Eric Adams begins his term selling us on style — the alpha public servant, efficient and full of brash confidence.
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Ms. Bellafante writes the Big City column, a weekly commentary on the politics, culture and life of New York City.
Saturday marks the end of Eric Adams’s first week as the mayor of New York, a time he has used to successfully distinguish himself from his predecessor — taking the J train; holding meetings at 9 a.m., an hour that found Bill de Blasio still in sweatpants; riding a Citi Bike in a suit, horse-bit loafers and a rose-colored helmet coordinated to the hue of his tie. Whatever might come, this would not be a tenure of earth tones and lethargy and saturnine expressions.
That message was already clear two months ago when Mr. Adams appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and stopped the host when he mentioned the mayor elect had gone to Zero Bond, a private club downtown, on the night he won. Correcting the record, he pointed out that he made it to three clubs that evening — not just one — having also hit Cipriani and Sugar Hill in Brooklyn. “I am the mayor; this is a city of nightlife. I must test the product,” he said, easily getting the laughs that eluded Mr. de Blasio for eight years.
“We used to be the coolest place on the globe,” he lamented. “We’re so damned boring now, man.” Would he funnel us back through the space-time continuum to Fun City? Partying would have its limits as Mr. Adams explained, invoking a favorite trope of his, that while he may go out at night with the boys, he wakes up in the morning “with the men.”
By all accounts, Mr. Adams’ work-to-play ratio skews almost entirely toward the heavy lift of bureaucracy, but it has been a long time since the city has had a mayor invested in such calculatedly masculine posturing — an image carved out of self-assurance, absent the typically softening reliance on family narrative. (Mr. Adams did say on Thursday that he was getting a dog; on the other hand, he will be looking for a German shepherd.)
As much as Mr. de Blasio positioned his wife and children at the center of his efforts to market his progressive politics, Mr. Adams has kept his son, Jordan Coleman, and his partner, Tracey Collins, in the distance. Apart from his outspoken veganism, few New Yorkers could tell you anything about his personal life, which appears to be how he prefers it, allowing him to inflate the empty space with bravado.
“When a mayor has swagger, the city has swagger,” Mr. Adams said in a speech on his third day in office. Giving us a strong indication of where he is cementing his brand, he used the word nearly a dozen times, remarking that “leadership should have that swagger” and that “swagger” is what had been missing in the city for so long.
The last time New York was governed by someone committed to this affect was during Prohibition, when Jimmy Walker reigned in fur-collared coats, saying things like, “I’d rather be a lamppost in New York City than the mayor of Chicago.” Walker, whose life became the basis for a Broadway musical, ultimately resigned amid a corruption scandal before leaving the country for France with his mistress.
Rather than confront crisis with the steeliness implicit in “swagger,” Mr. Adams suggested, we were beaten down and “all we did was wallow in Covid.” Leaving aside that doctors and nurses would surely have a different view, the mayor will not indulge any more wallowing — not from you or me or even famous non-wallowers like Goldman Sachs. Several big banks have allowed staff to work remotely during the Omicron wave, but Mr. Adams wants them to get everyone back in the office, just as he is determined that schools remain open.
“You can’t run New York City from home,” he said in a television interview this week, a directive that seems to suggest he is prepared to out-alpha Wall Street. The framing of this imperative led to the first social-media attacks of his mayoralty. Mr. Adams had referred to “low-skilled workers”— cooks, dishwashers, messengers — who lacked the “academic skills to sit in the corner office.” However infelicitous the wording, he was making the point that the city’s broader economic infrastructure depended on white-collar workers showing up to support the satellite businesses of commercial districts. But Twitter in its infinite sensitivity refused to see it that way; the mayor appeared not to care.
Mr. Adams is not running the city from home; he is running it from everywhere — on Wednesday he visited a firehouse in Queens, slid down the pole and fist-bumped a fireman on his landing. Earlier he made a 911 call to report an assault he was witnessing from a Brooklyn subway station. Observers of Mr. de Blasio’s early days will recall that he was widely criticized for taking so long to name commissioners and appoint staff. As my colleague Michael Grynbaum noted in 2013, just 24 hours before he was to take charge of the biggest municipality in the country, Mr. de Blasio was “on track for the slowest creation of a New York City government in a generation.” By contrast, Mr. Adams is moving swiftly. On Wednesday his office announced the appointment of 14 people to his senior team. One of them, Rachel Atcheson, will serve simultaneously as special assistant to the mayor and “at-large director of the SUNY Downstate Committee on Plant-Based Health and Nutrition.”
For all of his law-and-order and business-friendly centrism, Mr. Adams has cannily handed progressives enough to keep them interested, certainly in the short term. While his veganism means he’d like it if, while you were at work not wallowing, you had a meatless hot dog, so far he has not shown a penchant for a Bloombergian nanny-state approach to the public diet. His commitments to public transit already seem to be gaining him the affections of the alternative transportation advocates. Writing in Streetsblog NYC this week, Dave Colon suggested that by taking the subway, the new mayor was making a powerful statement against “those fancy companies that are trying to lure employees back to the office by sending private shuttles for them so they can avoid using public transit.”
The coming weeks will show us just how readily the latest Covid variant can be swatted down with attitude — just how much boosting brash charm can produce. Will swagger steer us away from all the dreariness? The new mayor has invited us to embrace it.