S2 | Episode 1 | Eric Adams

Eric Adams:                        00:02                    

This Brooklyn fusion where you can walk into a Chinese restaurant and have an Italian cook, making a Jewish meal that he learned from his Polish grandmother. That's the joy of what diversity brings.

Ofer Cohen:                       00:17                    

This is Hey BK. I'm Ofer Cohen, it's my pleasure to have Borough President, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and our newly created Hey Bk studio in the TerraCRG office in Prospect Heights. Welcome, Eric.

Eric Adams:                        00:32                    

Thank you so much, great Being here.

Ofer Cohen:                       00:34                    

Thank you, and we're going to jump right in! One of the first times we've met, you spoke at our Brooklyn real estate conference at B.A.M a few years ago and you coined the phrase "build baby build". Talk to me about development in Brooklyn and your vision for how we can continue to develop responsibly.

Eric Adams:                        00:53                    

That's such a great question. I think that it’s so important to understand where we are. If you don't have your finger on the pulse, it's hard really to move forward and understand the climate on the ground because a lot of the change in zoning, the changing in how we develop in the borough is impacted by the political climate.

Ofer Cohen:                       01:15                    

Eric Adams is the first African American elected to the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President. He grew up in Brownsville and has worked as a police officer. His path along with a search for mindfulness and health has given him a unique view on the success and failure of city government. Eric Adams has experienced a transformation of Brooklyn firsthand. He now lives in Bedford Stuyvesant. He began his political career as a democratic state senator. We talked a lot about real estate, but during our conversation, he told me about his passion to spread his views on healthy living.

Eric Adams:                        01:47                    

I am what's called a whole food, plant-based eater, so I don't like any processed minimum.

Ofer Cohen:                       01:54                    

How long have you been doing it for?

Eric Adams:                        01:56                    

About two and a half years.

Ofer Cohen:                       01:58                    

Wow. You must feel incredible.

Eric Adams:                        02:01                    

My mother, who's 80 years old, she joined my same way of life and she's now off all her meds, no longer on insulin and she's feeling great.

Ofer Cohen:                       02:14                    

That's amazing!

Eric Adams:                        02:17                    

And I don't know if we really are paying attention to what is happening to us. We're really concerned about, are we focused on a national dysfunctional atmosphere? But the reality, I'm not worried about it who is on the national leaders, I'm worried about what we're becoming as human beings.

Ofer Cohen:                       02:38                    

One hundred percent.

Eric Adams:                        02:39                    

The anger that I see every day. The instant shootings, the, you know, just the yelling and screaming. Our children must be saying to themselves, what the heck is going on?

Ofer Cohen:                       02:50                    

Right? So the whole notion of we're New Yorkers, we're tough, if you make it here, you can make it anywhere. You know. I mean maybe it shouldn't be this way.

Eric Adams:                        03:01                    

Affirmations come in two levels. You could affirm the fact that you are respectful, that you're mindful, that you're thoughtful. Or You could affirm the fact that hey, we're tough. You know, and songs that say you could make it here, you can make it anywhere. Hey, you know, we don't take any mess we're New Yorkers, you know, that starts to affirm your characteristics. And then in the opposite, we should be affirming things that show the compassion within us because we do this event, we call heroes of the month to show actions by everyday New Yorkers, and Brooklynites to be specific. And when you look at the various incidents around the heroes and the things they're doing every day, we don't highlight these people on how they go beyond their call of duty to make sure that their fellow Brooklynite or New Yorker is able to benefit. And there are some amazing stories. We're going to compile all the stories of the various heroes and just show the things that people are doing every day. And so we need to change those affirmations of, you know, we're the tough New Yorkers. You can be strong on issues, but kind in how you carry out to run a city like this.

Ofer Cohen:                       04:16                    

And why is it so hard? Why is it so hard in such a big city, the biggest city in America to get this right?

Eric Adams:                        04:24                    

So that's a great question. And it is what I have spent much of my adult life really focusing on. And it is because we believe that we're supposed to live in crises in big cities, and it's not that, it's untrue. When you look at what we did during the eighties and early nineties, mid-nineties, I should say, in policing, we thought crime was unmanageable. We were having 2000 homicides a year in this city, 98,000 robberies and almost an equal amount of felonious assaults and Bill Bratton to his vision and fortitude, he understood that we don't have to live in violence just because we are a big city. And he changed the culture of that thinking. I saw the evolution of not only our practices, but I saw the evolution of our thinking. We started to think differently and believe differently.

