Last summer, Eric Adams declared himself the “face” of the Democratic Party and preemptively grabbed the national spotlight months before taking office as mayor of New York City. Those spotlights will fall directly on Mr. Adams on Thursday, when he hosts President Biden for a public safety summit.
For Mr. Adams, this moment marks a high-profile opportunity to push for federal aid to combat gun violence, following a spike in shootings — including the recent murder of two on-duty police officers — that has alarmed many New Yorkers.
But for President Biden and other national Democrats, the journey has more profound political implications. It comes as Mr. Biden comes under pressure to push through police reforms, while simultaneously confronting Republican efforts to portray his party as weak at dealing with crime — all amid a midterm election environment that already looks brutally challenging to the Democrats.
Hours before the president’s visit, the Biden administration on Thursday morning ordered every U.S. law firm in the country to allocate more resources to bolster efforts to fight violent crime at the local level, strengthening the partnership between gun violence in New York City. was cited as an example of effective collaboration. The Justice Department also launched a new program to train prosecutors to file charges against so-called ghost weapons, firearms that can be easily assembled from kits but are not regulated by federal gun laws.
The president’s journey is seen by some in the White House as an opportunity to demonstrate Biden’s understanding of the urgency of responding to violent crime, according to current and former administration officials.
Some Democrats say Mr Biden’s decision to spend the day with Mr Adams, a former police captain who has battled police brutality, as well as Governor Kathy Hochul, will accentuate that message, while others have warned against elevating heavy-handed police work tactics.
“I am thrilled that President Biden understands the importance of standing with the mayor of New York City right now, and with Americans across the country who believe that public safety is a top priority,” said Representative Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Long Island. Her party recently suffered staggering losses on its own turf as Republicans hammered out powerful, if sometimes misleading, arguments about crime.
Many National Democrats say Mr. Adams provides a template for reaching out to voters concerned about both crime and curbing police misconduct. Whether that enthusiasm lasts ultimately depends on how he governs, and the mayor has already faced several high-profile controversies, including over his hiring decisions.
For now, he appears to be developing a symbiotic relationship with Mr. Biden, with whom Mr. Adams said he has spoken four times since winning the primary last summer.
They are, as the president would say, simpatico in some of their relatively moderate political instincts. Their campaigns were driven by multiracial coalitions of working-class voters. And while Mr. Biden faces declining approval ratings and a languishing legislative agenda, Mr. Adams radiates warmth, referring to the president as “my dude.”
During their campaign, they both rejected the “defund the police” movement while promising reforms to the criminal justice system.
“To have a very radically practical way of addressing gun violence in police reform, I think it’s an important message for the whole country, and I think the president shares that,” Mr. Adams said in an interview. . “We had a real focus on reforming the criminal justice system, but while we were doing that reform, we took our eyes off the public safety ball.”
Mr Biden — who spoke at a 2014 funeral for a New York police officer — has long prided himself on interacting with law enforcement officers as well as communities fearful of police brutality. Like Mr Adams, he does not view the considerations of those constituencies as mutually exclusive.
David Axelrod, the veteran Democratic strategist, noted that communities affected by excessive violence are also concerned about violent crime.
“There is a real concern in these communities, and Adams speaks to that,” he said. “Throughout the campaign, those supporters were Biden’s strongest supporters.”
But during their tenures, both executives have been repeatedly tested by the harsh government and political realities on these issues. Certainly, New York and national gun violence and homicide rates are much lower than early 1990s totals, and national polls show that while many Americans are deeply concerned about rising crime rates, other issues are more pressing.
Still, gun violence has increased significantly during the pandemic, and nowhere have public safety challenges been more apparent recently than in New York City, where Mr. Adams recently unveiled sweeping plans to fight gun violence after a slew of high-profile incidents during his first month. in function.
Aspects of Mr Adams’ proposal, including an anti-gun police unit — a revamped version of the plainclothes anti-crime units disbanded in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd — led to a setback. And he has received sharp criticism from the left over other issues, including a move to police police on the subway and his approach to New York’s bail law.
New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed concern about a “prison-and-police-oriented policy” and emphasized the need to address root causes of crime.
“We risk falling back on a 90s rhetoric, quote unquote, ‘hard on crime’ rhetoric, where policies can be rolled out to make it seem like we’re responding to public safety, but in fact these problems could potentially be made worse even if they played well politically,” she said in an interview Monday.
The next day, at a meeting Mr. Adams held with the congressional delegation, he said he had pointed out to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez his views on how to avoid conditions that foster crime and intervene when violence unfolds.
“We don’t hear people on the left talking about what we should be doing right now,” he said.
Turning to concerns about a Democratic return to embracing “hard crime” stances, Mr Adams emphasized that he fought police brutality in the 1990s as an officer and activist.
New Administration of NYC Mayor Eric Adams
“We are not going back to the era of heavy-handed policing. But we can’t go back to the era of 2000 murders a year either,” he said.
Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, declined to comment at the delegation meeting, but said the idea that progressive lawmakers aren’t pushing for anti-violence initiatives was “simply not true,” highlighting a push last summer for investment in an anti-violence-violence program in the Bronx as an example.
Mr Biden, for his part, is also under pressure from some civil rights leaders who want to see stronger pressure on police accountability after a major congressional attempt to overhaul the national police force failed.
“Bring it back bit by bit,” urged Rev. Al Sharpton.
But there seems to be little momentum to do this in Congress.
That’s one reason the administration is preparing an executive order on police reform, an early draft of which included a provision that would tighten standards of use of force for federal law enforcement officers. White House officials say they are still reviewing the warrant.
Biden has also urged law enforcement to spend stimulus funds on detaining police officers and called on Congress in his budget proposal to increase federal grants to law enforcement agencies and an additional $200 million for community violence intervention programs by $300 million.
To many Democrats, the idea that Mr. Biden is soft on crime is absurd. He devoted much of 2020’s primary accounting to his pivotal role in the 1994 crime law that many pundits now associate with mass incarceration, before beating Republicans’ law-and-order messages in the general election.
But Republicans that year successfully branded other Democrats as anti-law enforcement officers, and they’re repeating those efforts now, even though many top Democratic officials have rejected far-reaching efforts to cut police budgets.
“If you’re not willing to stand up and speak out against this ‘defund the police’ movement within your own party, then you own it,” said Representative Tom Emmer, the chairman of the Republican campaign arm of the United Nations. House.
He had warmer words for Mr. Adams.
“He understands that we have a government to make sure it protects people and their property,” Mr Emmer said. Asked about Mr. Adams’ claim to be the new face of the Democratic Party, Mr. Emmer replied, “I hope so,” before warning it was early in the mayor’s term.
Mr. Emmer’s stance highlights why many more moderate Democrats are comfortable embracing Mr. Adams’ message on public safety.
Representative Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, called out Mr. Adams by name when he unveiled a bipartisan measure that provides investment in small police departments, noting Mr. Adams’ promise that public safety and justice should go hand in hand. to go.
“I hope the president repeats what Mayor Adams said,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “There are areas where I think we can find a lot of bipartisan agreement.”