WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan (PIX11) — Mayor Eric Adams took exception to the way a longtime tenant housing activist spoke with him at a town hall Wednesday evening.
In a brief but heated exchange, Adams implied the way she came at him was racist. The activist said the mayor simply did not want to answer a tough question on rising rents.
“I’m the mayor of this city,” Adams said at one point. “Treat me with the respect that I deserve to be treated. I’m speaking with you as an adult. Don’t stand in front like you’re treating someone that’s on a plantation that you own.”
The mayor was responding to Jeanie Dubnau. She rose, pointed at the mayor, and criticized him for appointing members to the Rent Guidelines Board. The board just voted to raise rents by 3% on one-year leases.
“Why are we having these horrible rent increases last year and this year?” Dubnau said.
PIX11 News tracked down Dubnau for a Zoom interview. She said she had little choice but to stand up and be more assertive because the mayor and his team were being highly controlling of the community conversation.
“I felt I had to say what I came to say, which is that Mayor Adams is the enemy of tenants,” Dubnau said.
In her view, the reason the mayor lashed out at her and evoked race was fairly straightforward: “To avoid answering questions. He avoids answering questions. That’s what he does. He lies.”
Adams seemed to take particular exception to the pointing by Dubnau.
“Don’t be pointing at me. Don’t be disrespectful to me,” Adams said. “Speak with me as an adult, because I’m a grown man.”
Democratic political analyst Basil Smikle said the pointing motion is where the situation gets more complicated for him. Smikle believes there were some things that went unsaid in the exchange that people may not even realize.
“There may not have been racist intent, but many African Americans were raised and admonished to never point because that is a sign of disrespect,” Smikle said. “It has racial implication akin to calling someone a ‘boy.’ That’s how it’s received, despite the way it might not have been intended that way.”
Adams was focused on announcing a budget deal Thursday and did not take questions about the incident at the town hall.
Wednesday evening was not the first time Adams has pushed back on members of the public and reporters for not understanding his worldview as New York City’s second African American mayor while being criticized.