New York City Mayor Eric Adams and President Joe Biden have taken wildly different paths to their current posts, but they sense a similarity in each other, and each man has decided to lean on the other as they chart out the tricky political terrain before them.
The president on Thursday will sit down with the man who has dubbed himself the “Biden of Brooklyn” to discuss an increase in violent crime that has jolted Democratic leaders in cities across the country. Adams first met the president last summer at a White House event with other leaders on crime.
The stakes are high for both Biden and Adams as they convene in New York City to discuss gun violence — an issue Adams has staked his mayoralty on and that Republicans nationally are using to hammer Democrats ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
Both men are moderate Democrats who fended off rivals on the left to win their respective offices — and Adams is enthusiastically embracing the comparison as Biden comes to his side a month into his new tenure.
“I’m the Biden of Brooklyn. And I love the fact that the president is coming here,” Adams said when asked by POLITICO about the upcoming meeting, adding that he and Biden “just connected” when they spoke following Adams’ mayor’s race victory.
Biden and US Attorney General Merrick Garland plan to visit NYPD headquarters with Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul to discuss efforts to get guns off the streets. They’ll later meet with community violence intervention groups in Queens. The governor rounds out the group as another centrist Democrat who is trying to be proactive on tackling gun violence while assuring a fairer criminal justice system.
Biden and Garland will highlight new steps announced by the Justice Department Thursday aimed at restricting the flow of firearms used to commit violence and support local law enforcement partners. The new actions include directing every US Attorney’s Office across the country to increase resources for their violent crime strategies and prioritize prosecution of gun trafficking offenses. The steps also include launching an initiative that will train a national team of prosecutors to bring cases against those using ghost guns — homemade or makeshift firearms that lack serial numbers — to commit crimes.
“[Biden] does not think the answer is to defund our police but it’s instead to give them the tools and the resources they need to be good partners, to be good protectors, to institute the needed reforms, so that they are able to build trust with the community [and] treat everyone with dignity and respect,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters Wednesday evening ahead of Biden’s visit.
The trip comes after two NYPD officers were shot and killed, the latest in a spate of high-profile crimes in the city that also included a woman shoved to her death in front of a Times Square subway train. The senior administration official said Biden is going to New York to highlight the metropolis as a “great example” of a city successfully deploying a strategy to fight violent crime and “an example of why we need congressional funding.”
Adams laid out an ambitious and controversial plan to combat violence in response — including bringing back a disbanded NYPD unit to root out guns and rolling back some criminal justice reforms.
Still, the collaboration will test his Boast after his mayoral primary win in June that “I am the face of the new Democratic party.” It’s also sparking concerns that moderates like Biden, Adams and Hochul — driven by voters’ concerns about crime — could push the party back toward support for more aggressive policing and away from criminal justice reforms.
“The devil’s going to be in the details. It depends on what ‘tough on crime’ means. If it’s tough on guns, fine. If it’s going back to zero tolerance that’s allowing profiling, that’s a problem,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, the head of the National Action Network, in an interview.
“They’ve got to be able to thread the needle. No one wants to see crime stop more than we do because we’re disproportionately impacted by crime. … We’re not anti-police, but we’re anti-police abuse.”
The administration views the trip as a reflection of how Biden wants to tackle the issue of crime, said a White House official. Aides see Adams’ focus as similar to Biden’s holistic approach. The president believes in a multi-pronged strategy: remove violent offenders from the streets, invest in community resources like community violence intervention and prevention, all while supporting law enforcement, the official added.
“The president is unequivocally opposed to racial profiling in policing,” the White House official said, addressing Sharpton’s concerns. “He firmly believes that safer neighborhoods and a fairer criminal justice system go hand in hand, and that we can achieve those goals by investing in effective, accountable, community policing.”
Adams and Biden have both spoken out against the push on the left to “defund” the police, with Adams beating out a progressive primary rival who proposed cutting the NYPD budget by $1 billion. The day after that primary, Biden announced a plan to allow localities to use federal stimulus funds to hire more police officers. And the White House has pointed out that funds approved in Biden’s stimulus plan enacted early last year make it so localities and states can use funding to spend on anti-crime measures as they see fit.
The White House also views Adams’ efforts as good politics for Democrats, the official said.
