On Wednesday morning, Eric Adams, the front-runner in New York City’s mayoral race, stood facing reporters outside a row house he owns in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, tears occasionally welling in his eyes. “How foolish would someone have to be to run to be the mayor of the city of New York and live in another municipality?” Adams asked.
He’s not the only one asking. The previous day, a pair of Politico reporters, Sally Goldenberg and Joe Anuta, published an article detailing their attempts to find out where, exactly, Adams rests his head at night. The reporters compared official records to Adams’s public statements and conducted a stakeout of Brooklyn Borough Hall, where Adams works as borough president. Goldenberg and Anuta found a lot of inconsistencies and general weirdness. Adams’s voter-registration file, for instance, lists his address as the first-floor apartment of the Bed-Stuy row house, but other documents list a tenant living on that floor. Last summer, state records show, Adams listed a different apartment in Brooklyn as his address when he made a political donation to a member of the State Assembly. (His campaign said that, years ago, Adams signed over his share in that apartment to a former girlfriend.) There’s also a co-op in an apartment tower in Fort Lee, New Jersey, that Adams co-owns with his current girlfriend. Before the pandemic, Adams would occasionally sleep in Fort Lee, a campaign representative told Politico, but he hadn’t been there in months. The Politico reporters spent several recent nights observing comings and goings from Borough Hall—as did operatives working for rival mayoral campaigns, apparently—and, several times, they spotted Adams entering the building late at night and not leaving until early the following morning.
What was going on here? Adams had garnered friendly headlines in the early spring of 2020, after the pandemic hit, by announcing that he was bedding down in his office in Borough Hall. (He told New York magazine that sleeping in his office helped him stay “in the game-time mind-set,” and that after 9/11, when he was still an N.Y.P.D. officer, he had spent time sleeping in his precinct house.) But the situation was portrayed as a temporary one, brought about by the extraordinary work demands created by the COVID crisis. Was it still the case that the potential next mayor of Gotham, despite owning multiple properties, was sleeping in his government office? Or, worse—was he secretly a New Jerseyan?
Adams’s rivals pounced. “WTF?!?!” Maya Wiley’s campaign manager said in a statement. “Why won’t you release your EZPass records?” Andrew Yang’s co-campaign managers asked. (Yang’s response was particularly aggressive; he has been criticized by Adams and others for spending time during the pandemic in his second home, in upstate New York. That criticism often bled into the suggestion that Yang was not a “real” New Yorker, which Yang, reasonably, considered a racist allusion to his Asian heritage.)
For weeks, Adams’s opponents have watched polls indicating that crime has become the defining issue of this election. A poll released on Monday of New Yorkers likely to vote in the Democratic primary found that nearly half considered “crime/public safety” a top priority for the next mayor, and Adams was considered the best candidate on the issue by far. As a cop, in the nineteen-nineties and early two-thousands, Adams spoke out against racist and abusive policing; as a candidate, he has offered a spirited defense of policing as a profession and as a societal necessity. This balance is appealing to many voters, and, meanwhile, his opponents have mostly scrambled to respond to this year’s spike in shootings in the city, and the spate of anti-Asian and anti-Semitic hate crimes that have recently been in the news. Now they’re trying to change the subject. “This is just the most recent in a series of significant ethics allegations,” Ray McGuire, the former Citibank executive, said in a statement issued after the Politico article appeared. He was referring to recent reporting on Adams’s cozy relationships with donors, and prior Politico reporting on Adams’s failure to report rental income from his properties from 2017 to 2019. “How do we explain these repeated examples of questionable behavior to our children?”
To quell the story, Adams called the press conference outside the Bed-Stuy row house. Standing next to his twentysomething son, Jordan Coleman, he offered explanations, if not quite answers. “I’ve been entering Borough Hall at one in the morning, working until three to four with my staffers who come in because they believe, and then getting up at six-thirty, seven to go to the train station,” he said. “It’s not a mystery where I am.” He then invited the reporters into the house for a tour. “This is the living space,” he said, walking through a narrow basement unit with exposed-brick walls and recessed lighting. “Normally, Jordan would crash right here,” he said, gesturing toward a beige sectional. “You know, playing the video games.” He walked deeper into the apartment, the world’s unhappiest apartment broker. “This is our small, modest kitchen,” he said. “Small, modest bathroom.”
The reporters covering New York City’s 2021 mayoral campaign have been denied many of the normal sights and sounds of a campaign beat. For months, the pandemic made it impossible for the candidates to hold crowded rallies or fancy fund-raising dinners. Reporters have had to settle for Zoom events, press releases, and online spats. Now they were poking around the couch where the front-runner’s son played video games. Their Twitter accounts erupted in streams of giddy details: here was a photograph of Eric Adams’s kitchen; here was a description of what Eric Adams’s bedroom smelled like. Some sneakers on a bedroom shelf were deemed suspicious for a sixty-year-old man who tends to prefer sharp dress shoes. And then there was the refrigerator. Adams adheres to a strict vegan diet, which he credits with reversing a diabetes diagnosis he received several years ago, and he often speaks publicly about the links between nutrition and over-all health. But when reporters opened Adams’s fridge door they found greasy takeout containers, a thick slab of salmon, and a package of Premio Italian sausages. “The salmon and other non-vegan items are his son’s, according to his campaigns team,” a reporter tweeted.
In the puzzling documents, and in the weird hours, and even in the refrigerator, Adams’s opponents saw evidence of an argument that they have been trying to make for weeks: that Adams is too shifty, too strange for voters to trust. By his own admission, he is a difficult figure to pin down politically. But he is also a more nimble politician than his opponents want to admit, and he had his own argument for why his living arrangement had become a story. A few weeks before the Politico piece, the local news outlet City Limits had published an article reporting that many of Adams’s neighbors in Bed-Stuy didn’t recognize him or know that he lived on their block. During his house tour, Adams said that the real issue wasn’t his day-to-day presence there, or lack thereof—it was gentrification. Bed-Stuy, a historically Black neighborhood, has in recent years seen property values skyrocket and increasing numbers of non-Black residents moving in. “If you were to do an analysis of the number of people who were new on this block, you would find that the turnover here is incredible,” Adams said. “This is one of the most gentrified areas. The people to the left of me are new; the people to the right of me are new.”