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Feb. 4: Brooklyn Black History Month, Eric Adams

Eric Adams has had a long career in public service to the residents of New York City, culminating in his current post as mayor.
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Eric Adams. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

New York City Mayor and retired NYPD officer Eric Leroy Adams was born September 1, 1960, in Brownsville and raised in Jamaica, Queens.

Adams was largely raised by his mother, Dorothy, a house cleaner and a cook, who moved to New York City from Alabama with Adams’ father, a butcher who struggled with alcohol abuse.

Adams was one of six siblings that were provided for by Dorothy on a small income. Adams has frequently said he grew up on the verge of homelessness, taking a bag of clothes to school each day in case of sudden eviction.

As a teenager, Adams worked a “squeegee boy” telling reporters: “I had a dirty rag with some Windex that I watered down, and used to stand at the corner of Jamaica Avenue washing windows so I could save up enough money to give my mother the money so we could have a meal to eat.”

At 15, Adams briefly worked for dancer and part-time prostitute, picking up groceries, booze and smokes for her while she had a broken leg. When she refused to pay him, he and his brother stole one of her money orders and her TV. He was arrested quickly thereafter with his brother and, while in custody, they were beaten by NYPD officers until a Black cop intervened. The experience left a lasting impression that would shape his future as a cop and politician.

“This Black guy was able to go among those white guys and stop this,” Adams said in a 1999 interview.

“He got juice—J­-U-I-C-E, as the kids would say. Remember, back then, there was this mystique about white folks. They were all living high on the hog, and a Black man like me was eating the feet. So to see this brother almost being the equal of white folks, I liked that.”

After graduating from Bayside High School in Queens in 1978, he got an associate degree from the New York City College of Technology, a BA from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an MPA from Marist College.

He went on to New York City Police Academy, where he graduated second in his class, and went into the force with the idea to reform.

Adams served in the NYPD for 22 years, serving as president of the Grand Council of Guardians, an African American patrolmen's association, and working with Nation of Islam in the 1990s because of their work in patrolling crime-ridden housing projects.

Adams often spoke out against police brutality and racial profiling, and in 1995 he co-founded 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an advocacy group for Black officers seeking criminal justice reform.

In 2006, Adams retired with the rank of captain and committed to politics full time.

Adams was elected to the New York State Senate in 2006, representing Brooklyn’s 20th District, and held the seat until 2013. As a freshman, he pushed for wage increases for lawmakers, famously saying “show me the money” in a speech on the senate floor. He also hung billboards in Brooklyn of youth with low slung pants saying “stop the sag” and filmed an instructional video for parents on how to identify their children’s contraband.

During his time in the senate, he sponsored around 20 bills that become law, which included expanding affordable housing access for veterans and requiring greater disclosure of refund policies at stores. In 2009, he voted in favor of marriage equality and did so again in 2011, when the bill was ultimately successful.

In the senate, Adams was also a vocal opponent of the discriminatory “stop and frisk” policy, and in 2011 he supported a federal investigation into the practice.

In 2013, Adams left the senate to join Brooklyn Borough Hall as the first Black Brooklyn Borough President. He won the election for the position with 90.8% of the vote, and was reelected in 2017 with 83% of the vote.

While in Borough Hall, Adams got a reputation for making the building his home. Long before the pandemic broke out and he set up a bed by his desk, Adams would walk the grounds in his socks, keep pre-cut vegetables in the fridge, work out on exercise machines, and meditate in the building.

After seven years serving the borough in the role, Adams announced his campaign for mayor of New York City in 2020, and in 2021 he won the Democratic primary.

Over the years, and especially during his time as borough president, Adams cultivated relationships with union, community and religious leaders and elected officials — many of whom became donors — which boosted his popularity in the mayoral race.

Some of those relationships — particularly those with lobbyists and developers — did raise questions during the campaign, particularly those which stemmed back to investigations during his career.

But throughout the election, Adams ultimately benefited from his tough-on-crime stance and ability to appeal both as a centrist and with some progressive views, ultimately being elected mayor on July 6, 2021.

“Everybody is trying to figure me out because I refuse to fit into this neat little package,” Adams said in 2021 interview.

“People are saying, ‘We don’t know who he is.’ Listen, I know New Yorkers. New Yorkers want to be safe. They want their children educated; they want [jobs] … They could care less if you call them left or right. Those are insiders caught up in that left-and-right stuff. I am just a straight New Yorker.”

Prior to the election, Adams said a huge recruitment drive was needed for the City’s police department. “We have done a disservice to young people by telling them they are sellouts, they are Uncle Toms, they are traitors if they go into the police department,” he said.

“We have to get talented young Black and brown people into law enforcement.”

As mayor, Adams has cut the City’s budget, reinstated plain clothes officers in high crime neighborhoods, invested in youth programs and focused on getting health and wellness, including a focus on vegan eating, into the City’s schools and healthcare facilities.

Adams adopted a plant-based lifestyle in 2016 following a diabetes diagnosis. He dropped more than 30 pounds and credits healthy eating and exercise with ultimately reversing his diabetes and lowering his blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Outside of politics Adams has a son, Jordan Coleman, who is graduate of American University and is a filmmaker and actor. Adams is currently in a relationship with Tracey Collins, the senior youth development director for the City’s Department of Education.

Throughout his career, Adams has climbed many leaders to take a leading role, with him now leading the city he was born in. He has not shied away from criticizing those in power, and has been able to have a parallel life in activism, law enforcement and politics.

Eric Adams, we thank you for your service to the people of Brooklyn and New York City as a whole, and we salute your efforts to improve the communities we live in!

Sources: New York Times, The Atlantic, New York Post, Wikipedia

February is Black History Month! Every day this month, BK Reader will profile one Black History Maker born or raised in Brooklyn. There are countless Brooklynites, past and present, who have contributed to America’s fabric as pioneers or leaders in art, entertainment, sports, science and government. This month, we present to you 28! Click here to see all of the profiles.