Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams officially launched his bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor, making the announcement in a campaign video dropped early Wednesday morning on social media.

Even as the votes continue to be tallied in the 2020 general election, Adams joins an increasingly crowded field for the 2021 race. The primary in June will be the first time New York City uses a new system of ranked choice voting, allowing voters to pick up to five candidates and rank them in order of preference. 

With the ongoing economic devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a summer of street protests against police misconduct, Adams’ message to New Yorkers invokes his own story: Born in Brooklyn, he grew up in poverty in Queens, experienced police brutality as a teenager and then decided to join the New York City Police Department.

“I became a police officer to bridge the gap between us, to make us all safer and to take on systemic racism from within,” he said in the video. During his two decades on the force, Adams rose to the rank of Captain and founded an advocacy group, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, which often spoke out against instances of racial profiling and police misconduct.

Adams went on to serve in the New York State Senate where he voted in favor of marriage equality in 2009. 

As Brooklyn Borough president, a position he will be term-limited from next year, Adams has served as his borough’s booster and champion, while also supporting some unusual policies to address his constituents' concerns, like swampy rat traps for pest control. 

His tenure is not without controversy. At a speech during a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the National Action Network last January, Adams urged the city’s newcomers to, “go back to Ohio,” a statement seemingly against the threat of gentrification that can force people out of neighborhoods, but also seen by others as hypocritical coming from a candidate who has accepted donations from major real estate developers. 

He joins Comptroller Scott Stringer; former de Blasio administration official and civil rights activist Maya Wiley; Brooklyn City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca; nonprofit executive Dianne Morales; and former de Blasio Veterans Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton among the candidates vying for the nomination. New York City Campaign Finance Board shows more than a dozen candidates have set up committees to run for mayor.

Adams scheduled an appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show on Wednesday morning before holding an official campaign kick-off with reporters at noon on Zoom.

Speaking on the Brian Lehrer Show Wednesday, Adams defended his decision to accept money from real estate owners and developers, stressing that many landlords own smaller properties. But Adams has also accepted donations from major real estate powerhouses. New York City Campaign Finance records show that one of his four donation bundlers is Jed Walentas, a billionaire and one of the principals at Two Trees Management Company.

“Don't define your candidates based on the particular groups who support them, because the real estate industry or business industry, local small business owners, they all want a safe city as well,” Adams said on WNYC, pointing to the diversity of the donors who support him. 

On what may be one of his defining issues, Adams said his experience working inside the NYPD is part of what helps him understand what needs to change in terms of reforming the department and increasing public safety. He said the NYPD by promoting individuals within the law enforcement sectors from school safety, the Department of Transportation and hospitals after two years of exemplary service in those agencies. Those ranks are made up of more Black and brown New Yorkers, which Adams said will allow the NYPD to increase the diversity of its ranks through attrition.

He also called for local community leaders to have a say in the selection of precinct commanders, “to ensure they are the right person to lead their community,” said Adams. He also called for a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to those who witness or perpetrate police abuse. 

In his official campaign launch event, held on Zoom because of the ongoing pandemic, Adams was joined by Councilmembers I. Daneek Miller and Laurie Cumbo, City Councilmember-elect Darma Diaz and former Congressman Edolphus Towns, along with more than 400 others dialed into the Zoom. 

During her particularly passionate endorsement, Cumbo said this race was not about identity politics but about people delivered for the communities they have represented. 

“This is not about electing a black man because he's a black man. It's not about electing somebody who represents black and brown people. It's about looking at this particular black man and saying, who has done most for the people. It  is about looking at this black man and saying, who has done the most for women?” said Cumbo, noting that Adams has been a champion for breastfeeding and legislation supporting prenatal care for women.

His campaign launch came during a tense day for many New Yorkers as people awaited a decision from Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo about whether the city’s public schools would close based on the positivity rate for the city. The mayor’s morning briefing was delayed by five hours and came after a press conference from Cuomo, who resisted initially saying whether the city’s schools would close on Thursday. The city made the decision public before Cuomo’s press conference ended and the Mayor held his own briefing afterwards.

In an interview with Gothamist/WNYC, Adams blasted the Mayor’s decision to close schools based on the city hitting a 3% positivity rate. He noted that the rate within schools is far lower and said schools were among the safest places for students to be right now. He was also critical of the disjointed messages coming from City Hall and Albany.

“At this time of uncertainty and crisis, it is crucial that the governor and mayor should be sitting down at the same briefings, speaking as one voice coming from the State of New York and be more coordinated,” Adams said.  “I saw this during the COVID crisis as I moved through the streets, people were feeling anxiety that was being really added on by how the government and the mayor were interacting,” he added.

Adams’ entry into the race changes the conversation around policing to one that is about reform and public safety, according to Phil Walzak, who led communications for Mayor de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign and served as his first press secretary, and is not currently working for any of the mayoral candidates. 

“We're living in a time in which police reform is going to be a central issue, no question, in this campaign. But I think his discussion of safety as well as reform is something that resonates,” said Walzak.

He also said recovering from the crisis in public health and the economy and the ongoing reckoning over racial and social justice are likely to be themes that dominate this race, which will play out on a compressed timetable compared to 2013, when the primary was in September. He said all the candidates will be challenged to offer concrete proposals to New Yorkers about how to address these overarching issues. 

“We have to kind of see what the actual meal potatoes are of the solutions are,” said Walzak. In other words, the candidates still have a lot of work to do.