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Monday, May 09, 2022

A.O.C. and Eric Adams Have Not Spoken in Nearly a Year - The New York Times

The Rift Between A.O.C. and Eric Adams: When Democratic Stars Collide

"Mayor Adams and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represent divergent wings of the Democratic Party, have not spoken one-on-one in nearly a year.

Mayor Eric Adams, an avatar of moderate pragmatism, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an ardent left-wing warrior, have not held a public event together in at least a year.
Mike Blake/Reuters, Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Last July, shortly after his win in New York City’s Democratic primary for mayor, Eric Adams traveled to Washington for a customary visit with members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Mr. Adams had already made waves on the national scene, declaring himself “the face of the new Democratic Party” and warning party leaders of future election losses if they didn’t follow his political playbook.

And while the mayor received a warm reception from his fellow Democrats, there was a notable exception: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the party’s outspoken progressive star, was uncharacteristically quiet. Days earlier, Mr. Adams warned guests at a fund-raiser about the dangers of democratic socialists, who happen to count the second-term congresswoman as their most famous member.

Representative Nydia Velázquez, a congressional mentor of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s, sought to clear the air, pleading with the mayor to treat “everyone with respect.”

Yet since then, the friction has continued between Mr. Adams and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, two ascendant political stars and unusually gifted communicators representing sharply divergent wings of the fractured Democratic Party: Mr. Adams as an avatar of “pragmatic” moderatism, as he has described his policies, and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez as an ardent, left-wing warrior.

“They are fundamentally arguing from the two sides of the Democratic Party,” said Jefrey Pollock, a veteran Democratic strategist, adding, “And therefore, they are bound to be in conflict.”

Despite their prominence and proximity, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Adams have had no public events together and have not spoken one-on-one since the July meeting, according to representatives from both camps. 

And when they do speak of each other, it is usually to trade barbs and brickbats on issues weighty, and less so. In September, for example, Mr. Adams questioned Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s provocative “Tax the Rich” dress at last fall’s Met Gala. (Mr. Adams mimicked the move last week, with a tuxedo emblazoned with the message “End Gun Violence.”)

In early January, shortly after Mr. Adams’s inauguration, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez scolded him on Twitter for referring to some workers as “low skill.” The mayor shot back that the congresswoman and her followers were acting like the “word police.”

“I know they’re perfect, and there’s not much I can do about that,” the mayor said. “I can only aspire one day to be as perfect as they are.”

The unease between Mr. Adams and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is not as pronounced or as damaging as past feuds in New York politics, such as the prolonged, internecine battle between the former mayor Bill de Blasio and the former governor Andrew M. Cuomo.

Nor is the lack of relationship completely surprising, considering the disparate demands of each official: a congresswoman focused on pushing a progressive-left platform to a more centrist Democrat-led House, a mayor as a buck-stops-here executive.

Still, the seeming enmity is troubling for some Democrats who believe that the appearance of party unity is crucial to staving off serious electoral losses in this year’s midterms and beyond.

The friction between Mr. Adams and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who both declined to be interviewed, belies a bevy of personal similarities: Both are ambitious Democrats, people of color born and raised by working-class families in boroughs outside Manhattan, their bootstrap backgrounds deeply informing their politics and personal style. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez famously worked as a bartender; Mr. Adams recounts being a childhood member of a gang and a victim of police brutality.

Political observers say the schism between the two seems to be underlaid by a complicated mix of personal disdain and policy differences. But there is also a dash of political calculation: an almost symbiotic relationship, with each finding a useful foil in their own backyard, someone on whom to focus their fire and to use to polish their own brand.

Mr. Adams and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez are essentially playing to different crowds, said Peter Ragone, a former aide to Mr. de Blasio.

“The truth is, Adams won without them,” Mr. Ragone said of the college-educated liberals who adore Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. “And if he’s going to expand his base beyond working-class African American and Latino, it’s not going to be progressives.”

The discord between the two surfaced last June, when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Maya Wiley in the Democratic mayoral primary, arguing that she was best positioned to lead “a city for and by working people.”

Mr. Adams fired back, accusing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Ms. Wiley of wanting to “shrink the police force at a time when Black and brown babies are being shot in our streets,” and while hate crimes were increasing.

Indeed, no issue has been the source of more disagreement than policing, on which Mr. Adams, a former police captain, campaigned last year and has taken a hard line as mayor, as violent crime has risen in the city.

Late last month, Mr. Adams called for an increase in the police budget during his State of the City address, as well as agreed to hire nearly 600 new correction officers.

