NEW YORK — New York Republicans have a new messenger to push their law-and-order agenda ahead of the November midterms: A former cop who wants to rollback the state’s progressive bail reforms. The only problem: He’s not a Republican.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams — the self-anointed “face of the Democratic Party” — has become a reluctant ally to GOP candidates trying to connect with voters fed up with rising crime rates. The mayor, a former NYPD captain who was once a registered Republican, has ramped up his push for stricter pre-trial detention rules just as Republicans running for Congress and the governor’s office are doing the same.
The GOP is seizing on Adams’ unconventional position as further proof that criminal justice reforms are driving rising crime and that most Democrats are out of touch. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul is pushing back, and that’s left Adams in an awkward position as he seeks to balance political allegiance and a key campaign promise to reduce crime. Adams insists he supports his Democratic colleagues, including Hochul, but Republicans have been happy to suggest he’s with them — and that there are bigger themes at play.
“New York politics have been too often dominated by Democratic primaries, where the most extreme position wins, and the broader voting population is left in the dark,” New York City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli, a Republican who has an alliance with the mayor, said in an interview. “It’s much bigger than just the Democratic mayor. It’s what nearly every single Democratic politician tells me privately but is afraid of their Democratic primary voting constituents.”
The star-crossed affair between Adams and the GOP — one that the mayor has spurned — began on Tuesday, when Adams urged Hochul to call the state Legislature back to Albany from its summer vacation and tighten the state’s bail laws, which were relaxed in 2020. The body had already reconvened once since breaking for the year, to strengthen gun regulations and abortion rights in response to a pair of seismic Supreme Court rulings handed down in June.
“I hope they will do that,” Adams said at City Hall. “I hope that, just as we had a special call to return to Albany to deal with the ruling on right to carry, I believe that Albany should consider coming and revisiting some of the violence we’re seeing of repeat offenders.”
Adams was responding to allegations that a teen recently released without bail in a robbery case later attacked a cop in the city’s subways. But the plea also came days after an alleged assault on Rep. Lee Zeldin, Hochul’s Republican challenger, at a campaign event near Rochester. The accused attacker was released without bail after the county district attorney, a Zeldin campaign co-chair, charged the man with a low-level felony not eligible for bail under New York State law.
So, when Adams asked Hochul to rethink the state’s bail laws, and she declined, Zeldin proclaimed he’d answer the clarion call given the chance.
“Mayor Adams is crying out as the elected mayor of New York City, on behalf of millions of New Yorkers who do not feel safe in their city,” Zeldin said at a Thursday press conference. “I stand here wanting to work with the mayor of New York City to secure New York’s streets, subways, homes and residents.”
The Long Island congressman quickly debuted a new digital ad attacking Hochul on bail and reveled in discord the mayor’s comments sowed as he sought to tie Adams’ aberrant stance to the rest of the mayor’s party.
“I understand there’s an election coming up Nov. 8. My support for the mayor’s position is going to make a number of Democrats uncomfortable. It might even make the mayor uncomfortable,” he said at the press conference. “It might be putting the mayor in a difficult position, because I happen to be running against the sitting governor of his own party.”
Adams won office pledging to combat rising crime, but unrest has continued to spike since he took office in January. He’s partially blamed state bail reforms passed in 2019 and enacted in 2020 that require judges to free suspects in non-violent felonies and most misdemeanors rather than holding them on cash bail.
Current and former police commissioners, police unions and purveyors of bail bonds have all blamed the reforms for rising crime in New York City — which mirrors national trends, even in jurisdictions that have not made similar changes to bail laws.
The state has rolled back portions of the bail law twice, and Adams wants to go further by allowing judges to consider whether a defendant poses a public danger, rather than merely gauging their flight risk. (Zeldin’s alleged attacker, who was freed on state charges, was later held on federal counts and could remain in custody pending conviction because federal courts can detain defendants deemed dangerous, unlike New York state courts).
Adams also wants teen offenders to be charged as adults in violent or gun-related cases, another position shared by the GOP. (The teenage defendant who sparked his bail reform comments was freed by a family court, which cannot set bail.)
On Friday, Adams rejected Zeldin’s overtures, criticizing the conservative’s stance on gun control and reiterating his endorsement of Hochul.
“When you look at the fact that Congressman Zeldin was one of the few congressmen that voted against the simple, smart way of dealing with gun violence, it’s clear that we are not aligned with public safety. That is why I have endorsed Gov. Hochul,” Adams told reporters.
“He just refuses to deal with the over-proliferation of guns,” added Adams, who has said he owns three guns.
Hochul campaign spokesperson Jerrel Harvey also targeted Zeldin on firearms.
“His extreme stances would put more guns on our streets and make it easier to carry firearms in places like schools, subways and grocery stores,” Harvey said. “The facts are clear, Zeldin is dangerously out-of-touch and would make New York less safe.”
Still, Republican state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt welcomed Adams into the fold as he sought to distinguish the moderate mayor from the Democratic “political ruling class in Albany.”
“New York City Mayor Adams today joined our calls for a special legislative session to address bail reform and other public safety concerns,” he said. “Our Senate Republican Conference stands ready to repeal bail reform and restore public safety to our state. Voters will have to make a change this November.”
State Sen. Mike Gianaris — the head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm and the 2020 bail reform’s sponsor — bristled at Adams’ alignment with Republicans on the issue, saying the mayor is not doing Democrats any favors.
“It’s not great when members of our own party are misrepresenting issues to our detriment,” Gianaris said in an interview. “They’ve [Adams and the GOP] both embraced each other and their inner demagogues … All the data shows the bail issue is not what’s driving the increase in crime … It seems to me like the mayor’s trying to deflect from his own inability to corral this problem.”
Anna Gronewold and Julian Shen-Berro contributed to this report.