“Social media does not pick a candidate,” NYC mayoral frontrunner Eric Adams said Tuesday night during what sounded like a victory speech in all but name. “People on Social Security pick a candidate.”
Adams isn’t lying. The poorest Black and brown boroughs of New York came out and voted for the ex-cop, former Republican and multiple property owner who once said, “I am real estate” and who’d been slammed by diverse progressives warning that his calls for an increased police presence would be harmful to Black communities. But the most vulnerable voters appeared to favor him over “Defund the Police” candidate Dianne Morales and Maya Wiley, the former MSNBC talker who avoided that slogan while effectively running against the NYPD and the police unions and emerged as the leading progressive in the race after she was backed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren. As of now, it looks likely that Wiley will fall short as Adams easily bested her—and in AOC’s district, to boot.
Instead, those vulnerable voters appear to prefer a man who’s far from the radical voices who have recently taken New York by storm in Congress (and who ended up backing Wiley). Adams is the kind of man my uncle would vote for because he’s got the kind of blue-collar swagger that makes people like Wiley, with her law degree and elite credentials, feel out of touch. Despite decades in New York politics and his real estate holdings, Adams has presented himself as an everyman for everyday New Yorkers.
His apparent success points to how progressiveness among Black voters has hit a generational divide, also reflected in earlier polling showing Adams dominating among older voters even as Wiley surged with younger ones. While the racial uprisings have done something to shape political change in specific districts, larger citywide and national races are still playing catchup. We saw this last year when President Joe Biden was the frontrunner amongst Black voters in spite of the Black progressive push for candidates such as Warren and Julián Castro.
Wednesday proved to be another victory for moderates as Biden proposed to fund more police departments as a way to combat gun violence—despite activists and police reform advocates demanding something entirely different. This follows the national trend for major cities to renege on previous declarations about police accountability as homicides continue to climb.
“Crime historically rises during the summer,” Biden said during his speech on Wednesday afternoon. “And as we emerge from this pandemic with the country opening back up again, the traditional summer spike may even be more pronounced than it usually would be.”
It’s become clear that moderates like Biden and Adams can use such public fear to hold firm against bigger progressive demands that feel unattainable to general voters. Black voters are not a monolith, and even though media coverage of Black progressive activists is increasing, the polls don’t yet match the higher visibility of the cause.
Translation: Most Black voters are more moderate than social media and mainstream coverage would have you believe. It’s time to unpack why.
For starters, it’s really an age game. While Black voters are more progressive overall, younger and more educated Black voters are more likely to hold progressive views (like their white counterparts). Older Black voters tend to become more moderate, and sometimes downright conservative.
That leaves progressives with two choices: Either continue to push their agenda and hope that the demographics will eventually turn in their favor if (and it’s a big “if”) those younger progressives stay progressive as they age, or reshape their tactics to appeal to a larger base. It’s become clear that tougher police reform is going to take longer than some might have hoped.
This isn’t about giving up on bigger goals, but about finding a more practical path to achieving them in the years ahead. Whenever the most marginalized aren’t getting the message, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and unpack why.