For most of 2021, the race for the city’s second most powerful position had been a bewildering mess that few in the real estate industry would wade into without risk of angering the eventual winner.
As many as eight council members floated candidacies for speaker. By Monday, Dec. 13, though, most of them had dropped out and thrown their support to Adrienne Adams, a Democratic council member from southeast Queens and a former community board chair in the area who was rarely mentioned as a frontrunner and did not have the initial backing of Eric Adams, then the incoming mayor.
Adams, 61, quickly emerged as a consensus candidate for most of the 51-member council as well as organized labor — particularly building and municipal workers — and county Democratic Party heads who played a pivotal role determining the outcome of the race. By the end of the week, her lone rival, Queens Councilmember Francisco Moya, conceded and the speakership was hers.
“She’s been more of an on-the-ground type of person and not a type of political politician pol, who tries to do the right thing,” said one Queens political source with familiarity of Adams’ thought process. “She’s a little surprised she made it by the end, thinking, ‘I won, what?’”
Real estate leaders were relieved with the outcome. The council’s left-wing flank has gained more members in recent years and industry leaders feared a progressive candidate could jam up Mayor Adams’ agenda while risking the city’s recovery. Adrienne Adams was viewed as less ideological and more pragmatic than other candidates.
“We share her goals of supporting a strong and equitable economic recovery, creating good jobs and increasing the production of much-needed housing, including affordable housing,” Jim Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said in a statement. “We are committed to working closely with her and the council to advance data-driven, results-oriented policies that move the city’s economic recovery forward.”
A native of Hollis, Queens, Adrienne Adams graduated from Spelman College, a private, historically Black, women’s liberal arts college in Atlanta, and began training child care professionals. She also worked as a manager and marketer for several telecommunications companies before becoming a corporate human resources trainer who worked primarily with executives.
Politics would come later. In 2009, Adams started volunteering with Queens Community Board 12, which covers Downtown Jamaica and six other neighborhoods in Southeast Queens. She served as its education chairwoman and represented the board at citywide education events and Department of Education policy meetings.
Three years later, she was selected as the board’s chairwoman, where she served for five years. During that time she developed a close relationship with Queens Democratic County bosses Joe Crowley and Gregory Meeks, the latter who succeeded Crowley in 2019. The party’s leaders fundraised and backed her in an unsuccessful effort to oust Queens Sen. James Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary. When Queens Democrat Ruben Wills’ Council seat opened up following his 2017 conviction on fraud and larceny charges, Adams secured endorsements from Crowley and Meeks and breezed to victory.
She also developed a reputation as a good listener and fair arbiter on complicated land use disputes. Her support in 2021 for the New York Blood Center’s controversial research tower provided cover for other members to back the plan even though the neighborhood’s councilman opposed it. When her former community board opposed a senior housing project put forward last year, she listened to both sides before arriving at a decision to support the proposal.
“She’s not necessarily looking to win a popularity contest, but serve constituents she was put here to [serve],” Richards said. “At the end of the day, she arrived at a decision to better the lives of her constituents and address community facility space and housing.”
Adams will look to utilize her experience in the corporate world and local government to manage the disparate power centers within City Hall.