“New Yorkers always sought out the newest and the best in their own lives. As citizens, however, they collectively tolerated a government possessing neither attribute - until now.” – Mayor John Lindsay, Inauguration Day, Jan. 1, 1966.
It’s easy to think you’ve reinvented the political wheel when you’ve just been elected mayor of New York City. Surely you’re a charismatic genius who’s poised for greatness because you won an election. But the path leading out of City Hall’s back door is littered with chutzpah. Witness a parade of glorious mayors who had inglorious endings, from Jimmy Walker to William O’Dwyer to John Lindsay to Ed Koch to Rudy Giuliani, not to mention Icarus-like casualties in Albany that include Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo.
There will be a temptation for new Mayor Eric Adams to take some swipes at old Mayor Bill de Blasio, but he should listen to the better angels of his nature and stow it. These are times that try all New Yorkers’ souls.
There are inaugurations that will echo this New Year’s Day. Fiorello La Guardia first took office in 1934 with no ceremony as the city battled political and economic corruption. A crippling transit strike shut down the city when John Lindsay took office in 1966. And New York was literally still smoldering from the 9/11 attacks when Michael Bloomberg took power in 2002.
And yet none of these days has anything on Jan. 1, 2022. In less than two years, a pandemic has devastated the city, killing at least 35,000 New Yorkers and shutting down acres of Midtown offices that could fill cubicles with tumbleweed. Weary of mandates, people are done with the coronavirus even though the coronavirus isn’t quite done with New York.
The good news is that Eric Adams has the hardwiring and the energy that can help jumpstart the city - but he needs to keep his eyes on the prize. From his first month in office, Bill de Blasio was asking aides about attending Democratic events far from the five boroughs, not realizing that he should allow the big ball of political celebrity to come to him rather than to chase after it.
With a resume of real accomplishments, de Blasio also thought that he didn’t have to spell out to the citizenry what he’d done with a megaphone.
“I think I believed in the beginning that the actual results would speak for themselves, and in truth, I mean, there's a certain naïveté in that, to be honest,’’ de Blasio told NY1 Political Anchor Errol Louis earlier this month.
While Adams was elected in a landslide with a little more than 750,000 votes, that still means there are more than 8 million New Yorkers out there who didn’t vote for him. You can govern like you have a mandate, but you should try to win over the hundreds of thousands of people who sat on their hands during your victory party.
After the Times Square ball drops, New York City has a chance to rise again with a new leader. But in the new year, Adams and the rest of New York will be smart to follow Otis Redding’s lead: Try a little tenderness.