Adams, Yang Trade Barbs as NYC Mayoral Race Gets Testy

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Eric Adams (L) and Andrew Yang, at campaign appearances Tuesday. (Adams and Yang campaigns)

It may have taken months, but the New York City mayoral race is finally turning into a brawl, three weeks from Primary Day.

Candidates Eric Adams and Andrew Yang exchanged insults at separate events Tuesday, as polls show them atop the field in a tight battle for the Democratic primary to be held June 22.

“Why is he still in this race?” Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and former state senator, said about Yang, an entrepreneur who has never held public office. “I think that’s he’s a joke, and it’s not funny anymore.”

“Eric, your moment has passed,” replied Yang. “New Yorkers want a different kind of leadership right now.”

Early polls showed Yang, who didn’t enter the race until January, with a double-digit lead on the large field of candidates, many of whom have long-time government experience and had declared their candidacy in the fall. Yang had run an upbeat campaign, most famous for his plan to give government cash directly to low-income families, calling himself a “cheerleader” for the city as it recovers from the COVID pandemic. But Yang has been criticized for lack of familiarity with issues reporters have questioned him about, such as 50-a (the repealed law that shielded police disciplinary records) and the size of the debt of the MTA, an agency he has said he wants the city to take over from the state. Recent polls have generally shown Yang or Adams in first with the other in second, but one poll last week showed former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia leading for the first time, with Adams second and Yang third.

And as his lead has evaporated and opponents have attacked, Yang on Tuesday hit back.

At a campaign event Tuesday morning in the Bronx, where he received the endorsement of Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., Adams was asked about Yang’s recent accusations of Adams violating campaign-finance laws. (Adams has made similar accusations against Yang.)

Adams replied, “Why is he still in this race?” Asked to explain this response, Adams said, “I think that’s he’s a joke and it’s not funny anymore. I think that these are serious issues that we are facing and that we are looking at. This is not a game. New York doesn’t need a cheerleader. They need a leader. And so, finding ways to take us off the real conversations that we are having in the city, I’m not getting into that. I’m focused on how am I going to turn this city around.”

Adams also criticized Yang for not having voted in past local elections and for moving to his upstate home during the pandemic.

“We don’t need a person that will run from the city,” said Adams. “We need a person that will run the city.”

Half an hour after the Adams event ended, Yang held his own previously scheduled event with a raucous crowd at a newly opened campaign office in Bensonhurst, delivering a speech billed as his “closing message to New Yorkers,” in which he portrayed himself as a “change” candidate and his opponents as part of a political system that has failed New Yorkers.

And the gloves were off.

After blaming Mayor Bill de Blasio for what he deemed irresponsible spending of federal stimulus money that will leave the next mayor with budgetary woes, Yang accused other mayoral candidates of remaining silent on the issue — particularly Adams.

“You know who’s not going to breathe a word about it? Eric Adams. You know why? Because Eric Adams knows that Mayor de Blasio is making calls for him right now,” said Yang, an apparent reference to reports in The Atlantic and Politico that de Blasio, who has not made an official endorsement, has expressed a preference for Adams over Yang and is seeking to convince labor leaders to unite behind Adams. “Trying to keep things the same, trying to make sure that the people that have benefited from the special interests for years just stay entrenched in place.” Yang contrasted this with his own candidacy, saying, “Everyone knows that I have not been climbing the greasy ladder of the city’s bureaucracies over this last number of years.”

Yang also said that if “politicians who have just been trading favors over and over again” win City Hall, “they will let our city fail underneath our feet, as long as they get what they think they deserve.”

Asked to comment on Adams’ earlier remarks about Yang, the latter replied, “Eric is business as usual … New Yorkers know we need something different. And think about all of the favors that Eric had to trade to get to this point, climbing the ladder over this last number of years, scheming about his run, thinking like, ‘Oh, this is going to be my big chance.’ Eric, your moment has passed. New Yorkers want a different kind of leadership right now.”

Regarding the reports of de Blasio seeking to build support for Adams and against Yang, de Blasio spokesman Bill Neidhardt told Hamodia, “It’s odd for a candidate to wonder aloud about phone calls they aren’t on rather than talk about policy and vision.”

Asked by a Hamodia reporter on his press conference Wednesday whether the reports are accurate that he convened a meeting with labor leaders in an attempt to build support for Adams and stop Yang , de Blasio did not confirm or deny, but said, “We had a meeting, several key labor leaders and me about the future of the city, the future of working people and organized labor. We talked about a lot of things. It was convened to talk about what was important to do for the future. It was not convened for any specific purpose.”

Adams is not the only one to face recent criticism from Yang.

Yang had previously been complimentary of Garcia, who served as de Blasio’s Sanitation commissioner until last September, publicly saying he would vote her as his second choice in the new ranked-choice voting system and would like to have her to work for his administration. But as Garcia has soared in the polls following endorsements last month by The New York Times and Daily News, Yang has criticized Garcia, saying on WNYC, “New Yorkers complain to me just about every day about the piles of trash that we’re seeing around us that get higher and higher,” and, “We need someone very different than Mayor de Blasio, and Kathryn, despite her service to the city, is part of an administration that a lot of New Yorkers know has not worked.”

Asked Tuesday about his changed tune on Garcia, Yang responded, “I think Kathryn has done a lot for the city, but I think that many New Yorkers want to turn the page from the de Blasio administration, and having someone who worked in his administration seven of the last eight years is not the kind of change that most New Yorkers are looking for right now.”

In an interview with Vanity Fair following Yang’s WNYC comments, Garcia said, “I would say he might’ve seen some polling.”

Asked Tuesday whether his negative comments about opponents were a result of recent polls, Yang responded, “I am so energized about where we are — where we are poised to win this race.”

The Adams campaign did not respond to Hamodia’s request for comment on Tuesday’s exchange with Yang.

Yang campaign co-chairman Chris Coffey told Hamodia, “It’s time for a change. We won’t get that with de Blasio’s handpicked candidate.”

In response to request for comment from Hamodia regarding Yang’s criticisms, Garcia spokeswoman Annika Reno said, “As our city recovers from COVID, New Yorkers are seeking a crisis-tested leader — someone who knows where the light switches are at City Hall and who will get to work delivering for New Yorkers on Day One. We don’t need another fast-talking politician. Who we need is Kathryn Garcia, a lifelong New Yorker and public servant, who has been doing the work and getting the job done her entire life. And Andrew agrees. Happy to roll back the tape on the many times he has suggested she’s the best candidate for the job.”

At the first mayoral debate May 13, some candidates took shots at frontrunners Yang and Adams, but it was a largely civil affair, in which candidates appeared virtually. The next debate, to be held in-person on Wednesday night, is expected to be more spirited.

rborchardt@hamodia.com


Updated Wednesday, June 2, 2021 at 3:11 pm .