Bleeding blue: Eric Adams' campaign shows blue collar workers are Democratic party future

Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams in New York City on July 7, 2021.
Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams in New York City on July 7, 2021.

As we stood backstage with Eric Adams last month in Brooklyn, just before he walked out to give his speech to a packed house, each of us shook our head back and forth in quiet recognition. New York City had just sent a message: Working people remain the core of the Democratic Party.

Much has been written – and much will be written – about the meaning of what Eric accomplished. But as the new nominee of Democrats to become mayor of New York, no one can credibly dispute how he did it. With a clear message and unassailable authenticity as a man who fought through poverty and racism, he gathered a historic coalition of Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and immigrant working class people.

And if he ultimately wins, it will be the first time in more than a century that a person of color from a blue collar background will lead the city.

A refreshingly authentic political figure

Our deep hope is that our party learns from Eric’s campaign and is inspired by his message. To help with the former, we offer our thoughts here on the details of just how it all came together.

At a church in Harlem early on in the campaign, Eric prepared the congregation for the influx of candidates they were about to sit through Sunday after Sunday. He said, that’s part of the process, then added, “But you all know, I am not new to this; I am true to this.” Knowing laughter followed.

Eric’s message was simple: I lived the life of the working class and low-income people who need help. Who better to make sure they get it?

Authenticity is a tool, Eric argued. To lead the city out of crisis, New Yorkers must hear you and believe you before they follow you. Although he has been an elected official for 15 years, he had always led this fight with the zeal of an outsider. Now, Eric asked the city what a guy from the neighborhood could do from the inside.

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As shootings skyrocketed in the city mid-spring, Eric stood on the steps of Bronx Borough Hall to roll out a detailed anti-violence plan that was far more comprehensive than anything his opponents had released. As a former police officer and outspoken NYPD reformer, he had the credibility that they didn't – but we also got the strong sense that the other campaigns were weary of triggering the loud minority of “defund” supporters.

“I don’t know why no one else is talking about this,” Eric said to the agitated applause of dozens of Black and Latino working class anti-violence advocates.

Adam's message resonates with voters

That moment was undoubtedly a turning point. Soon after, a daylight assassination in Park Slope and a brazen shootout in Times Square would force the other candidates to attempt to catch up. At that point, we knew from internal polling that Eric was, deservedly, the most trusted candidate on public safety issues.

But Eric’s popularity, ultimately, was not just based on his crime message. For his voters, racial justice was consistently the second-most important issue, and we knew balancing the two was critical. Soon after, in what was maybe the most emotional moment of the campaign, police violence victim Abner Louima held hands with Eric in City Hall Park and endorsed him.

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From our lead on safety, a final critical insight for us was that voters’ trust in Eric to bring down crime led to trust in other areas of concern, including the economy and public health. As Eric has said repeatedly, public safety is the key to prosperity.

While many outside observers saw our leadership on the issue of safety, we also led the pack of candidates in Eric’s ability to tackle inequality. Our second TV spot, “Rally”, delivered a message that transcended ideologies and geographies – that our city and country fundamentally remain unequal, and that those injustices need to be addressed to really uplift working families.

Where other candidates offered half-baked policies and platitudes, Eric emotionally saw the arc of history and argued for a moral crusade to fix the inequality in our city that harms people of color and outer borough white voters alike.

Solutions, not revolutions

In an era of lofty rhetoric from some, Eric’s message and policy were also decidedly practical, not ideological. Here too was another important insight: Working-class voters badly need their government to deliver for them, and they are much more interested in solutions than revolutions.

And although Eric’s core coalition was overwhelmingly of color, he had uniquely stitched together white working-class support from every corner of the city. This, perhaps, is the most important lesson: The type of working people who built the modern Democratic Party are still very much its future. But we risk allowing their alienation to turn to abandonment without speaking to them on their issues in a credible voice.

Some will say that New York is not the nation, that we cannot win nationally by focusing on the politics of cities. But that’s the wrong take. The increase in Donald Trump's vote with Latinos happened in cities and suburbs alike. And when people of color across the country are motivated to turn out – we win. Working-class voters are investing in doers, not just dreamers.

On primary election night, as we stared out at a sea of diverse faces, we saw the future of our city and country. Our brief moment of reflection ended, and the weight of purpose was present again. Eric picked his head up and focused out the doorway. The final speaker bellowed his name and the crowd cheered. After years of fighting from the outside as the voice of concern, the spotlight shifted to him.

Nathan Smith (@NathanRHS) and Evan Thies (@EvanThiesNYC) are senior advisers to Eric Adams’ campaign for mayor, and co-founders at Red Horse Strategies and Pythia Public Affairs, respectively.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Adams' campaign exceeds platitudes with practical, successful strategy