Mayoral Candidate Eric Adams: Dismiss COVID Fines, Tax the Ultra-Wealthy, and ‘Create One Standard’ for Secular Education

NEW YORK -

As New York City emerges from the COVID shutdown, mayoral candidate Eric Adams is calling for the dismissal of all fines given to businesses who violated lockdown restrictions, arguing that the city never engaged in proper outreach with ethnic communities.

“I believe the response from the city was poorly handled on so many levels. They treated COVID-19 as an English-speaking-only virus, that only people who read the normal tabloids would have received the information,” Adams, a Democrat who currently serves as Brooklyn Borough President (“The Beep”) said in a phone interview with Hamodia. “And I shared this with them several times — that too many communities that don’t speak English, or, in many cases, they don’t listen to our TVs, our newspapers — we must communicate with all groups. And they failed to do that. Instead, their communication, in my opinion, was to just go into communities and use a real heavy-handed approach, without really using the credible messengers.

“I think the fines were wrong that were handed out. I believe they should be dismissed immediately. And I believe that if the city fails to do that, I would immediately do that as the mayor,” though he cautions that he is not giving legal advice that people not pay fines. “Even now, I am reaching out to some community leaders to privately raise money to assist those struggling businesses in paying these fines that they received.”

Adams is critical of other government COVID-related regulations as well. When a federal court earlier this month deemed unconstitutional the state’s COVID restrictions on houses of worship in red and orange zones, Adams applauded the ruling, saying, “My hope is that this is a stepping stone for a broader appreciation of religious rights and freedoms,” and that “the New York City I envision as mayor will always recognize religion as a fundamental right, protected from politics.”

One of Adams’ proposals to help the city recover from its COVID-related economic woes is to raise taxes for two years on those earning at least $5 million in annual income. Asked if that wouldn’t cause even more wealthy people to leave the city than already have, Adams acknowledges that it might, but says that when he speaks to wealthy people, they generally are not concerned about paying more in taxes, but about ensuring that the city provides proper services.

“People don’t mind if they have to pay more, but they don’t want to pay more and not get the basic services. Our city is unclean, our city is having a graffiti problem and a homeless problem, a crime increase and gun violence. We need to make the city safe, and we need to get COVID under control, and people will come back to the city or they won’t leave in the first place. That’s where we’re failing.”

The candidate also says he would create “Tax Free Tuesday,” a weekly sales-tax holiday funded by taxing online transactions such as Netflix streaming services. Asked if he is in favor of proposals to place a tax on every Amazon box delivered in the city, Adams replies, “I support making sure everyone that is using city taxpayers’ streets — police, transportation system, everything that’s in this city that taxpayers and tax dollars are going for — we need to make sure the Amazons of the universe, the Netflixes of the universe, we need to make sure that in this new way of doing business, our taxes also keep up with it.”

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New York state is in the midst of formulating secular-studies guidelines for non-public schools, staunchly opposed by advocates of yeshivas and other private schools. Enforcement of any guidelines would fall to the local school authority — in New York City, that would be the schools chancellor, who is appointed by the mayor.

Asked by Hamodia what his position would be, as mayor, on the issue of “government oversight over the secular studies curriculum in private schools,” the candidate replied, “I think it’s important that we be very clear on what the expectations for parents — I think that parents play a crucial role in the education of their children; we need to be clear that we give the support to the yeshivas, to the parochial, to all the schools, to, number one, clearly identify what those standards are. And if there needs to be an adjustment, instead of telling people to read Shakespeare, they could read an equivalent text, let’s do that, let’s change that.

“But we have to create one standard, and give all of our institutions the support they need to meet those standards, and get clear understanding of why they believe there should be different methods … I do not think in the box about education, I think outside the box. And this is a good time to even examine, what are you doing in your yeshivas, that may be a better qualitative education than people imagine, because our standards may not have caught up to today’s time. But whatever the rules are, we have to be together in making sure that they fit into all of the different groups in the city and state, to be clear.”

Adams said that as mayor he would have no choice but to enforce the state education guidelines: “If the city fails to follow the state — I was a state lawmaker — the state says to the city, ‘We’re taking your funding away; you’re not following our rules.’ So it’s not up to the city; they will lose the funding. So the battle is the state fight; it’s not a city fight.”

The decision on enforcement, Adams said, is “not within my control. I wish it was in my control, because I’m open to thinking differently about how do we use methods to educate children, because that’s what I believe in,” adding, “I would fight to make sure that the yeshivas, Catholic, parochials, I would fight to have their voices heard. And I would give them the support they need to educate their children, and we will be partners in doing that.”