Ofer Cohen:                       05:24                    

From education to the Department of buildings. Adams calls on city officials to duplicate the models that work and to identify policies that are creating crisis.

Eric Adams:                        05:33                    

For example, the Department of Education and the Department of Health, The Department of Health spends millions of dollars to try to deal with childhood obesity, childhood asthma, childhood diabetes. Yet, every morning and every afternoon, the Department of Education prepares 980,000 meals daily feed our babies and the food they give them cause childhood obesity, childhood diabetes, childhood asthma. When you go to the Department of Education, they say, no, that's our concern is just educate children not help, and I said, no, we must be all connected through the same mission. If we're not connected through the same mission, then we're not going to solve the problem. We're going to continue to feed the problem. Same as some of the places like the Department of Buildings. The Department of Buildings, if you would go to the head of the Department of Buildings and all the middle management, they will tell you their job is to make sure buildings are safe and I said, no, your job is to feed into our overall mission of ensuring that we deal with unemployment that we deal with agencies in restaurants and businesses and developers to be able to hire many unemployables and you need to feed into the urgency with the safety of making sure projects are moving forward and not holding back the development of the city or the opening of a restaurant, The opening up a business and when you have a disconnection, we become so used to it. You will go to many of our developers and they said, well, you know, we expect to come here and get our plan and we're held up for another year or six months. I need to hire an expediter to navigate a city business. And if you go back to someone like a Henry Ford, while everyone else was thinking about how to make horses run faster, Henry Ford said, I'm trying to build a car. Or Jobs. Jobs looked at that Walkman that we were carrying around and said, no, I want to build a different device that is more than just a place that you listened to music in a separate phone carrier. And so there are many great thinkers out there on our college campuses and not in college at all, in their garages that have examined why we are still in a Walkman mode of handling this city and we need to bring them in and allow their creative juices to examine the problem and be bold enough to start on a lower level and then scale up.

Ofer Cohen:                       08:11                    


Eric Adams:                        08:12                    

And if we don't start having in various parts of the city pilot programs and projects so we can look at how do you scale up? Perfect example of that. What frustrates me a lot is the Department of Education. It is mind-boggling that you have some schools in this city that have figured out how to educate, many of our children that we thought were uneducatable, yet we have never scaled up what they're doing.

Ofer Cohen:                       08:42                    

In talking about the shortcomings of city government. Adams is honest about the need to address segregation which penetrates all areas of city life.

Eric Adams:                        08:51                    

The signs are not up saying no x allowed, but the reality is that we are practicing segregation. We're practicing segregation in our school system, we're practicing segregation in our houses of worship, we're practicing segregation in the restaurants that we go and sit down. We are a practicing segregated city and you cannot make it nice by saying that we are not. We need to acknowledge the first step to recovery if it's NA or AA, is to say I am an. Once you acknowledge that you could start the process of changing.

Ofer Cohen:                       09:32                    

Adam says Brooklynites, live in an ever-changing landscape.

Eric Adams:                        09:36                    

To me, gentrification is not an ethnicity. It's a mindset because you could have a person come into community and their attempts to displace the cultural norms of that communities is what is the problem, but if you have a person, no matter what ethnicity they may be from or where they're coming from and they want to embrace that community and add their flavor to the existing part of that community. To me, that's not gentrification. What is happening far too often, many new arrivals don't have basic table manners where they don't embrace their neighbors. They used to be a day when a person moves on your block, you'll bring them a cake or something and say, welcome to the neighborhood and in fact, we don't do that anymore. If we don't start embracing ourselves and embracing the new arrivals and the new arrivals embracing and learning about the existing community. When I was a cop who used to get a person who used to call the precinct every time and say, every Sunday these cars double parked on our block in his loud noise coming out of the building, it was a church. You know, for the people, that's what they do, In the Bed Stuy community. So when you fight against those cultural norms, instead of saying, you know what, let me go visit that church and learn who pastor and people is. Immerse yourself in the community and not be afraid of the community. That is the gentrification that is troubling, but when you look at the embracing of diversity and ideas, I love it. I want my son to walk out of his house, walk out of our home and see people that he didn't interact with before. I want him to enjoy this Brooklyn fusion where you can walk into a Chinese restaurant and have an Italian cook making a Jewish meal that he learned from his Polish grandmother. That's the joy of, of what diversity brings

Ofer Cohen:                       11:32                    

when you drive through Brooklyn, what areas do you think are ready and ripe for more development?

