New York Mayor Eric Adams goes positive in key speech as he prepares for reelection

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Eric Adams is facing a costly migrant crisis, plummeting approval ratings and a looming federal investigation. On Wednesday, however, he had nothing but smiles and good news to share in his third State of the City address.

Adams opted for an uplifting tone, touting his achievements during the first half of his term and promising more progress in the second as he prepares to run for reelection. And the subtext throughout the speech was an unmistakable message for would-be rivals: A politically powerful coalition is still in his corner.

He even revived the slogan of his winning 2021 campaign for the hundreds of people in attendance at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, repeating four times: “Stay focused, no distractions and grind.”

“That was a great reelection speech. I’d vote for him,” said David Greenfield, CEO of the anti-poverty Met Council and a former City Council member.

With an apparent eye toward 2025, the second Black mayor of the country’s largest city set a goal to boost jobs here to 5 million by then — up from 4.7 million today and a year ahead of City Hall’s current projections.

“What a great city we’re in,” Adams said, waving off hecklers in the venue. “We got all this done for New York City. And we did it while marshaling our entire city government to respond to the asylum-seeker humanitarian crisis.”

He also said planning is underway for the 400th anniversary of New York City’s founding next year. And he leaned heavily on his personal narrative, tying his biography to the city’s.

“As the mayor, I never forgot that I am part of a much bigger story of revolution and resilience,” he said. “2025 will be a year to look back on. On how far we have come in four centuries in celebrating the enduring spirit of New York.”

The city’s post-pandemic economic recovery — fueled by growth in small businesses, tourism and subway use — was a dominant theme of his speech, as were reductions in homicides and some other major crimes.

The mayor at one point attempted a call-and-response with the audience of “crime down, jobs up” — hinting at a reelection theme as opponents begin to emerge.

But gains under his leadership have been eclipsed as he hits one of the lowest points of his tumultuous mayoralty, two years in. Federal investigators are probing whether his campaign colluded with a foreign government, and polls show him with record-low job approval numbers, spurred in part by budget cuts he proposed last fall.

Against that backdrop, political insiders are regularly whispering about whether he would be vulnerable to a reelection challenge despite the overwhelming advantages of incumbency, prompting one of his 2021 rivals to announce his intention to run last week.

Meanwhile, the migrant crisis that Adams regularly warns about was far from the centerpiece of his largely positive remarks. The mayor mentioned that about 172,000 migrants have come to the city since spring of 2022, but he chose to focus on the 105,000 who have moved on from the city’s shelters with its help instead.

“We are proud we have done our part, but we need others to do their part. The federal government must step up and step in,” he said, repeating a refrain.

He also implored other partners in government to pitch in, asking the City Council to approve his City of Yes blueprint to create new housing in every borough and Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Legislature to replace a lapsed real-estate tax break and to convert unused office space into affordable housing.

And though none of the proposals the mayor made Wednesday could be described as grand ideas that would remake his mayoralty, together they represented how he aims to keep “delivering for working-class New Yorkers” — the theme of his address.

They included:

  • Reducing the backlog and speeding up casework in the NYPD’s internal disciplinary process

  • Creating a new agency to help regulate, protect and educate delivery workers

  • Investing in resources for maternal health care and domestic violence survivors

  • Creating a Tenant Protection Cabinet and expanding a Homeowner Help Desk

  • And officially declaring social media to be a threat to public health by the Health Department and combating its negative impact on young people.

The speech also showcased the mayor’s racially and economically diverse political coalition and some of the influential figures who helped him stitch it together in 2021.
He gave shout-outs to union members who were a visible and audience presence in the auditorium — namely SEIU 32BJ, the union representing building service workers, and the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council. And before his remarks, he showed a video featuring Reps. Adriano Espaillat and Gregory Meeks, HTC leader Rich Maroko, state Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar and NAACP trailblazer Hazel Dukes.

But his political rivals were also on display.

“I love you and there is nothing you could do about it,” he told City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, with whom he has been clashing over his recent vetoes of two law-enforcement bills. “We can’t fail. We cannot fail. We’re going to succeed. We’re going to navigate New York City out of the crisis.”

The speaker, who is about to begin what are sure to be contentious budget negotiations, smiled as the mayor referenced their shared roots in blue-collar Queens.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is often discussed as a potential reelection rival, applauded Adams for delivering an “aspirational” speech but admonished him for “trying to rip the city apart” over the two bills that Williams sponsored.

Outside the college, meanwhile, protesters gathered to condemn Adams’ campaign against the legislation requiring the NYPD to document low-level stops and banning solitary confinement. The demonstrators also railed against the administration’s foot-dragging on the shuttering of the Rikers Island jail complex and budget cuts that spare the police and correction departments.

Some of the attendees Wednesday saw the mayor’s remarks as a resetting of the narrative ahead of 2025.

“The mayor ran on the platform of being the blue-collar mayor,” Maroko said, “and he has delivered on this promise.”

One lobbyist granted anonymity to speak freely also applauded Adams’ approach to his speech.

“There’s always a temptation to whine and complain,” the strategist said. “And he didn’t do that. His brand is charisma and leadership. His problem is execution.”