Pressed to give a simple “yes or no” answer as to whether government should mandate a curriculum or it should be left to the parents, the candidate replied, “I don’t see it as a yes or no answer — and that is my answer. I don’t see it as a yes or no answer, based on all of the people I speak with in all of these different curriculums, all these different schools, I don’t see it as a yes or no answer. And I think it’s a disservice to the complexity of these questions by thinking that this is a yes or no answer.”

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Adams, 61, who was born in Brownsville and raised in Brooklyn and Queens, served as a New York City police officer for more than two decades, retiring as captain. He was elected to the State Senate in 2006, and re-elected three times, before being elected Brooklyn borough president in 2013 and again in 2017.

As a teenager, Adams and his brother were arrested for criminal trespassing, and, he says, beaten by police. Later, as a police officer, Adams was a founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement That Care, a group that focused on improving relations between police and the black community. While in the post-George Floyd world, many Democrats call for defunding police, Adams — who self-identified as a “conservative Republican” in a 1999 New York Times profile — maintains dual interests in rooting out racial injustices as well as maintaining law and order.

“The debate around policing has been reduced to a false choice: You are either with police, or you are against them. No. That cannot be true. Because we are all for safety. We need the NYPD — we just need them to be better,” Adams says on his campaign website. “There is a way forward. With all stakeholders at the table and a laser-like focus on addressing the reasons behind our spike in shootings, we can put this fire out before it consumes entire neighborhoods and torches our reputation as the safest big city in America. With a commitment to justice that is felt in the heart of officers, new technologies, clear objectives, better organization, good old fashioned police work and better relations with the communities they serve, we can have both safe and fair.”

The candidate also tells Hamodia that problems in policing extend beyond communities of color.

“My Hasidic friends were outraged what happened to them in Williamsburg, and what happened to them in Boro Park. So it’s not about just police in communities of color, it’s police and communities. Because when I was a police officer, I’ve witnessed a high level of anti-Semitism in the police department. When we make sure that police respect the community that they are policing, it won’t matter the ethnicity of the person, or the religious belief of the person; we’ll get the quality that we need. We need to make sure police respect their communities. We should not be going into a synagogue where a funeral is taking place and be disrespectful to the family and the rabbis. And we should not be going into an African-American community and stopping-and-frisking people just because they live in that community.”

New York City faced a surge of shootings and murders last year, and one of Adams’ proposals is to have random searches in bus depots and railroad stations — so long as the subjects aren’t profiled.

“We have a great deal of guns that are coming from outside our city. And many of the individuals who transport these guns, they use the Greyhound to come up Highway 95. So, like at airports, and like in the subway system, courts have ruled random searches, without any pattern to it — you can’t stop all the blacks, or all the Hasidics, or all the Spanish-speaking — you do random searches to inspect baggage, like we currently do at the subway system for bomb threats. We set up those checkpoints. When people come through, every eight or nine people they would stop randomly and check their bags. This keeps people off guard who want to do something illegal.”

While some on the left wing of his party are taking anti-Israel stances amid the rising influence of the Democratic Socialists of America, and the DSA has asked City Council candidates in a recent questionnaire whether they would commit to not visiting Israel, Adams tells Hamodia he will not be seeking the DSA’s endorsement.

“I traveled to Israel twice during my time in public life,” says the borough president, “and I will be traveling to Israel again.”

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In 1994, then-Police Officer Adams entered his first political race, an unsuccessful bid to unseat Congressman Major Owens in the Democratic primary. During the campaign, Adams was backed by the Nation of Islam, and Adams criticized Owens for the latter’s condemnation of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, according to a 1994 article in New York magazine.

“Minister Farrakhan can only fill a void that Major has left open,” Adams said at the time. “Those who feel people shouldn’t gravitate toward Farrakhan should realize there wouldn’t be a need [if] Owens and so many of our other leaders in Washington and Albany were actually bringing home the victories to the communities they represent.”

Asked about these comments now, Adams tells Hamodia that his support for the Nation of Islam was specifically related to its crime-fighting program, during a time of soaring crime in black communities.

“I’m not a Muslim, and I’m not a supporter of Farrakhan. I’m a Christian. And I do not believe in the rhetoric that says anti-any group,” Adams says. “The Nation of Islam in the City of New York had a crime-fighting program. Let’s go back to the time, and what this city looked like, and particularly in the black and brown community: high crime, we were having no response from the Police Department, the Nation of Islam had a great crime-fighting program. And I asked the city leaders and the Police Department, can we adopt some of these initiatives, that was how they were successful in bringing down crime in parts of the city. That’s what I was dealing with — the crime-fighting aspects that the Nation of Islam had.”

