By LOUIS FLORES
The office of Borough President Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) has reacted negatively to the press conference and community speak-out conducted by tenant activists outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall on Wednesday.
In calling for the public election of Community Board members and the vesting of veto power in such members in matters of land use, activists and New York City residents also questioned Borough President Adams’ commitment to communities of color in Brooklyn. In response to the criticism from Black and Latina/o activists and residents that Borough President Adams had betrayed minority communities on the central issue of preserving affordable housing, the office of the Borough President issued a stinging statement in defense of his record.
"Few New Yorkers can match Borough President Adams' record of combating tenant harassment, fighting for the protection of affordable housing units, and working to preserve our city's rich diversity,” said Stefan Ringel, the communications director to Borough President Adams, in a written statement provided to Progress Queens, adding return criticism of the activists by saying that, “Screaming racial slurs at a community leader who has spent his entire working life contending with the dark impact of racism is beyond irresponsible, but the professional agitators seeking to incite neighborhood unrest already know that."
At Wednesday’s press conference and community speak-out, some Black activists compared Borough President Adams to an Uncle Tom, the nickname given to a person, who participates in the oppression of people of his own kind. The actual term used by activists to refer to Borough President Adams was "Uncle Adams." Borough President Adams is Black.
Progress Queens made a request to Borough President Adams’ office for information about Borough President Adams’ record of addressing the estimated 50,000 residents in the overwhelmingly minority neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn, who face displacement as a consequence of the de Blasio administration’s policies to introduce and escalate gentrification to that neighborhood. In the past, Borough President Adams has supported the gentrification policies of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York). However, a representative of Borough President Adams’ office did not respond to Progress Queens’ request for information. Nor did the Borough President’s office clarify how accusations of racial motivations could be made against members of Borough President Adams’ own Black community. Lastly, Borough President Adams’ office did not provide any facts to support its accusation that the tenant activists and New York City residents, who participated at the press conference and community speak-out, were “professional agitators.”
This isn’t the first time when the office of Borough President Adams has accused critics from the Black community of being racist. In June 2015, Borough President Adams reportedly sent employees with counter-protest signs during a demonstration to attack affordable housing activist Alicia Boyd. One sign called Ms. Boyd a racist for her apparent criticism of Borough President Adams, even though Ms. Boyd is Black.
In New York politics, many communities have begun to openly question the neoliberal economic policies of elected leaders from their own communities. This process, when it has played out publicly, has embarrassed elected leaders, and some of these elected leaders have lashed out against their own communities. During the 2009 and 2013 municipal election cycles, for example, many LGBT activists were critical of and opposed the political campaigns of former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea). Former Council Speaker Quinn is openly lesbian. Her critics found fault with her neoliberal economic policies that allowed the storied St. Vincent’s Hospital to close for a $1 billion luxury condominium and town house conversion and the loss of over 300,000 of rent-regulated apartments. Although former Council Speaker Quinn blamed politicians up in Albany for the loss of rent-regulated apartments, her critics charged that she took no action as an elected official to address the problem in any meaningful way, given her own powers and authorities as one of the city’s highest-ranking officials. And even though former Speaker Quinn’s critics were from the LGBT community and many were women, her supporters nonetheless accused her critics as being homophobic and sexist.
As Borough President Adams faces mounting criticism from minority communities in Brooklyn over his own neoliberal economic record that supports unchecked real estate development, he will find that New Yorkers voters are sophisticated enough to distinguish elected officials’ defensive allegations of bias made against one’s own community from activists’ actions taken to hold elected officials accountable to the public.
In the case of former Council Speaker Quinn, she was summarily voted out of office in 2013 by approximately 85 per cent. of the voters in the Democratic Party primary in the New York City mayor’s race, proving that defensive attempts to deflect accountability by invoking identity politics was not a viable reëlection strategy.
In an editorial published by Gay City News that dispelled the allegations of homophobia and sexism in former Council Speaker Quinn’s failed campaign bid, the international human rights and transgender activist Pauline Park wrote that disingenuous identity politics-pushing served to both “impoverish public discourse” and “distract us from the pursuit of progressive policy change.” Ms. Park was one of the leaders in the LGBT community to hold former Council Speaker accountable to the public.