NEW YORK — Mayor Eric Adams continued to defend his political fundraising apparatus Wednesday, saying he’d be “shocked” and “hurt” if anyone connected to it is criminally charged as part of an ongoing federal corruption inquiry into his 2021 campaign.
But it remains unclear exactly where the investigation is going — and how much of a political toll it might take on Adams.
“I cannot tell you how much I start my day with telling my team: You got to follow the law,” Adams said at City Hall in his first briefing with reporters since FBI agents raided the home of his top campaign fundraiser, Brianna Suggs, last Thursday as part of the probe.
His latest comments come as conversations about a potential primary challenge against him in the 2025 election have picked up steam among members of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.
Despite the buzz in left-wing circles since last week’s raid at Suggs’ Brooklyn home, though, no one has stepped up to the plate and launched a formal campaign against Adams, a moderate Democrat who often clashes with the left.
One prominent New York political consultant said the reason there’s likely still hesitancy about officially kicking off a 2025 bid against Adams is because it’s not yet clear how serious of a problem the mayor and his campaign could face from the FBI corruption probe.
“The mayor is still extremely popular with his base, and he’s going to have a fundraising advantage,” said Basil Smikle, a former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party who served as the campaign manager for Adams’ 2021 rival, Ray McGuire.
Adams has already raised more than $2.5 million for his reelection bid, giving him a major financial edge over anyone looking to challenge him in 2025.
“Unless this implicates him directly, where you see that he had been himself manipulating things behind the scenes, I don’t think this has any significant effect on his base,” Smikle continued. “Having said that, if I’m a progressive right now who had already been looking at taking him on, if this continues, if the investigation deepens, one could see a scenario where progressives coalesce around someone who could put up a formidable challenge.”
Adams’ incumbency comes with a raft of institutional perks, including likely backing from the city’s politically powerful public sector unions, whose leaders have negotiated what are considered good contracts with his administration and enjoy a warm relationship with the mayor. Adams also has strong support from the business community, including from the real estate industry, which is influential in city politics.
Still, Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College, said the FBI raid could make Adams more politically vulnerable than he has ever been since becoming mayor.
“It doesn’t look good at all,” said Muzzio.
The Suggs raid comes against the backdrop of a web of other legal entanglements touching on the Adams campaign and the mayor’s associates.
In July, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted six Adams supporters, including a retired NYPD inspector who’s friends with the mayor, on charges that they orchestrated a sprawling straw donor scheme to generate tens of thousands of dollars in illegal public matching funds for his campaign. Two of the six indicted supporters pleaded guilty last month to charges that they participated in the scheme, which prosecutors say was undertaken with an aim to curry political favor with Adams in hopes that it could net the defendants lucrative city contracts and other benefits.
Adams is also dealing with fallout from a criminal prosecution of Eric Ulrich, his former Buildings Department commissioner, who was indicted by Bragg in September on charges that he took $150,000 in bribes from six co-defendants in exchange for securing them official government favors.
Neither Adams nor Suggs have been charged with any crime in connection with the FBI raid, but Muzzio predicted it will still take a political toll on the mayor.
“All we know is that prosecutors have a substantial case,” Muzzio said. “That news is not good no matter what the final outcome is.”
According to a search warrant obtained by The New York Times, the federal corruption probe that triggered the Suggs raid is looking into allegations that Adams’ 2021 campaign conspired with the Turkish government and KSK Construction, a Brooklyn contractor with ties to Turkey, to funnel foreign cash into the campaign’s coffers via straw donors.
Suggs is a longtime aide to Adams who ran his 2021 campaign fundraising apparatus and continues to carry out the same duties for his reelection bid, having claimed credit in public records for raising more than $20 million for him over the years.
“I’m really proud of her,” Adams said of Suggs at Wednesday’s news conference. “I am sure she’s going to get through this because she followed the rules.”
After getting word of the raid at Suggs’ home last Thursday, Adams abruptly canceled a visit to the White House to discuss the crippling migrant crisis and is not traveling to Puerto Rico this week for the annual Somos conference, where most prominent names in New York politics are expected to be in attendance.
“I didn’t think that it is appropriate for me to have on a flowery shirt, lying on the beach, drinking a margarita when I’m telling New Yorkers that it’s going to be a tough fiscal crisis,” Adams said Wednesday of he’s not going to Puerto Rico, referring to fiscal strain on the city from the migrant crisis.
Two local Democrats who have privately expressed increasing interest in running against Adams since the Suggs raid are state Sens. Jessica Ramos and Zellnor Myrie, sources directly familiar with the matter told the Daily News.
As first reported by Politico, Ramos and Myrie, progressive Democrats who’d challenge Adams from the left, have both reached out to strategists, political allies and powerbrokers in the city’s organized labor movement to get a handle on what a 2025 campaign against Adams could look like against the backdrop of the federal corruption probe.
One source familiar with the matter told The News that Myrie, who represents the same Brooklyn state Senate district Adams once did, is “energized,” but a bit more reserved than Ramos in his outreach.
“He wants to know what his next move should be,” said a veteran Democratic strategist who has worked on various campaigns for city elected offices.
Myrie did not return a message.
Ramos, who also did not return a request for comment, has publicly made clear she’s seriously considering a 2025 bid, is taking a more aggressive approach, according to another source.
“Ramos is more gung-ho about it,” the source said, describing her outreach as being more focused on building out a potential campaign team.
Camille Rivera, a partner of New Deal Strategies, a progressive consulting firm that worked on former City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s 2021 mayoral campaign, said she has moved off her former thinking that a credible challenge against Adams is impossible.
“A few months ago, I rolled my eyes about someone challenging the mayor,” she said. “Right now, I see an actual path to win against the mayor if this scandal really does continue to thread the needle and connect the tissue to him. It’s a no-brainer that there’s now an opening. Even someone who thought they wouldn’t be viable as a candidate could now be viable.”
In addition to the cautious behind-the-scene moves from Myrie and Ramos, Allen Roskoff, a longtime LGBTQ activist, earlier this year launched a “Coalition for Mayoral Choice,” which aims to find a single progressive 2025 mayoral candidate that the city’s political left can coalesce around.
Though most of the buzz around an Adams challenger has been on the left wing of the political spectrum, Evan Roth Smith, a Democratic strategist who worked on 2021 mayoral candidate Andrew Yang’s campaign, said one of the biggest threats to the mayor is if someone in his own “lane” opts to launch a 2025 challenge.
“The biggest danger to the mayor would be someone in his own lane, potentially a prominent Black elected official who can appeal to the same base,” Roth Smith said, referencing outer-borough African American working and middle class voters. “If (Adams) doesn’t just have to fight the left, but also defend himself to his own base, that’s a whole different problem for him.”