Former police captain Eric Adams cruised to victory to become the next mayor of New York as voters across the United States picked new city leaders from candidates defined mainly by their stances on police and crime.
Adams, who will become the second Black mayor of the nation’s largest city, first triumphed this summer in a crowded Democratic primary after striking a nuanced stance on law enforcement issues.
His message on crime and his experience as a police officer largely insulated him from attacks from his Republican opponent Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels’s anti-crime patrol founder.
Adams described being beaten by police officers as a teenager when he was arrested for trespassing. When he later became a cop, he was a vocal critic of the police department, advocated for Black officers and spoke out about injustices.
But he did not embrace calls from some progressives to defund the police by shifting money from law enforcement to social work and other programmes aimed at addressing the root causes of crime.
Police and crime issues came to the forefront in cities big and small after the death of George Floyd last year, which led to a national reckoning on racial injustice and law enforcement.
The debate centred on questions of when and where police are needed – or sometimes whether they’re needed at all. It also unfolded amid an increase in homicides in the wake of the pandemic.
In some big cities, fear or a desire for a middle-ground approach elevated candidates seen as more supportive of law enforcement or who have rejected liberal calls to defund the police.
In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, the push for change could upend law enforcement practices and help decide who leads the city.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat, has defended the police department against calls to dismantle it. On Tuesday, he’s fighting to keep his job against 16 challengers, with the most serious contenders running to his left.
On the other side of New York state, the mayoral race in Buffalo puts India Walton, a democratic socialist, in a rematch with incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, the city’s first Black mayor and a Democrat who lost the primary to Walton this summer.
He is now running as a write-in candidate with support from law enforcement and has criticised Walton for her plans to cut $7.5m from the police department budget. She says the plan is aimed at addressing the root causes of crime. Brown says the move is “clearly defunding police”.
In Atlanta, rising crime rates and a spate of high-profile killings have many residents saying they would like to balance policing and racial justice. Former Mayor Kasim Reed is seeking to return to office as a top contender in a crowded nonpartisan race that will likely result in a runoff.
Reed cited the crime surge as the motivation for his campaign for a third term. He has told voters that the low crime rate during his tenure and the hundreds of police officers he once hired make him the best choice.
In Seattle, mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell, a former city council member who has called for hiring more police officers to stem a rise in shootings, has criticised opponent Lorena González for supporting the police defunding movement.
González, the city council president, has called for an overhaul of the police department, which is under federal supervision for a pattern of excessive force and evidence of biased policing.
In Boston, the contest between city council members Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu means whoever wins will become the city’s first woman and first person of colour elected mayor.
The candidates, both Democrats in a nonpartisan race, have chiefly clashed over issues such as affordable housing, public education and transportation. But differences on policing and crime have also emerged.
Wu, daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and a protégé of liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, has called for significant police reforms. Before she was a candidate, Wu joined other city council members in calling for a 10 percent cut to the police department’s budget.
Essaibi George, who describes herself as Polish-Arab American, has opposed reallocating the money and has called for hiring several hundred more police officers. She was endorsed by former Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.