Last October, Adams participated in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Farrakhan’s Million Man March in Washington. Asked about this by Hamodia, the candidate disputes the characterization of the Million Man March as being “Farrakhan’s march.”

“This was not Farrakhan’s march. You had doctors, lawyers, and politicians and teachers. That was a movement of telling black men they had to stand up in their community. When that march took place, again, remember what was happening in the city,” Adams says. “All over the country, people were meeting together to go to Washington, D.C. to rally around a common cause of black men standing up in their communities. So it wasn’t about Farrakhan. If you would go to the average black man that was there, they weren’t there because they were a Muslim. They were Christians there. They were Jewish people of African ancestry. So we celebrated the 25th anniversary of that march, to reunite the black men to oppose gang violence and gun violence. And that was what the celebration was. And I think to turn that into ‘Farrakhan’s march’ is doing a disservice to all those black men who were there and continue to do the work today.”

During Adams’ term as borough president, a Hasidic developer sought zoning rights to develop a large apartment complex at the “Broadway Triangle” intersection of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and Williamsburg. The developer, the Rabsky Group, ultimately prevailed in court after a years-long effort that featured fierce opposition from some in the Latino community. Adams opposed the project at first, which some in the Jewish community viewed as him taking sides with the Latinos over the Jews.

According to a 2017 article by DNA Info, a spokesman for the Rabsky Group said, “It is difficult to understand why Borough President Adams, who prides himself on being someone who respects the law and enforces order, is in this case, putting those values aside to go against the most local representatives of the community and follow the lead of people who deploy some of the most thuggish, vitriolic behavior,” and, “As this process continues to unfold, we hope that the vulgar, hateful, anti-Semitic bullying is condemned, and not the project.”

Opponents of the project, accused of anti-Semitism, at times held rowdy protests, disrupting and shutting down public meetings on the project.

At the time, Adams said that the project “represents a chance to evaluate the direction of development in Williamsburg and ensure that we are creating opportunities for everyone to afford to raise healthy children and families in this neighborhood,” and that “any rezoning that the City grants must affirm the standard of diverse, not segregated, opportunity.”

Adams opposed the plan unless the developer committed to significant conditions, including building more affordable apartments, paying for improvements to a train station and local streets, and specifying how many bedrooms would be in the apartments; the project ultimately went through with modifications.

Adams tells Hamodia now that when reviewing approvals for real-estate development, “I don’t look at the religion of the person who’s doing the project. And many of the developers who happen to be Hasidic will tell you how supportive I am of good, quality development.”

Asked by Hamodia about the Broadway Triangle project, Adams said, “I am proud that I was able to advocate on behalf of the community and restart the Broadway Triangle process to help deliver hundreds of affordable apartments. I believed then as I believe now that the correct number of right-sized apartments available in Williamsburg is key to serving the area, its Jewish people, and their needs.”

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As mayor, Adams said he would look to expand bus lanes, bike lanes and pedestrian zones — but that he would do so with sensitivities to each community’s needs.

“It would be with consultation of the community leaders, the community boards, civic groups, all the people I communicated with as the borough president,” Adams says. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all for every community.” He notes that he supported a successful effort by Crown Heights leaders to get some “No Parking Anytime” signs removed, and a successful effort by former Councilman David Greenfield to ensure that sanitation trucks would not pick up garbage in heavily trafficked Borough Park while school buses were picking up children. “So we need to cater our transportation network based on the needs of the community.”

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Adams is considered one of the frontrunners in a mayoral race featuring more than 30 candidates, whose primary election will be held June 22. A poll by Fontas Advisors and Core Decision Analytics released last week shows Adams in second place, with 17% support, behind entrepreneur Andrew Yang (28%) and ahead of City Comptroller Scott Stringer (13%). Nineteen percent of voters said they were undecided.

In the battle for name recognition, 84% of survey respondents said they had heard of Yang, followed by 66% for Stringer and 60% for Adams. The borough president is also among the top fundraisers among all mayoral candidates, and has the largest estimated campaign balance (more than $6.6 million), per the latest filing, released last month.

“I think that when you look over the totality of my time in Borough Hall, I’m not new to the Jewish community throughout this city, and throughout this borough,” says the Beep. “I was there when funding was needed for some of the basic things. I was there when hate crimes were on the increase. I was there when the city, incorrectly, really heavy-handedly dealt with the Jewish communities during COVID — and I did everything from handing out masks to handing out support. There’s a real relationship and record with Eric Adams and men and women of the Jewish communities, and they are going to continue to see that throughout the entire campaign. This is a unique time for our city. We must be safe. Safety is a prerequisite to prosperity. And I come with the balance of understanding that safety as well as the legislative experience, and now as the borough president of Brooklyn.”

rborchardt@hamodia.com