By Nadja Atwal – www.nadjaatwal.net
New York is the Big Apple for a reason.
She is shiny and rotten, alluring and lonely. She is nocturnal, bold, loud and intense. She is full of bright lights and bleak skyscrapers, of manicured parks and cracked pavements. She is oversexed and underloved, a walking contradiction of beauty and beasts. In between the wild winters and suffocating summers, there is no place like it: never dull, constantly screeching, yet we love her all the same.
I have now been living in Manhattan’s heart for a decade. My two sons are born in the bustling Burrough. And yes, high-rising living – or the shoebox life as we like to tease – has cost something akin to buying a palace in the South. But I would not trade my New York license (okay, I don’t drive here) for any other pocket on the planet.
The often-mentioned “energy” that the City exudes, combined with its diversity of cultures and countless extremes – good and bad – in many ways represents the dualities of life itself. Nothing is predictable, there are intense highs and lows, but as New Yorkers, we wake each day with our invisible armor to soldier on.
Even through the course of a decade, I haven’t gotten used to the sickly stench and ghastly sight of trash bags amassing every corner, trimmed by rats running in and out. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the City’s water and air quality – a sharp contrast to the smoggy and metallic tap-flow stemming from Los Angeles, which was my first base upon arrival in the US.
I have also enjoyed a comforting level of public safety and rarely bat an eyelid making late-night runs to the store amid the throws of Times Square or taking a stroll by the Hudson River before the sun has broken through the dark mornings. This often generates stunned responses from my German friends, who are aghast that I am more at ease doing that than walking by the river Alster in Hamburg during lunchtime.
But then Covid hit. Slammed, to be more precise. My little bubble of wanton and wonderful shattered in Wuhan-central. In April of 2020, the world’s media was plastered with photos and videos of body bags piling up. Suddenly people would no longer look at you with envy when you said you lived in Manhattan. My message inbox overflowed with words of sympathy and condolences and constant check-ins as if I were on life support or trapped by a mythological monster rising from the ghost-life subway stations.
Nonetheless, the New Yorker is not just innovative but remarkably resilient and adaptable. We rallied. Strict lockdowns for months, mask mandate across the board in and outside, staying put in small apartments and rattling our pots and pans outside the windows every night at 7pm in support of our great healthcare workers. People seemed to manage better than I initially thought.
Yet, things were percolating that did not seem well, scientific. Questionable policies were implemented that critics still view as the critical game-changers regarding the City’s safety or should I say: lack thereof. For example, bail laws were eased (New York currently has a zero bail reform policy, meaning you can get arrested and immediately released without putting up any money) and when the waves of post-George Floyd protests hit New York, calls to defund the police from the progressives found its way to become a mainstream idea.
Parallel, the homeless crises ballooned as the novel coronavirus ran rampant through the streets. Cut to January 2021. The candidates for the mayoral race officially threw their hats into the ring. For me, it became a bit more personal since I knew the then instant frontrunner Andrew Yang given that our families had spent quality together, initiated by the deep friendships of our sons.
Andrew had enjoyed massive popularity after his impressive run for President of the United States. He was the intelligent outsider who came seemingly out of nowhere with unique, thought-provoking ideas, a good heart and infatuating esprit. Everyone loved Andrew: From Elon Musk to the Hollywood A-list.
Even though I disagreed with several political views that Andrew opined, I saw well enough to root for him when he decided to run for Mayor. Plus, I knew him and his lovely wife Evelyn as intelligent, kind, genuine people who had the City’s best interest at heart. I still feel like that today. The polls came in with an instant double-digit lead for Andrew.
As a publicist, I was not surprised since the value of name recognition is very powerful.
But when I looked out my window, I saw a city that was falling apart. The typical New York news reports became more sinister, and the faces of my neighbors and friends increasingly worried looking. Crime was soaring – from robberies to physical assault to homicides – even in Manhattan’s once affluent and untouched parcels.
It was now commonplace to see needles on the ground and mentally ill homeless individuals not just wandering the streets but coercing residents into buying them a drink. Asian Americans were assailed by deranged individuals who could only think in insane “looking Asian = evil Covid creator” equations.
