NEW YORK — Democrat Eric Adams has been elected New York City mayor, defeating Republican Curtis Sliwa on Tuesday in a contest far easier than his next task: steering a damaged city through its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Adams, a former New York City police captain, will become the second Black mayor of the nation’s most populous city. David Dinkins, who served from 1990 to 1993, was the first.
Adams’ victory seemed all but assured after he emerged as the winner from a crowded Democratic primary this summer in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1.
Sliwa, who founded the Guardian Angels anti-crime patrol four decades ago, ran a campaign punctuated by his penchant for stunts and his signature red beret, part of the Guardian Angels uniform.
Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, dismissed Sliwa as a clown and painted him as untrustworthy for having admitted he made up claims years ago about being kidnapped and of other exploits from the Guardian Angels’ patrols.
Sliwa, in turn, portrayed Adams as an out-of-touch elitist who needed to spend more time in the streets with regular New Yorkers.
Adams, 61, will take office Jan. 1 in a city where more than 34,500 people have been killed by COVID-19, and where the economy is still beset by challenges related to the pandemic. The tourism industry hasn’t come back yet. Office buildings remain partly empty, with people still working from home. Schools are trying to get children back on track after a year of distance learning.
He’ll also be faced with choices about whether to continue, or expand, vaccine mandates put in place by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who was limited by law to two terms.
As a candidate, Adams referenced his working-class roots and being raised with five siblings by a single mother who cleaned houses. He described carrying a garbage bag of clothes to school out of fear his family would be evicted.
He brought a photo of his late mother with him Tuesday morning as he voted in Brooklyn. He teared up as he described his life as a classic New York story, rising from a poor upbringing to becoming the leader of the city.
Adams brings a nuanced perspective on policing and crime, drawing on his experiences as a former police captain, an officer who gained early attention for speaking critically about the department he served in, and as someone who experienced police brutality as a teen. At age 15, he said, he was beaten by police officers when he was arrested for trespassing.
He rejected progressive mantras to “defund the police” and defended the stop-and-frisk police tactic — which led to huge numbers of Black and Hispanic men being stopped by police without cause — as a useful tool that had been abused.
Adams became a transit police officer in 1984 and joined the New York Police Department when it absorbed the transit force. As a police officer, he cofounded an advocacy group, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, which pushed for criminal justice reform and decried police brutality.
Adams retired from the police department in 2006. He then won a seat in the state Senate, representing Brooklyn. In 2013, he was elected the borough president in Brooklyn. A borough president is a partly ceremonial position, serving as a representative who coordinates among city agencies, makes appointments to boards and commissions, and can co-sponsor legislation in the New York City Council.
He promised as mayor to appoint the first female police commissioner in the city’s history. Though seen as the moderate candidate in the crowded Democratic primary, one who offered a business-friendly approach, Adams has rejected the label and maintains he is a progressive.
He is a vegan who wrote a book in 2020 about how a plant-based diet helped him with diabetes.
Adams faced questions as a candidate about his residence after Politico reported he was sleeping at his Borough Hall office often. He co-owns an apartment in Fort Lee, New Jersey, with his partner, Tracey Collins. He tried to dispel the questions during the campaign by giving reporters a tour of a basement apartment in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood that he said is his primary residence.
Sliwa tried to spotlight the issue during the campaign by crossing a bridge to Fort Lee while holding a milk carton featuring a picture of “missing” Adams.
Sliwa first became a familiar New York figure when he founded the Guardian Angels in 1979. He later became a talk-radio host and survived an attempted mob hit incited by his radio commentary.
He has a penchant for staging stunts and holding news conferences at day-old crime scenes to highlight what he portrays as a city in decline. He has also become known for living with more than a dozen rescue cats in his very small apartment with his wife.
Sliwa brought one of the cats with him Tuesday to his Manhattan polling place but was told the animal had to stay outside.
He then got in a dispute with poll workers who wanted him to remove a jacket emblazoned with his name out of concerns it could violate laws against electioneering at polling places. Then Sliwa, his arm in a sling because he was hit by a taxi last week, got his ballot jammed in a scanner. Workers had to find someone to repair the machine.