of the Working Families Party or any of the most politically active progressive unions like 1199 SEIU. The last mayoral primary was a disgrace, with no candidate that disparate left constituencies could get behind, a wide range of mediocre careerists running for personal advancement and no sense of the seriousness it takes for left-leaning candidates to beat those backed by the donor class.
This time, it’s heartening that people in leadership positions seem to appreciate the need for unity. Anyone running just to make a statement or build their brand should be discouraged. We have a city to win.