Eric Adams for Police Commissioner

But How Black Is Mark Green?

Lieutenant Eric Adams, the outspoken head of a black police officers' group that was once the target of an undercover investigation by the NYPD, is being touted as a serious candidate to become the city's next police commissioner.

For the past three months, several high-ranking officers—black and white—privately have been proposing a full-blown campaign to persuade mayoral hopeful Mark Green to consider appointing Adams the head of the nation's largest police force. "We've been weighing the downside of coming out," said one top department official, who is white, and who claimed he was "the first to drum up support" for Adams. "We're talking about political repercussions that would come from City Hall and One Police Plaza."

In April, Adams, who is president of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, endorsed Green, asserting that the public advocate was "no Johnny-come-lately" to encouraging better relations between police and the African American community. Adams, 40, would be one of the country's youngest police commissioners and the third African American in the city's history to hold the prestigious post. "Mark should go 'the Green Mile' on this one," quipped an Adams supporter who is in law enforcement. So is Mark Green black enough? "Mark is very fond of Eric," said Joe DePlasco, a spokesman for Green, who won the endorsements of former mayor David Dinkins and rap music mogul Russell Simmons. "Eric has done a lot of good work for the police department and the city, but Mark will not discuss who he would consider for police commissioner."

Mayoral hopeful urged to consider leader of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement for NYPD top cop.
photo: Jay Muhlin
Mayoral hopeful urged to consider leader of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement for NYPD top cop.

Some political pundits speculated that in a Green administration William Bratton would reprise his role as police commissioner. But law enforcement supporters of Adams argued that Bratton's endorsement of Green—which was meant to deflate charges that Green is "anti-cop"—comes at a higher price. Bratton, they say, wants to be appointed deputy mayor, making it easy for Green to consider installing Adams as police commissioner. Bratton did not return a Voice call for comment.

"No matter which of these candidates becomes mayor, I think that Eric Adams has certainly gained the confidence of the broader New York City community," said Congressman Charles Rangel, the highest-ranking New York City politician to throw his support behind Adams. "I think he'd be an outstanding candidate," added Rangel, who has not made an endorsement in the mayoral race. "And he wouldn't have to go to the police academy for sensitivity lessons either."

Adams said he endorsed Green partly because Bratton had joined Green's camp. "I have had a long relationship with Commissioner Bratton," Adams said. "In the beginning, he and I disagreed philosophically on strategies of policing, and we would get into public confrontations. But our relationship grew into one of mutual respect because he is a professional. I discovered that he was willing to listen to ideas that are sound and well thought out."

A stocky, clean-cut figure with an imposing stride, the bald-headed Adams is sometimes referred to as "the laughing policeman" because of his ebullient giggle. Speaking as the head of 100 Blacks at many of the racially charged NYPD controversies during the Giuliani years and addressing issues in crisp, articulate rhetoric, the charismatic Adams has become a familiar figure to New Yorkers. He calls friends and strangers "brother" or "sister" but is tough as nails on critics who brand him a maverick.

The veteran cop, whose organization planted a tree on Sunday at the sight where Good Samaritan Rupinder Singh was gunned down July 20 by a carjacker, rails daily about crime in African American neighborhoods. His stock phrase is that African American suspects, who, for example, rob and kill livery drivers and who stash illegal handguns in homes that wind up in accidental, fatal shootings of children "are not representative of our community." The crime-fighting model, Operation Take Back Our Community (Operation T Back), which NYPD brass have imitated, was developed by Adams and his 100 Blacks. Today, scores of black and Latino teens—dubbed "permanent suspects" by racial profiling cops during encounters—refer to the group's guidance on "What to do when stopped by the police."

Despite his impressive record on social, political, and law enforcement issues, Adams told the Voice he was not campaigning for the top cop job. But the idea of being police commissioner initially overwhelmed him. He said he was not surprised that people in the department have that much respect for him. "It is encouraging to know that they believe that I am a credible candidate," he added. "I'm awed by their support. I would not have survived in the NYPD if it weren't for the good relations I have enjoyed over the years with these guys."

An NYPD insider, who asked not to be identified, sought to portray Adams as the most qualified person to revamp a department that has been denounced as racist. The source noted that police-community relations are poor in many neighborhoods, partly because of racial and ethnic tensions between minorities and the mostly white patrol force. He credited Adams with easing racial tensions and helping to improve the department's image in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999. "If we judge Eric by the standards Mayor Giuliani set when he appointed Bernard Kerik police commissioner, then Eric is way ahead of the pack," the insider contended.

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