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Eric Adams, a Black ex-cop who fought racial discrimination within the police, is poised to be elected New York's next mayor Tuesday, tasked with leading the city's post-pandemic recovery.
The 61-year-old centrist Democrat and passionate vegan will become just the second African American to lead the Big Apple, a job often described as the most difficult in the United States after president.
It caps a remarkable rise for Adams, who was born in poverty in Brooklyn and ran errands for a gang as a teenager before joining the NYPD and then pursuing a political career.
He is all but certain to defeat Republican rival Curtis Sliwa in Tuesday's vote in overwhelmingly liberal-voting NYC and succeed unpopular progressive Bill de Blasio, whose two-term limit ends December 31.
Adams considers himself a strong leader: a champion of the working class and a fighter against racial injustice, but also someone who is tough on crime and friendly towards big business.
As mayor for more than eight million people, he will oversee America's largest municipal budget, crippled by the pandemic, and its biggest police force and public school system.
"This is a city where the mayor is the dominant political force. You need someone who knows how to use authority," said New York University urban planning and policy professor Mitchell Moss, describing de Blasio as at times "indecisive."
"Adams has the personality New Yorkers want in the office, which is someone who's going to be visible, who's going to be in the communities, who's going to come to work at the start of the day," Moss added.
He will face myriad challenges in office, primarily rebounding New York City's economy following the Covid-19 crisis which has killed more than 34,000 residents and shuttered hundreds of thousands of businesses.
He will also have to grapple with keeping schools open, wealth inequality, a severe lack of affordable housing, fears about the impact of extreme weather events on crumbling infrastructure, and violent chaos at the notorious Rikers Island prison.
One of his trickiest balancing acts will be trying to reform police practices while keeping onside a heavily unionized force that feels it has been underappreciated and under-supported during the de Blasio era.
Born in Bushwick, Brooklyn in 1960, Adams was raised in a large family in a working-class neighborhood of Queens. His mother was a cleaner and his father was a butcher.
When he was 15 years old, two NYPD officers repeatedly kicked him in the groin after arresting him for criminal trespassing.
That was the moment he decided he wanted to become a police officer.
"I didn't want any more children to go through what I endured, so I sought to make change from the inside by joining the police department," Adams wrote in the New York Times in 2014.
He joined the force in the mid-1980s when crime was rife in New York City, serving 22 years and rising to become a captain.
- 'Pragmatist' -
In 1995, he co-founded "100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care," an advocacy group designed to fight against racism in the police and which still exists today.
He retired in 2006, winning election to the New York State Senate that year where he served until 2013 when he was elected Brooklyn borough president, providing a springboard for his mayoral ambitions.
The moderate candidate won June's Democratic primary by pledging to tackle inequalities, reform the education system and crack down on violent crime that soared during the pandemic.
He opposes defunding the police, a policy that is a rallying cry for many on the American left, and has slammed calls for higher taxes on the rich, a policy de Blasio trumpeted during his election campaign eight years ago.
"Adams, I think, frightens progressives," Hunter College public policy professor Joseph Viteritti told AFP.
For Columbia University politics expert Robert Shapiro, Adams's "style will be that of a moderate, a pragmatist rather than an ideological liberal."
Adams credits veganism with reversing his 2016 diabetes diagnosis and released a book last year that aims to turn African Americans to a plant-based diet.
New York's first Black mayor David Dinkins led America's largest city from 1990 to 1993.