The New York mayor's evasiveness will cost him politically
New York City Mayor Eric Adams scoffed this week at questions about who pays for his nightly forays to expensive clubs and restaurants. A lengthy New York Times article about the mayor’s penchant for late branzino dinners, gently noted that Adams has never been seen to pay a check — though the totals must be substantial. The mayor’s representatives, seconded by restaurant management, responded that he runs a tab at his favourite spots, and pays his bill every month.
Questioned about the article, Mayor Adams dismissed it as a “silly, silly story”. “What mayor have you ever asked to get receipts for his private dinners?” he demanded. “I owe no one a receipt of a private dinner that I have with people in this city.” Adams may regret his insouciance about keeping receipts. His dismissive response is the sort that goes down in the “Famous Last Words” category of doomed political careers.
Eric Adams effectively issued a challenge to federal prosecutors, for whom nailing corrupt local officials is a career boost and, often, easy pickings. In New York State alone, at least two dozen elected officials have gone to prison for accepting bribes in the last 15 years, often for laughably small sums, sometimes amounting to no more than a month’s salary. Receipts have served as key evidence. Bronx pol Larry Seabrook, for instance, who served in the state assembly and senate, and in the city council, was removed from office and sent to prison for wire and mail fraud. Among his many malfeasances was an obviously doctored $177.64 receipt for a bagel and coffee.
Adams has a bad habit of going harshly on the defensive when criticised. In February, just six weeks into his term, the mayor took some bad press when he failed to convince the state legislature to roll back its reforms of the criminal justice system. Adams invited a nearly all-white clique of reporters to a press conference, and then lambasted them as unrepresentative of the city they cover. “I’m a black man that’s the mayor but my story is being interpreted by people that don’t look like me,” Adams complained. The charge of racism was absurd, because Adams’ race was a non-factor in this issue, where both leaders of the legislature, not to mention the attorney general and the then-lieutenant governor, were all also black.
Adams renewed this gratuitous racial baiting in response to the questions of who pays for his meals, noting that coverage has focused on one restaurant in midtown Manhattan, as opposed to one of his other “favorite” restaurants in the Bronx. “The reason they knew I was at La Baia, because they stood outside La Baia. I think they were too afraid to go to the South Bronx and stand outside those restaurants.”
The insinuation that the reporters — mostly white — were too soft to follow Adams — a former police captain, and bodyguard for Mike Tyson — to a tough neighbourhood probably struck home. Eric Adams has a rougher side that complements the smooth, well-dressed “nightlife mayor” who goes to fancy restaurants, and he is willing to use demeaning or snide insults to put people who question him in their place. This is the Eric Adams who, in 2019 while serving as Brooklyn borough president, bragged to a gathering of black entrepreneurs that “Every day in the police department, I kicked those crackers’ ass, man. I was unbelievable.”
Given his incredulous, offended reaction that anyone would ask him to prove that he really did pay for his meals, we can expect Mayor Adams to grow more defensive and antagonistic if the public continues to demand transparency. It’s one thing if the city is safe and crime is under control; but if you ignore your day job in favour of the night-time limelight, it becomes harder for everyone else to overlook torn-up bar bills and unlimited access to the VIP room.