“Eric Adams is a very smart Democrat for Joe Biden and national Democrats to be standing with publicly right now because he is seen as a person who is outspoken on the need to address public safety crisis and rising crime. And Biden and national Democrats are not polling well on the issue,” said New York City-based Democratic strategist Jon Reinish, a former staffer to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.)
Adams, Reinish said, is “also seen nationally as a new kind of Democrat who has one foot in reform and one foot in public safety, and doesn’t see them as an either-or. President Biden sees himself the same way.”
Adams fancies himself as a kind of protégé of the president.
The former NYPD captain, who grew up in poverty and fought police corruption from inside the department, said he modeled his own successful primary campaign after Biden’s approach — emphasizing his blue-collar roots as he fought to build support from Democrats in New York’s outer boroughs .
“We’re just like these blue-collar guys. He is comfortable around everyday people,” Adams said of the president. “He’s just ordinary Joe. He knows the people and the people know him. And so, I just patterned my campaign around his whole spirit that he’s an ordinary guy. He’s a guy that can bear the weight of the city, but that you don’t mind having a beer with.”
The mayor seemed to be basking in the presidential attention when speaking about the visit earlier this week. Although Adams has gained a national profile for getting elected in a solidly blue city with a law-and-order message, he hasn’t said anything about political ambitions beyond leading the Big Apple and rarely wades into Beltway politics.
“I’m sure if you were to ask him what is his favorite mayor, he would clearly tell you, ‘It’s Eric.’ We just really like each other,” Adams said with a grin. “We’re just going to hang out together. You know, that’s my dude.”
Adams’ top priority for the meeting is to secure more federal help to combat gun trafficking. Both politicians would like to see stricter gun control laws — but those efforts have failed repeatedly in the face of staunch Republican opposition.
“Standing next to a Black ex-cop who’s making a passionate case for controlling the illegal sale of guns is support that the president desperately needs in Washington,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential group of business leaders that this week voiced support for Adams’ crime plans. “The fact that the mayor comes at it from the perspective of a 22-year police officer is what makes his position more compelling on both sides of the aisle.”
Still, she said the odds of gun legislation passing in DC are not high. “The president may be grasping for straws in terms of taking advantage of Mayor Adams’ willingness to be outspoken on the issue,” she said.
But even under current laws, the feds could do more to help pursue and charge gun dealers who supply the firearms that are illegally trafficked into New York City from Pennsylvania and several southern states, said Richard Aborn, president of the nonpartisan and nonprofit Citizens Crime Commission that works on public safety and criminal justice policy.
“By the president coming to New York — not asking that the mayor come to DC, coming to New York — he is showing that he understands two things: one, that localities desperately need help, and secondly, that the federal government has a significant role to play in providing that help,” he said.
Aborn argued information on names and locations of dealers held by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should be turned over to the city, which could pursue cases against merchants who knowingly put guns in circulation that do harm to New York.
Adams said he would show Biden the work of a new joint anti-gun trafficking task force, made up of members of the NYPD, FBI, ATF and Justice Department.
The idea was modeled on collaboration to combat terrorism, Adams said ahead of the visit. “Why [don’t] we do it with terror that’s playing out on our streets every day? Hundreds of people being shot in Chicago, hundreds are being shot in Atlanta, Detroit, New York. Why aren’t we combining our resources to stop the flow of guns?” the mayor said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a White House press briefing Tuesday that Biden and local leaders would “discuss the work that federal, state and local law enforcement officials are doing to quickly take guns and repeat shooters off our streets.”
In addition to the stimulus money for cities to “put more cops on the beat” and support community programs, she said the president is pushing a budget that would double federal support for community policing, with $300 million for cities and $200 million for community- based violence intervention.
The central question for Biden and Adams will be the one raised by Sharpton: How will they balance an emphasis on policing with social services and local anti-violence programs that can also drive down crime?
Elizabeth Glazer, who headed the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice under Adams’ predecessor Bill de Blasio, said she was concerned about an over-reliance on policing.
Both men share a “core comfort with the default to the police to stop crime,” she said. “We’ve traditionally defaulted to the police, but at our peril. Because there are so many other things that could both promote wellbeing and reduce crime without some of the costs.”
But she thinks the mayor has the experience to find the right balance.
“Adams, coming out of the gate, has a national stature as someone who is rooted in a commitment to the police but also has this other part of his background that makes him understand how important … all these civic services are in making a decent life and reducing crime.”