To Restore Public Trust, New York Mayor Eric Adams Must Do A Kickflip
3:33 PM EDT on May 24, 2023
You know how it goes. You're a young man, working your way up in the world, when you receive a direct revelation from God vis-a-vis your future in public life. "I remember the day like it was yesterday," New York City Mayor Eric Adams said earlier this month, "when God said, ‘Jan. 1, 2022, you’re going to be the mayor.'" While the mayor did not recount the rest of the conversation, which he said happened 32 years ago, or address how long it went on, Adams did mention that he "said, ‘What?’" upon receiving that news, and also that the same voice spoke to him "a few months ago" and said "Talk about God, Eric."
He has done that, but if it's safe to presume that God and the mayor are still speaking—Adams, like his cohorts in the burgeoning Volatile Amoral Influencer tranche of public servants, doesn't really ever stop doing any of the things he does—Adams has been less forthcoming about his end of that conversation. It's easy to look at what Adams has done with the power he was promised and how he has responded to criticism, and see what he might say back to The Almighty in their next chat. "Eric," the voice of the divine would whisper or boom to him, "you should go to that restaurant you like tonight." And Adams might respond Why did you not tell me that being mayor absolutely sucks ass?
It is an impossible, unpleasant, relentless job, and if Adams is uniquely suited for such a job in some ways, he clearly bridles at the enormous obligations that come with being mayor. Some of these are easy enough to get around, and Adams has gotten around stuff like funding the city's pathbreaking pre-kindergarten programs or abiding by the city's longstanding legal right to shelter by simply deciding not to do those things. But Adams, quite reasonably, would clearly prefer to be a tone-setting main character and beloved mascot/ambassador for his city, as opposed to the person who has the job of Guy Everyone Gets To Yell At. A great deal of the friction between the man and the job clearly comes down to his frustration with having to do so much mayor-ing and not being permitted to do enough Eric Adams stuff, like getting people hyped by filming himself talking about buying fruit, while not actually buying fruit.
This frustration has manifested in many, typically uncanny ways, but for my money the best is when Adams interrupts whatever dull mayoral duty he is discharging to talk a little bit about Eric Adams. On Wednesday, at an event commemorating the opening of a public park that includes a renovation of the storied Brooklyn Banks skate spot, that meant Adams riffing that he himself "used to be a skateboarder, I can do a few tricks."
The park itself was hundreds of millions of dollars in the making, and its opening is a triumph for a coalition that includes local activists and nonprofits and Tony Hawk's Skatepark Project. It's a cool story, and the sort of thing most mayors would be happy to claim credit for. The difference, which is something like The Eric Adams Difference in microcosm, is that the cool story didn't have quite enough Eric Adams in it for his taste.
Now, is it true that Eric Adams used to be a skateboarder, and can do a few tricks? No, if you want to be annoying about it, it is demonstrably not true. In fact, the relationship between Adams and skateboarding is nearly as well-documented as his relationship with fruit and fruit vendors. The mayor appears to be as anti-skateboarding, in theory and in practice, as he is pro-fruit.
In May of 2019, when Adams was Brooklyn Borough President, he confronted skaters outside Brooklyn's Borough Hall on a Saturday. "When the [borough president]—who at the time was in his office working—looked out the window and discovered that several individuals were constructing ramps off of the steps and utilizing them to perform stunts, he went outside to ask whose property they were," his office told local news site Patch in a statement. When the skaters declined to tell the former NYPD captain who the ramps belonged to, Patch reported, Adams "asked a second time and told the skateboarders the ramp is a safety hazard before dragging it away." Photos of the incident show Adams, wearing a customized windbreaker with the words Brooklyn Borough President on the back, walking away with a piece of plywood that skaters had put down over the building's steps; one photo appears to show Adams trying to pick up a ramp while a skateboarder is using it.
This began a back-and-forth between Adams, who some rumors said slept and lived in his Borough Hall offices, and the skateboarders who wanted to grind the building's marble steps and ride across its plaza. All that troublesome open space on the plaza was solved the old-fashioned way—people with city parking placards just parked their cars there, embodying the city's unparalleled capacity for reinvention and creativity by turning an underutilized public space into a parking lot for the private vehicles of public employees. The skateboarders solved the rest themselves. "A week after bureaucratic buzzkills installed a green astroturf barricade at the foot of the Borough Hall steps, rebellious boarders forcibly moved both the tarp and a large planter meant to keep the structure in place," Brooklyn Paper's Ben Verde reported in October of 2019.
Adams was elected Mayor in 2021, and while his in-person confrontations with skateboarders have declined since then, his relationship with skateboarding has remained somewhat fraught. During a 2022 tour of the East Village celebrating the end of the city's vaccination requirements, Adams effectuated an executive appropriation of a skater's board in Tompkins Square Park before the assembled media and then did this:
There's no reason to overthink this, probably: Mayor Eric Adams mentioned that he used to be a skateboarder and could do a few tricks during an event re-opening a beloved skate spot because he sensed that it had been too long since anyone brought up Mayor Eric Adams and the various things he does, or just because he thought the skate park would be more interesting if he (Mayor Eric Adams) were zooming around it on a skateboard and doing a few tricks, whether or not it was technically possible that he could do them. He was just being himself, in short, which is both the most and the least that can be said about his mayoralty. But.
But: Being mayor is more than just being a city's foremost fruit-positive vlogger and designated presence at various parades and ribbon-cuttings. For all that Adams talks about the lawlessness and dysfunction of the city he governs—and he talks about it a lot, sometimes in the familiar Death Wish 3 dudgeon of the tabloids and evening news and sometimes in more psychedelic and dreamlike tones—there is a deeper corrosiveness inherent to the sense that the city is not really being managed at all. A policeman parking his personal vehicle in the middle of the damn sidewalk is also a type of lawlessness; the city government's priorities reveal themselves through what is addressed by the institutions and individuals charged with addressing it.
A great many cynical and self-interested people who do not live in the city have a lot invested in the idea that the city is failing, fallen, ungovernable, and irretrievable; some differently cynical, similarly self-interested people who are at this moment in charge of the city seem to see something useful in that belief as well, both in terms of what it makes possible for them and what challenges they can round up into impossibilities when asked to account for their failures. The people living here, who know they are being underserved and lied to and lack much in the way of recourse, don't factor much into either calculation, and they are reminded of this daily.
So this latest bit of Eric Adams behavior is, on its merits, just what it is. But it could also be a turning point. All Eric Adams needs to do is get on a skateboard, as he used to do when he was a skateboarder, and do a few tricks, as he knows how to do. That mayoral kickflip, or even a humble ollie, would show the people of his city that his words are more than just noise, and so help restore the fraying civic trust that binds a city and its leaders together. So which will it be, Mr. Mayor? Skate, or die?