Even before that announcement, however, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had already rejected many of Mr. Adams’s early ideas — including his approach to policing and austerity measures he announced in February.

In an Instagram post. she noted that the mayor was “cutting virtually every city agency’s budget while raising the NYPD’s,” adding, “It’s a no for me.”

Many mainstream Democratic leaders blamed progressive leaders and ideas like “defund the police,” as well as rising crime, for the party’s poor showing in the 2021 election cycle, including losses in moderate areas like Long Island, where the state’s bail reform laws turned off swing voters.

Supporters of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez reject that assertion, noting that Mr. Adams only narrowly won the primary, in a ranked-choice vote with relatively low turnout.

They also contend that the progressive agenda trumpeted by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez — focusing on climate change, housing, labor issues and health care — is far more aligned with New York values than Mr. Adams’s ethos of being tough on crime and friendly to real estate and business interests.

“Let’s not overstate the mayor’s mandate,” said Tiffany Cabán, a city councilwoman from Queens and an ally of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, noting victories by more liberal candidates in citywide races for public advocate and comptroller. “It’s clear that his approach is actually the outlier.”

Stylistic differences also divide the two politicians, leading to criticism from both sides. Mr. Adams’s supporters, for instance, find Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to be self-righteous; the congresswoman’s backers find Mr. Adams to be arrogant.

There is no question that Mr. Adams has felt pestered by liberals like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Ms. Cabán, as well as their socialist partners in Albany, like State Senator Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn, who says that the mayor is merely “repackaging Republican talking points and ideology for a Democratic audience.”

“It’s definitely not a progressive agenda,” Mr. Brisport said. “It’s the Mayor Adams agenda.”

Mr. Adams’s supporters contend that despite the mayor’s aggressive stance on law enforcement issues, he has much in common with the progressive wing of the party, noting planned investments in public housing, child care and mental health services.

They also note that Mr. Adams just won an election, and thus has a mandate to lead as he sees fit.

Even before his inauguration, Mr. Adams had struck a defiant tone with left-wingers, rebuffing incoming City Council members by saying he would ignore a written plea to end solitary confinement at Rikers Island. “Like it or not,” he said, “I’m the mayor.”

Evan Thies, an adviser to Mr. Adams, said that “it’s important to recognize that the mayor and many of those who are critical of him from the far left started in the same place” — as working-class New Yorkers, often from “underserved communities” — and want the same things, including equality, affordability, and “a higher quality of life.”

“So his message to them is: We are prioritizing the same people,” Mr. Thies said. “Let’s start there and then talk short-term and long-term solutions.”

Mr. Adams, who at 61 is nearly twice the congresswoman’s age, is a product of a classic New York City political upbringing. Fashioned in the trenches of Brooklyn machine politics, he likes to communicate via street corner interviews and tabloid headlines, something he has managed to regularly generate with a series of nights on the town, trumpeting his swagger as a selling point.

And while his administration uses Twitter as a way to amplify policy and city announcements, the mayor has made clear his disdain for the medium, telling a primary night crowd that “social media does not pick a candidate.”

“People on Social Security pick a candidate,” he said.

At 32, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is an online juggernaut, with millions of Twitter followers, legions of devoted fans and robust fund-raising operation. Dan Sena, a Democratic consultant in Washington, said that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez also possessed an uncanny political skill for defining her positions — and her opponent.

“She is always, always, always on message,” he said, adding, “She does a very good job of always creating a bad guy. And in this particular case, it’s the mayor.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s office points out that both teams do work together on various projects — including combating Covid-19, improving subway stations and securing a potential grant for City Island — in Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s district, which spans parts of southeastern Bronx and northern Queens.

Still, the squabbles between Mr. Adams and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and others on the left may hint at larger issues for Democrats.

Susan Kang, a political science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a democratic socialist, said that the infighting represented an “unresolved dilemma” for Democrats, who have lost the specter of former President Donald J. Trump as a unifying force for their sometimes unwieldy electoral coalition.

“It’s really a very different time than 2018,” she said, noting that left-wing candidates — and their grass-roots energy — were welcomed by party leaders in that election cycle, when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez burst onto the national stage with her primary upset over Representative Joseph Crowley.

“They were like, ‘Oh look, the young people, they’re doing something cute,’” Professor Kang added. “Now, it’s seen as a real existential threat.”

A.O.C. and Eric Adams Have Not Spoken in Nearly a Year - The New York Times

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