By Jay Levine
Who is Eric Adams and why should we care?
Because he’s going to be New York City’s next Mayor. And his election could provide a roadmap to Chicago’s next Mayoral contest.
For just as Bill Clinton was elected President by saying time and again, “It’s the economy, stupid,” for most Chicagoans right now “It’s the violence, stupid.”
New York City’s tumultuous Democratic Mayoral Primary consisted of candidates ranging from mega-rich to progressive. They came from the private sector, politics, and political patronage, even the Obama Cabinet.
In the end, the winner was Adams, a Black former street gang member, arrested and allegedly abused by police, who then became one of them. Rising to the rank of Police Captain, he tried to bring about change from the inside. He then pivoted to politics, on the state and city levels, before sensing a void in the field of Mayoral hopefuls.
The same void we find here in Chicago, as we examine potential candidates to challenge a mayor who’s been able to do little but sit and watch as the death toll from gang violence mounts and the anxiety level of all Chicagoans increases.
Under Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Monday mornings have become a time of mourning for school children missing classmates lost to weekend violence. Many inner-city residents are afraid to leave their homes, staying away from their windows, in fear of stray bullets. Even in the so-called “safe neighborhoods” of Hyde Park, the West Loop, Gold Coast, and Lakeview, people are reluctant to walk outside after dark.
New York’s Eric Adams is by no means perfect. All he’s done so far is come up with a plan and make promises. How that plan is executed, and whether or not his promises will survive the challenges he’ll face, remain to be seen. But as he prepares for New York City’s General Election, where he’s as heavy a favorite as the late Richard J. Daley in the old Machine days, he is reaching out to both community and business leaders, seeking to put together a coalition of public safety, social service and financial experts.
Adams’ role models are 2 former New York City Mayors: the late David Dinkins, its first African American Mayor, and Michael Bloomberg, who he’s asked for help as he prepares to take office.
As The New York Times writes: “Mr. Adams’s overtures to Mr. Bloomberg reinforce the notion that Mr. Adams has himself perpetuated on the campaign trail: that he is a pragmatic, centrist Democrat eager to make New York safe, prosperous and functional.”
Adams’ focus on safety is as critical and resonates with everyone concerned about Chicago’s future: From the retired CTA worker in Woodlawn, to the CPS teacher in West Rogers Park, to the single mother trying to work while raising children in North Lawndale, to the union electrician in Beverly, and the high tech 20-somethings in the West Loop.
No one is immune to the violence, as we saw just the other day with that full blown rolling gun-battle on the north side, in the West Town neighborhood, during rush hour.
And it goes beyond the issue of personal safety. It threatens the financial health of the city. That hits us all too. We’re at risk of losing both tourism dollars and tax revenues. Potential visitors staying away because they fear for their safety. Michigan Avenue lined with vacant storefronts, as businesses gave up and got out after police were unable to protect them from widespread looting in May and August of 2020. And weren’t confident it won’t happen again.
Economic development on the south and west sides, financial assistance for those who need it through no fault of their own, jobs programs to equalize employment opportunity throughout the city all are part of the long-term solution. But none of those can begin to have any real impact unless we can stop the flow of guns to gang members and aggressively seek out and prosecute those who use them.
It’s the violence, stupid.
The threat of civil suits against gang leaders? Please! Sticking with a weak and ineffective police superintendent who shouldn’t have been chosen in the first place? To say nothing of endorsing the candidacy of a catch-and-release state’s attorney. If Mayor Lightfoot, whose overwhelming victory inspired such promise citywide, has failed to stop the violence and therefore forfeited her right to re-election, who do we turn to?
A CTU proxy running the city? A member of city council’s “progressive” caucus? Obama’s basketball buddy? Or is Lightfoot still the best of the bunch?
Remember Priority #1.
Where’s the candidate with a real policing plan and leadership to make people all over the city feel safer in their homes and on the streets? The candidate who can reassure businesses that they’ll be protected? The candidate who erases the doubt in the minds of tourists?
That’s the candidate who’ll appeal to voters from Pullman to Pilsen to Portage Park. From Morgan Park to Albany Park. And from the Gold Coast to Gresham.
So where is OUR Eric Adams? A candidate with a law enforcement background, an understanding of how government works, and a common bond with those struggling to simply survive from day to day in the inner city.
Where is Chicago’s version of Eric Adams?
Nowhere to be found.
Jay Levine is the former Chief Correspondent for CBS-2 Chicago. His beats ranged from City Hall to Vatican City. He covered Mayoral campaigns from Harold Washington to Rahm Emanuel. His favorite stories though involved catching newsmakers doing and saying things you just couldn’t believe. Inside CBS they were slugged “WTF’s”, or more politely, “Can you believe this?”