Opinion: Dems must hold Adams accountable for racial comments

Bob Capano
Bob Capano
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

I worked for the two immediate predecessors to Borough President Eric Adams, and can’t imagine either Marty Markowitz or Howard Golden saying that some newly arrived Brooklynites and New Yorkers should “go back” to their state, as Adams did last week.

In 1989, Borough Presidents lost their real powers when the New York City Board of Estimate was abolished. The Supreme Court declared in Board of Estimate of the City of New York v. Morris that it violated the “one man, one vote” doctrine. The Court reasoned that because Brooklyn, the most populous borough, had the same one vote on the governmental body as the much smaller Staten Island it was unconstitutional.

Since this time, the main job of a Borough President is to be an advocate and cheerleader for the entire borough. Instead, with his remarks last week at Rev. Al Sharpton’s Nation Action Network, Adams made the deliberate decision to divide Kings County by race.

Clearly trying to boost his Democratic mayoral primary campaign, Adams said “go back to Iowa…New York City belongs to the people that was here and made New York City what it is…you were here before others came and decided they wanted to be part of this city.”

Adding his most extreme language to pit us against each other, Adams said those that came here from places like Iowa are “hijacking your apartments and displacing your living arrangements, they displace your conversation and say the things that are important to you are no longer important.” The crowd cheered. 

Perhaps, it is not just President Trump and Republicans responsible for all of the divisiveness today.

Let’s call it like it is, the reason Adams chose Iowa is because it is 90.7% white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Adams is pandering to the non-white base of the Democratic primary electorate in the hopes that they coalesce around his campaign and propel him to victory in a crowded field.

Now, just imagine the universal howls of protests from Democrats if a white GOP elected official said something analogous? To their credit a few have spoke up against the racial divide and conquer politics of Adams.

For example, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said, “The young person who moved here from Ohio or Iowa we welcome them to New York City.” Also, Queens Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz called the remarks “disturbing” and said following Adams’ logic if she “wanted to move in to, let’s say, Bed-Stuy…I can’t because of the color of my skin.” Koslowitz is white. However, the silence from most local Democrats is deafening.

Many would agree that former Brooklyn beep Marty Markowitz fulfilled the modern advocate and cheerleader role of a borough president perfectly, as epitomized by the building of the Barclay’s Center and the arrival of the Brooklyn Nets.

It is easy to forget that when Markowitz began fighting for the Barclay’s Center and bringing the Nets to Kings County when he first took office many called his vision a pipe dream, especially considering he lacked any real authority.

As his Senior Advisor for Community Relations and Legislative Affairs, I had a front row seat to Markowitz almost single-handily making this a reality. Through perseverance, prodding, promoting, and enthusiasm, as only Markowitz could do, he nudged all of the necessary players along.

Significantly, in addition to all of the economic benefits, one of Markowitz’s key pitches for the Barclay’s Center was how it would bring all Brooklynites together, regardless of race, to cheer on the Nets or enjoy concerts and other events at the venue. This is the right attitude for a Borough President.

Bob Capano has worked for Brooklyn Republican and Democrat elected officials, and has been an adjunct political science professor for over 15 years. Follow him on twitter @bobcapano