A Talk with New York City Mayor Eric Adams | By Glenn Townes

Challenging the odds and frequently beating them has become a way of life for New York City Mayor Eric Adams. The native New Yorker has sat at the helm as the Big Apple’s 110th mayor since 2022. He has seen up close and personal the highs and lows of business, entrepreneurship, and the general quality of life issues in the city for people of color and others. Adams advocates fair and equal access to lucrative city contracts for minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs). Under his careful and focused direction, and according to some statistics, a whopping $6.3 billion, and perhaps higher in city contracts, have been awarded in just two years—since he became Mayor in 2022. And a big chunk–about $2.3 billion went to housing developers of color in the city—the highest number ever awarded to contractors of color in the Big Apple.

It’s All About Business

Forming strategic alliances and creating solid inroads into the city’s potentially lucrative and deep financial coffers for MWBEs has become a healthy obsession for the laser-focused and active Mayor. For example, in March, Adams announced an initiative to provide up to $50 million to assist Minority Business Enterprises create and develop affordable housing in New York City. Adams said the move is a critical element of his ongoing plans to establish, secure, and maintain an alliance between the city of New York and MBEs. “For too long, minority business enterprises have faced systemic barriers and restrictive financial requirements in our construction sector that have prevented them from being a part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis,” he said.

No contract, No business

“Time and time again, people ask me why it is so difficult to get a contract with the city,” Adams said. “It’s made difficult by design—tedious paperwork, complex licensing and certification requirements, bank guidelines, and strict requirements—designed to deter MWBEs from getting contracts.”

In an example of holding corporations and individuals accountable for making economic and contractual opportunities for MWBEs and others near unattainable, in 2022, Adams announced that New York would discontinue forming any new city business with Wells Fargo Bank. In a press release from April 2022, Adams said, “In light of this persisting track record of discrimination, New York City will not be opening anynew depository accounts with Wells Fargo, N.A.” The bank, which has multiple locations throughout New York and New Jersey, has a checkered past of discriminatory practices, redlining, and numerous racial discrimination lawsuits from employees and customers.

The bank has yet to regain footing after several high-profile scandals, including a $3.7 billion fine from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2022 for illegally assessing fees and interest, improperly foreclosing on homes, and creating fraudulent accounts. In addition, the bank has been fined by the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Department of the Treasury for violating federal compliance guidelines, among other things. “There are other ways to say ‘Blacks not allowed,’” Adams said. “You don’t have to put up a sign anymore; they just put up barriers and make [getting a loan, mortgage, or line of credit] as difficult as possible and hope people will give up. They’ve got to get it right and form a real alliance, not just have a symbolic relationship,” Adams said. He added that as of June 2024, the city of New York has a hold on doing any new business with Wells Fargo.

In the Right Direction

According to recent city statistics, in 2023 (the first full year of the Adams administration), city agencies and similar entities awarded more than $6 billion to MWBE firms. The Mayor said his goal is to grant $25 billion in contracts to MWBEs by the end of 2025.

Adams said he dismisses the frequent argument by many contractors and others that contend that MWBEs provide inferior products and services. “That’s like saying the Mayor of the city of New York is not competent to run the city,” he said. It’s hardwired that if you use a minority-owned business, you will get an inferior product or poor services; that’s not the case, and we have to reprogram people and give MWBEs the opportunity.” Added to the mix, a report released in May by city officials shows that the unemployment rate for African American New Yorkers decreased from 10.7 percent to 7.9 percent—a 26 percent decrease since the beginning of the Adams administration. “As recently as last January, Black New Yorkers were four times more likely to be unemployed than white New Yorkers,” Adams said. “But we have been able to narrow this gap, and today, Black unemployment is down to its lowest point since 2019 and the racial employment disparity has been cut in half.”

In addition, Adams is promoting a new million-dollar multimedia advertising campaign called “Run This Town.” The multi-pronged, citywide initiative encourages participants to apply for jobs in their community and pursue other economic and wealth-building strategies, including entrepreneurship.

For Adams, 63, ascending to the head of the Big Apple was neither easy nor painless. He was one of six children born in Brownsville and raised in South Jamaica by a single mother who worked as a housekeeper. When he was 15, police severely beat him in the basement of a precinct house—an incident he frequently refers to as “a life-changing act of injustice.”

Adams eventually joined the police department, rose to the rank of captain, and was the founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care—an organization that, among other things, encourages positive interaction between the community and law enforcement. As a law enforcement agent, Adams frequently patrolled the city’s high-crime areas throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Throughout his career in law enforcement, he often highlighted and called out abuses and bad behavior by NYPD officials. For example, he was a vocal opponent of controversial racial profiling tactics such as stop and frisk. He also became the first person of color to chair the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee. Throughout his campaign and mayorship, Adams has been a frequent fixture at various community events and occa-sionally visits small businesses throughout the city. “People tell me it’s the first time they’ve seen the mayor in eight years,” Adams said. “As a leader, it’s important that you are visible and accessible to the community.”

Change and the Future

New York Governor Kathy Hochul put the brakes on New York City’s controversial congestion pricing plan earlier this month. Under the initiative, motorists entering Manhattan below 60th Street would pay a fee. The proposal was met with widespread criticism—including several lawsuits—and temporarily shelved by the Governor. “It was a smart move by the Governor to do an analysis of the congestion pricing plan and make sure it’s done correctly and that New Yorkers don’t bear the financial burden of the plan,” Adams said. It remains to be seen if the congestion pricing plan will be implemented later this year.

Lastly, when asked what advice he has for New Yorkers and what others should know about him, Adams said, “Stay positive; New York City is the greatest city in the world and that I’m one helluva manager!” He added that re-electing President Joe Biden for another four years is critical for all Americans—especially for people of color as the continuance of democracy is in jeopardy. “Staying home is not an option,” he said. “Get out and vote.”