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Four ways NYC Mayor Eric Adams can boost Black male turnout for Democrats

Eric Adams
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
New York City Mayor Eric Adams speaks during the New York State Democratic Convention in New York on Feb. 17, 2022. Adams, a former New York City police captain, took office this year with a central focus on making the city feel safe and trying to return it to some sense of normalcy post-pandemic.

Democratic Party leaders are sounding alarms over a growing disconnect with Black men. The estrangement has become apparent in the high-profile campaign of Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia. While many overwhelmingly support her candidacy, there are signs of diminishing interest as the novelty of electing a first Black governor wanes. The dampened enthusiasm is not so much with the Abrams candidacy, however, as with the broader agenda of the Democratic Party. One troubling trend for many Black men is a renewed interest in restoring forms of excessive policing— for example, the recent House bill, known as the Invest to Protect Act, that increases funding for police departments.

This is a reversal of promises made in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Then, the leading Democratic concession to Black men was the promise to reduce harsh criminal justice penalties. This promise is being withdrawn in light of public anxiety over rising street crime.

To her credit, Abrams has responded to the vacuum with proposed economic and health initiatives that would recognize the distinct needs of male constituents. For example, her proposal for a “Black Men’s Agenda” would earmark $5 billion for investment in small business creation, health insurance and apprenticeships in the construction and entertainment industries.

Still, the prospect of Black male estrangement with the Democratic agenda threatens to erupt in other settings — including in the administration of New York City Mayor Eric Adams — unless Democrats pay heed to the warning signs. Black male turnout at elections is dampening because their political leaders have shown they’re reluctant to prioritize core needs.

The administration of Adams, who took office in January and was hailed by some as the new face of the Democratic Party, is a source of discontent among many Black males. As mayor of New York, Adams arguably holds the second-biggest megaphone in the country after President Biden; as a native New Yorker, he is positioned to shape the media culture that influences policies of importance to his supporters and to the party.

To date, however, he has used the stage to spotlight anxiety over petty street crime to the exclusion of much else. The recent heralding of surveillance cameras on streets corners and in subways is an example. Adams is promoting the adaptation of anti-crime solutions that tend to racially profile Black men yet fail to alleviate either the underlying causes of crime or the dire economic concerns of the demographic group.  

Instead of highlighting a manifesto of opportunity, for example, Adams has led a national crusade to eradicate handguns under a “Blueprint to End Gun Violence.” The policy will subject Black men to racial profiling and the undue exposure to police sweeps, anti-gun squads, random bag checks and more. It has been discredited by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, among other critical voices.

Beyond a return to controversial policing practices, Adams has touted a number of priorities that many Black men find dispiriting as state and national Democratic leaders consider them for broader implementation. It raises doubts about the value of Black men in the party’s agenda.

Unless Adams has the courage to pivot to a more constructive agenda, like that of Stacey Abrams, his growing influence on Democratic policy — like the House police bill — could diminish the turnout of Black men at elections. However, he has a chance to be a role model for an agenda of development instead. Here are four ways that Adams could ignite enthusiasm among supporters in the coming midterms and beyond.

First, Adams gives the appearance of responding to the demands of immigrant groups more readily than to his Black constituency. An example is his support of a City Council ordinance to give noncitizens voting rights. The law aimed to put 800,000 noncitizens on the voting rolls, despite questions of legality and concerns over the dilution of Black voting power. The law was struck down in June by State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio, who ruled that it violated the state constitution. The Adams administration reportedly is exploring options to revive it.

The appearance of playing to immigrant demands deepened over the city’s street vending trade. In July, City Hall began issuing 4,000 new pushcart permits under a law that the City Council designed to favor the immigrant population. Vendors generate more than $78.5 million in legal income. Adams has neglected a chance to steer native Black men to a small business opportunity.

Second, Adams neglects the critical needs for economic mobility for the Black middle class. The community suffers from an unemployment rate of about 15 percent of adult workers and nearly twice as many youths. And men comprise a disproportionate share of the jobless, according to James Parrott, an economist at the New School of Social Research. About 25 percent of workers are underemployed, the worst outcome of any ethnic group in the city.

The problem will only deepen absent an intervention to improve occupational skills, but Adams has yet to profile the urgency for training in the “middle-skill” occupations in growth industries, as recommended by the McKinsey Institute. McKinsey’s “The Future of Work in Black America” recommends programs to upgrade skills for the vibrant sector of technical jobs that require more than a high school education but less than a four-year college degree. Among the trades are X-ray technicians, dental hygienists, heating and refrigeration technicians, and aircraft mechanics.

Third, Adams has overlooked the opportunity to link the training and hiring of Black supporters to vast new investments in the construction trades. Under Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law, New York City stands to invest $10 billion for public transit, $13.5 billion for highways and bridges, and $685 million for airports, among other developments. Each project will require newly trained workers.

Fourth, Adams missed the chance to use the summer months to strengthen the cultural resources of young men. Growing up without a father, he would be a credible spokesman on the need for a support system. He could carry the banner of community programs, such as President Obama’s initiative for young men, “My Brother’s Keeper Alliance,” which seeks to create an affirming network of support.

Adams is representative of a larger problem with the Democratic Party agenda. As the leader of a global capital, he has the chance to guide policy on the needs of one of the most marginalized communities. He can be an influential voice for the agenda of Black men in the party — if he has the will.

Roger House is an associate professor of American studies at Emerson College in Boston and author of “Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy.”

Tags Black male voters Democratic Party Eric Adams eric adams Stacey Abrams

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