Safety became an imaginary concept. Midtown West felt unsafe; neighbors reduced walks to the supermarket, stuck to home deliveries and put their police precinct and elected officials on speed dial. On the other hand, parents like me who had their kids still in virtual learning school mode felt happy they didn’t have to expose their family to walks to and from school.
Meanwhile, the mayoral primaries churned on and Andrew Yang, the clear front runner. But all that rising urban decay seemed to redirect the voters. I kept telling friends – including the Yangs – that whoever planned on winning the race has to make public safety their number one issue, and that includes supporting sufficient police force.
New Yorkers in the Bronx and Upper East residents equally yearned for a life where we would not have to look over our shoulders and to view each new face passing us by as a potential threat to our lives. We knew the fight was not just for our own families but for the City we knew and loved. We could lose her to menace and madness.
May arrived, the primaries only seven weeks away. Andrew almost sparkled with his double-digit lead. He would enter the primary debates as the clear front runner. Fast forward: It is June 23, primary election night. And the winner is… Eric Adams with double digits between him and, no, not even Andrew Yang. Andrew Yang finished in …fourth place. By July 7, when all absentee ballots were counted, Eric Adams was confirmed as the winner of the Democratic primary race.
How did this happen? What did Eric Adams, a former police captain, do to turn this race upside down and ultimately win the democratic primary seemingly easily? Simple: He was clear on his message, not afraid to tell the unforgettable truth, steadfast to stand alone compared to his fellow Democratic candidates. He ran on the issue of “public safety,” opposing the “defund the police” movement from minute one.
“We’re not going to recover as a city if we turn back time and see an increase in violence, particularly gun violence,” Adams said following that May shooting of three people – including a four-year-old girl – at famous Times Square.
Those popular vendors on the street corners on 6th Avenue and “Being Posh” street who used to sell you Gucci and Prada knock-off handbags now showed you a “prime collection” of tasers as their precious must-haves. The much-needed tourists whose top cardio exercise was known to be shopping would stay away. Broadway would not return. Hotels would not bounce back unless people felt safe again.
So my birthday on June 2 became not just a wake-up call for me but something that felt more like getting hit by a train.
When your friends don’t opt for a gift card or a champagne dinner but a hardcore defense device as your birthday present, you are not just starring at the Abyss; you are in it.
Adams pointed at the horror, the reality of rising crime, and called it out. By comparison, Yangs’ campaign was confronted with clips from a radio show where the sneaky-smart host seduced the popular but politically inexperienced contender to openly entertain the idea of defunding the police even more than the $1 billion already been stripped off. It was then when I knew this was the beginning of the end. A total PR disaster. Later statements by Yang making clear that he was not pro defunding the police just seemed to create more confusion than comfort to most people.
Friends would call me and say, “The guy needs media training.”
Another one added: “Who are the people letting him just run into interviews like into a knife?”
During one of the debates. Eric Adams did not just come across as witty and confident – yes, he kept showing off his talent for powerful one-liners – but he also pointed out that Yang had not been in the City during most of the pandemic, but in his secluded house upstate.
“You can not run the city, if you run from the city,” Adams quipped.
This was the nail in the coffin for Andrew Yang.
In November Adams will face off with Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa in the final race for the mayoral office. Yet given the solid Democratic voter base in New York City, where Democrats are outvoting Republicans by seven to one, Adams seems poised to win.
The takeaway so far is a strong message not just to political contenders but anyone seeking to sell himself or his business successfully. I often detect and address it when advising companies on PR and seeing sales not being as good as they could be or the image not reaching that desirable pole position.
The message has to be simple, clear and… consistent. Cause in the end: The confused mind will always say NO.
In times of trouble, we turn to absolutes. Adams conquered that. And as a New Yorker, we want her not just to thrive – but to survive.
Nadja Atwal is a German born New York based publicist, journalist, public speaker and commentator on TV.
She has been a highly publicized entrepreneur since the age of 23 advising both businesses and personalities on marketing and public relations- recently also adding focus to advising start up companies on using (early )media exposure for both scaling their business and /or attracting investors. She is an avid animal rights activist and last but not least the proud mother of two young sons.