Eric Adams:                        11:41                    

I never thought I would reach the point where I would be able to say there is no bad real estate in Brooklyn. I policed in many parts of Brooklyn and there where communities where it was the poster child of where you will never live. That conversation has changed. There's a conversation now about how do we reshape and redesign Broadway junction where the L, the A, the J all come together, great transportation opportunities along from the Williamsburg bridge. We can move office spaces there, city agencies there, and really start a thriving community years ago when I moved, when I moved into prospect heights first, people who said to me, are you out of your mind? Why would you live there? I'm in Bedford Stuyvesant now on Lafayette Avenue, and I was not only trying to fight against the big rats running around but the slick cats that were selling drugs on the corner you know, the mothers and grandmothers who were, who were holding it down. It was extremely dangerous. We started a small block association, but now my property value has increased four times and some of those seniors who bought their homes, years ago and weathered through turbulent years now are able to retire if they sell their homes and moved to the south, to the Caribbean or wherever they want to live and downsize, their property values have increased. And so as you move throughout Brooklyn, I encourage young families to get off the beaten path. There are some beautiful homes in Brownsville and East New York, some great places out in Borough Park. There are some great opportunities still here in Brooklyn, but there are no bad neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Ofer Cohen:                       13:31                    

I think we spoke a lot about your vision for Brooklyn, your vision for the city. You know, tell me something nobody knows about you. Something personal. We already know you're Vegan so we can break that news.

Eric Adams:                        13:47                    

I think the probably the number one thing that the secret life of Eric is how much I am an introvert.

Ofer Cohen:                       13:55                    


Eric Adams:                        13:56                    

Yes. My favorite day is staying home in my pajamas, just listening to Ted talks all day. I'm in heaven. I'm in heaven.

Ofer Cohen:                       14:11                    

I can relate. Especially because you're spending your entire week talking to people, right?

Eric Adams:                        14:17                    

Yes. Yes. You know someone sometimes will ask my other half, you know, what are you guys doing this weekend? She'll say, hopefully, nothing. Because it's nonstop. It never ends from six in the morning to three at night. People don't realize Brooklyn. If it was a separate city, it would be the third largest city in America, 2.6 million people with 5 million different opinions. I think that the fact that I enjoy immensely quiet time and just really doing nothing at all is supporting those are my best moments that I enjoy. Don't get much of them anymore, but I look forward one day to get them again.

Ofer Cohen:                       15:04                    

What's next for Eric Adams?

Eric Adams:                        15:08                    

It was always my desire to one day to be the mayor of the city of New York, but that's a process. You don't just get there and when I was a rookie cop, I always wanted to be a captain in the police department, but you just didn't jump over the rank of sergeant and lieutenant to get there. You have to earn it and I think it's important. I think dreams are important. Look for where you want to go. I tell my son all the time, put your dreams in a universe and then do everything you need. The combination of preparedness and opportunity to create that. So after leaving the police department, becoming a state senator, learning how to legislate, becoming a borough president, learning how to be an executive part of government and moving on to the next citywide level and I don't know the pathway of that, I just want to be prepared. Whatever door opens, I always thought my legacy was going to be law enforcement. Everyone knew that. That's what people knew about me. They knew that I was against draconian police practices, but I believe my legacy now it's going to be health. Allowing people to do with what we thought was incurable diseases. I believe my transformation of diabetes and my mother's transformation, it's going to open the door for New Yorkers and I'm excited about how the city is starting to embrace some of my concepts around how we can be unhealthy city. And if New Yorkers see that and they believe that vision can go to the next level, then I welcome it. But that is my ultimate goal one day.

Ofer Cohen:                       16:38                    

That's amazing. Thank you so much. Borough president, Eric Adams, our first guest in our newly created hey bk studio, in the TerraCRG office in prospect heights. Thank you so much. Really appreciate having you here.

Eric Adams:                        16:53                    

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Ofer Cohen:                      16:54                    

Thank you. You're listening to Hey, BK, the podcast about the people behind Brooklyn's transformation. You can find us at heybk.nyc or wherever you get your podcasts. Please download and subscribe to our episodes. I'm Ofer Cohen. Thanks for listening.