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New York elections: Who is Eric Adams? What to know about Democrat likely to become NYC's next mayor.

  • Eric Adams won the Democratic primary for New York City mayor and will face Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa in November.
  • Adams is a former police captain who rejected the 'defund the police' movement but advocated for reform.
  • When Adams was 15, he was beaten while in police custody, which he's said sparked his desire to become an officer and change the department from within.

NEW YORK – Democrat Eric Adams and Republican Curtis Sliwa will face off Tuesday in New York City's election, a contest Adams is heavily favored to win.

Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and Democratic nominee who campaigned on a message of public safety, has long been considered the frontrunner to lead the nation's most populous city, which has a strong Democratic majority.

If elected, Adams would be the city's second Black mayor. He defeated a large of field of Democratic challengers in the June primary and won in the first major test of ranked choice voting in the city.

A former police captain and state senator, Adams is generally considered a moderate Democrat compared to some of his primary challengers, though he has a history of pressing for reform in the New York Police Department.

"When you look at all the other mayors who have come up from where they came up from, there is no one like him. He is unique," Sid Davidoff, a fixture in New York City politics and adviser to former Mayor John Lindsay, told USA TODAY in June.

While two recent mayors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, won their first elections as Republican candidates, Democratic voters now outnumber Republicans 7-to-1 in the city, and Sliwa is seen as not coming from the city's mainstream Republican Party.

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Who is Eric Adams?

Adams, 61, was born in Brooklyn and describes himself as a "son of Brownsville," which is a predominately Black neighborhood. He grew up in a working-class household and was raised in South Jamaica, Queens.

When he was 15, he was beaten while in police custody, he said, which sparked his desire to become a police officer and change the department from within.

“I was arrested, I was assaulted by police officers,” Adams told CBS in July. "I didn’t say, ‘Woe is me.’ I said, ‘Why not me.’ I became a police officer. I understand crime, and I also understand police abuse, and I know how we can turn around not only New York but America.”

In 1984, Adams joined the department and later served as the head of the Grand Council of Guardians, a Black officers' group. In 1995, he formed 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an advocacy group that sought to fight racial profiling and police brutality while restoring trust among Black residents.

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During the 1990s, Adams was briefly registered as a Republican. He left law enforcement in 2006 when he was elected to New York's state Senate. He served as a Senator until 2013. 

Eric Adams, right, president of the Police Guardians Association, appears at a news conference with Al Sharpton, center, and Elgin Watkins at City Hall in New York on Dec. 9, 1993.

A vegan, Adams said his plant-based diet helped boost his health after he was diagnosed with diabetes. He has a son in his 20s with a former girlfriend, and his partner, Tracey Collins, works in an administrative job in the city’s public school system.

Adams' career has not been without controversy. In 1993, he suggested that Puerto Rican-born politician Herman Badillo should have married a Latina instead of a white, Jewish woman. He complained about gentrifiers moving to New York last year during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, saying, “Go back to Iowa. You go back to Ohio.”

On the campaign trail, Adams faced criticism after a Politico report detailed discrepancies in his campaign and real estate records. Opponents accused him of misusing his government office building as a campaign office and actually living in New Jersey. Adams denied both allegations.

Adams indicated he believes his run has national implications, calling himself the "face of the new Democratic Party" days after returns from election night last month showed him leading the race.

“New York is going to show America how to run cities,” Adams also said in July. "Because I know how to run this city. I know how to lead."

Who is Curtis Sliwa?

Adams' rival on the Republican side is Sliwa, 67, who is the founder of the Guardian Angels, which started as a subway safety patrol group. He did not come for the Republican Party establishment in New York City, Fordham University political science professor Bruce Berg told USA TODAY in June.

"I think most people don’t necessarily see me as a Republican. They see me more as a populist," Sliwa told the Associated Press in October.

In the primary, he won former mayor Rudy Giuliani's endorsement and defeated businessman Fernando Mateo.

Sliwa has long been known in New York for his headline-grabbing stunts and his many rescue cats. He has admitted to faking crimes for his vigilante group to fight.

Sliwa told the AP his mayoral bid as a "David-versus-Goliath" campaign.

How Eric Adams' policing platform propelled him to primary victory

The Democratic primary election featured eight major candidates and focused heavily on crime and gun violence, as well as the city's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adams' campaign rejected the "defund the police" movement, and he advocated for increasing police presence in high-crime neighborhoods. Many political commentators viewed some of his stances as more moderate than his progressive rivals.

He also called for "civilianizing" parts of the department staffed by officers and advocated for more Black and brown officers to be hired. Adams said he plans to appoint the city’s first female police commissioner.

"He really has credibility on both sides of the issue," Berg said.

Brooklyn Borough President and a Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams greets NYPD officers as participants gather for a march through the financial district during a parade honoring essential workers for their efforts in getting New York City through the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, July 7, 2021, in New York.

Adams narrowly defeated former Department of Sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia in the final elimination round of the ranked choice voting system.

Garcia, who ran as a pragmatist and leaned into many years serving as a crisis manager in the city, reached the final round of ranked choice voting after former member of Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration, Maya Wiley, was eliminated. Wiley had been seen as the progressive favorite after two other progressive candidates faced campaign setbacks.

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Andrew Yang, the former Democratic presidential candidate, lost in fourth place. His campaign was derailed due to a number of key gaffes, from admitting to riding out the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic outside the city to whiffing on questions about policy details.

Adams relied heavily on his base of support in predominately Black and Latino neighborhoods in Brookyln, Queens and the Bronx to win. Berg said some of Adams' success could also be tied to the borough-based Democratic parties that threw their support behind him. Though those organizations "are slowly declining in strength over time, they're still the best thing around in terms of mobilizing votes," he said.

Mayoral candidate Eric Adams mingles with supporters during his election night party, late Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in New York.

What to expect from Eric Adams if he wins

Berg predicted Adams' success in his first term would largely depend on where the city is in its COVID-19 recovery in January, and addressing public safety will probably be his first test.

"If he can handle police reform early on, and make everybody reasonably happy ... I think that that would be a very successful first year for him," Berg said.

Davidoff said Adams would take on a role he has never faced before in his political career, handling the city's large budget and appointing heads of its vast bureaucracy.

Beyond vowing to strengthen public safety, Adams has said he plans to make the city more friendly to business. “We have been defined as a business-enemy city instead of a business-friendly city,” he said in a September appearance on Bloomberg Radio. 

Adams also recently signaled his support for the city schools' gifted and talented program, which de Blasio said he would being to phase out.

De Blasio and Adams agree on COVID-19 vaccine mandates for city workers, including police officers, though Adams said he would have had more discussions with union leadership opposed to the requirement before instituting it.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller