the city politic

Eric Adams Can’t Afford to Lose the New York Post

It’s going to take more than swagger. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Mayor Eric Adams in Los Angeles as Crime Worsens Back Home in NYC” was the headline of a recent and extraordinary story in the New York Post. The article itself wasn’t particularly notable; everything in it was undeniably true. What’s surprising is that the Post printed it at all.

For many months, the Rupert Murdoch–owned tabloid has been Adams’s most dogged defender in the media. As other news outlets have grown skeptical of the mayor, the Post has reliably come to his aid and savaged his left-wing critics. When Adams attempted to pay his brother more than $200,000 to work for the NYPD — the sort of self-dealing nepotism that the Post would have eviscerated any other Democrat for — the tabloid simply echoed Adams’s ludicrous claim that he needed his brother on the payroll to protect him from white supremacists. A hagiographic April editorial declared that Adams “fights the good fight on NYC crime and schools.” Another editorial attacked the Legal Aid Society for questioning Adams’s tougher rhetoric on policing.

Now, the Post is taking on a more adversarial stance, hitting Adams for hiring cronies and failing to curb high crime — just as the mayor’s numbers tumble from their early highs. If the paper truly turns on him, his whole mayoralty could be at risk.

The Post-Adams alliance has been remarkable in part because the tabloid so reviled his predecessor. The paper’s war against Bill de Blasio produced some genuinely useful reporting — it was early to highlight the city’s homelessness crisis — but it also kneecapped him in unfair ways. The aloof de Blasio, in turn, never even tried to court Post reporters. His failure to do so, combined with the tabloid’s routine denigration of his City Hall, helped make him one of the city’s more unpopular mayors in modern times.

Until now, Adams has enjoyed a very different relationship with the Post than de Blasio, or, for that matter, David Dinkins, the city’s first Black mayor, had to endure. As the murder rate rose under Dinkins, the tabloid portrayed him as feckless — “Dave, Do Something!” is one headline that still lingers in the city’s memory, decades later — and paved the way for Rudy Giuliani, a Post darling.

Since Murdoch purchased it in 1976, the Post has been furiously right-wing, thirsty for blood and gossip, and an enemy of left-leaning Democrats everywhere. Adams, by contrast, was a Post favorite from the early days of his mayoral campaign. His politics were not entirely the tabloid’s politics, but they were close enough, and they stood out in a city that has swerved far too left for Murdoch’s liking. Adams campaigned as a tough-on-crime centrist willing to go to war with the progressives in his party. Though Adams enjoyed the tacit support of de Blasio and the louder backing of large labor unions, he was also a former police captain (and former Republican) who hungered for combat with the young socialists and leftists rising in New York. Crime has always been the Post’s obsession, and Adams promised a return to the more aggressive policing of the Bloomberg and Giuliani years, if with a reformist bent.

It didn’t hurt that Adams liked to hobnob with the wealthy and powerful. De Blasio fundraised from real-estate developers, but otherwise shunned their world; Adams, a regular at the nightclub Zero Bond, dined with Murdoch himself in 2021. While de Blasio fulminated about a “tale of two cities” and vowed to hike taxes on the rich, Adams promised he’d be an ally of the power elite. “Yeah, we’re over 8 million people. But do you know 65,000 pay 51 percent of our income taxes?” Adams said last year. “We lose them, we lose our teachers, our firefighters, our Department of Sanitation. We lose what we need. So having people say, ‘So what if they leave?’ No, you leave. I want them here.”

All of this made Adams a prototypical Post mayor, to his political benefit. A tabloid newspaper will never matter to New York like it did in the 20th century, but the Post still manages to punch above its weight. The Wall Street Journal, also Murdoch-owned, gutted much of its local coverage. The hedge fund–owned DailyNews is a shadow of its former self, struggling for an identity with a talented but smaller staff. The Times, meanwhile, is a multimedia empire that cares less and less about what happens in its backyard. The stand-alone print “Metro” section is no more and the big city columnists of yore are mostly absent.

In this diminished environment, the Post is the most well-funded newspaper that regularly covers New York City. It still keeps a robust sports desk, a City Hall bureau, and even an aggressive presence in Albany. Nightly broadcast television, influential among older voters, takes its cues from the Post. Channels 2, 4, 7, and 11 often feature crime stories and warn, either overtly or indirectly, against the bail-reform laws that the Post decries with unabashed fury. And the paper still has muckraking muscle. While most of the national and local press was fawning over Andrew Cuomo in the early days of the pandemic, the Post emerged as a skeptic and led the way in exposing his cover-up of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. Cuomo, too, had once been a Post hero, back when it saw him as a fiscal conservative throwing haymakers at the left. The honeymoon ended, and so did Cuomo’s political career. No major executive wants to be an enemy of the Post. If they ignore its influence, as de Blasio did, they come off much worse for it.

So why is the Post tiring of Adams? The obvious answer is the rising crime rate. Adams ran for mayor on a vow to bring down crime, and so far he has been unable to deliver on his promise (though murders are falling slightly this year, at least). In retrospect, this was a dangerous bet for Adams to take, since so many external and national factors affect the way crime ebbs and flows in a major city. Adams will either luck into a decline or stumble into a wave. No matter what, he’ll be defined by a narrative he helped invent; he portrayed de Blasio’s New York as a hellhole only he could fix. In reality, crime has spiked from the historically low rates of the 2010s, but remains below even the bloodshed seen in the 2000s, when Bloomberg was mayor.(The Post celebrated Bloomberg’s enthusiasm for stop and frisk, but would savage him when he veered left on social policy, like when he attempted a ban on large sugary beverages.)

Adams, despite promising a “get stuff done” tenure, hasn’t really done much. De Blasio promised to combat income inequality and secured funding for a universal pre-K program in his very first year. The program is now a national model. No similar policy ambition exists for Adams, who seems to most revel in showing up at crime scenes and partying with celebrities. Adams understands the aesthetics of the job far better than de Blasio, but performance will only get you so far. Political hacks and bigots populate the new administration — the whole government is being headed up, in essence, by the scandal-scarred former lawyer for the Brooklyn Democratic Party — and there’s only so much inanity any newspaper, including the Post, will let slide. Adams, oddly, has picked fights with Post reporters and singled out one by name at the Inner Circle Show. Unforced errors like these will pile up in Murdoch’s world.

Above all, the tabloid may smell blood in the water. Adams is strong and savvy enough to survive and thrive as mayor as long as his poll numbers stay above water. They are dropping now and may continue to fall if he can’t deliver on his central, somewhat undeliverable promise: tame crime in a timely manner. The Post has no problem kicking an erstwhile pal when he’s down. Outrage always sells more papers anyway.

Eric Adams Can’t Afford to Lose the New York Post