Good morning. It’s Tuesday. Today we’ll look at why Mayor Eric Adams loves flags and flag-raising ceremonies. We’ll also look at who played a secret role in defending Gov. Andrew Cuomo against claims of sexual misconduct in 2021.
Credit…José A. Alvarado Jr. for The New York Times
Vexillology doesn’t seem to vex Mayor Eric Adams.
You know, vexillology. The study of flags.
In nearly a year and a half in office, he has attended flag-raising ceremonies for more than 30 countries, one U.S. territory, two transnational organizations and the Juneteenth holiday.
Sometimes it seems as if any day is a Flag Day for the mayor.
It’s not as if the mayor’s ventures into vexillology are like the “Fun With Flags” routine on the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” My colleague Dana Rubinstein noted that Adams hopes to get something from running things up flagpoles: votes.
By reaching out to as many ethnic groups as he can in the city of immigrants that he presides over, Adams can connect with voters well before 2025, when he is all but certain to run for a second term.
“Mayor Adams, I think, is using flags as a part of political theater, which many politicians do, and he’s doing it quite effectively,” said Ted Kaye, the secretary of the North American Vexillological Association, which counts 1,000 members, mostly in the United States and Canada, and charges dues of $40 a year. “I’m not one to comment on the political aspects of this, but from the flag standpoint, we think it’s great when people raise and wave flags” — because, he added, “flags by their nature are colorful and meaningful and they catch our eyes and they catch our hearts.”
Flag raisings caught Adams’s attention when he was the Brooklyn borough president and proved to be an audience-pleasing tactic that he carried to City Hall. “He microtargets,” said Richard David, a district leader from Queens who attended the mayor’s Guyana flag raising. “Little things like this for some folks might seem superficial, might feel performative, but you’re a part of this and being seen for the first time, it does mean a lot. And the mayor knows that.”
But Adams’s appearances at flag ceremonies reflect basic arithmetic as much as advanced political calculus. He won the Democratic primary in 2021 — which all but guaranteed him victory in the general election, given that registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in New York City — by only 7,200 votes. “When you do an analysis of how close our election was,” Adams said at a flag raising for Saint Lucia, the birthplace of 10,500 New Yorkers, “you begin to really benefit and understand how 10,000 people unified together can send a powerful message.”
The mayor’s message from one flag-raising ceremony to another can be strikingly similar. “You believe in families. You believe in business. You believe in public safety,” he told Filipino Americans at a ceremony for the Philippine flag. He used the same line (except that he said “family” instead of “families”) at a flag-raising of the Croatian colors. At a ceremony for the flag of Kazakhstan, he said, “You believe in public safety.”
More than once, the mayor has also expanded on the idea that “the role of a mayor is to be substantive and symbolic,” as he put it in a ceremony for the Bolivian flag last week.
To be substantive, he said at a ceremony for Kenya in June, he had “to deal with public safety, to deal with education and housing, to deal with homelessness.” To be symbolic, he said, he had to send “a signal that no matter where you come from on the globe, if it’s from South America, Central America, from Europe, from any place, you are part of the New York experience.”
Another theme that has recurred is directed at visitors from the nation with the flag in question. “Spend money, spend a lot of money while you’re here,” he told Bolivians last week. “That’s so important.” He told a ceremony for the Belgian flag last month: “I hope y’all spend a lot of money. Spend some money in New York. We like you spending. Leave all your money here.”
Arthur Piccolo, the chairman of the Bowling Green Association — which helps to coordinate events in the city’s oldest park, where the vast majority of the flag raisings have taken place — said that City Hall had looked into three possibilities for this week: one planned by ASEAN, the intergovernmental organization of 10 Southeast Asian countries; another for the Dominican Republic and the third for Ecuador. The mayor’s schedule is worked out a day in advance and sometimes changes after it is announced, so he may or may not hoist those colors.
For all his attentiveness to flag ceremonies, what about membership in the vexillological association? “If Mayor Adams were interested in joining we’d take his $40,” said Kaye, the secretary. He said the group does not normally give honorary memberships.
“We tried to give one to Sheldon Cooper,” he said, referring to the character played by Jim Parsons on “The Big Bang Theory.” “The producers would not even take our call.”
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Her brother’s defender
We Decide New York was a small grass-roots group that defended Gov. Andrew Cuomo against the claims of sexual misconduct that led to his resignation two years ago. It turns out that Cuomo’s sister Madeline Cuomo worked quietly with We Decide to help smear her brother’s accusers.
We Decide was made up almost entirely of women who had been inspired by his handling of the Covid pandemic. By the spring of 2021, as traditional allies abandoned him in the face of the misconduct allegations, the group swarmed his critics on social media and pushed for due process.
Four of the group’s current leaders told my colleague Nicholas Fandos that even as their work appeared spontaneous and independent to the outside world, Madeline Cuomo, 58, began exerting control. Starting just weeks after the group was formed, she steered its volunteers to prop up her brother and hound his accusers ever more aggressively.
She insisted that her role be hidden. She repeatedly asked people she emailed or texted to delete the messages. And when Nick and our colleague Dana Rubinstein called some leaders of the group for an article in February 2022, she instructed the women to falsely claim they had no contact with the Cuomos, according to Sandy Behan, the founding president of We Decide.
How much Andrew Cuomo knew about his sister’s efforts is not clear. He does not appear to have communicated directly with people from We Decide, and Madeline Cuomo, while acknowledging her involvement with the group, insisted that he had none. But in emails and text messages reviewed by The Times, she repeatedly stated that she was keeping her brother updated and acting at his direction.
Growing up in rural Georgia, I had always been warned about New York City. My father, who was born in Atlanta, went so far as to tell me he would pay for my film studies “anywhere but New York or California, as you’re weird enough now.”
I remembered my one crossing of the Mason-Dixon Line, to Illinois as a child, for the joy I felt at seeing snow and the trauma of hearing adults curse.
So when I set off at 20 in 1975 for a highly anticipated, chaperoned tour of 12 countries in 10 days, the prospect of changing planes in New York for a flight to London filled me with trepidation.
Sure enough, the flight was delayed, meaning I would have to spend the night in the city, if just at the airport. Somehow, I struck up a conversation with a baggage handler.
“Why don’t you come to a party with me?” he said.
He soon got off work and shepherded me to a teeming apartment with pot smoke and friendliness filling the air, and conversation and cocktails flowing freely.
I socialized for a while and then found a space in a closet to nap until the baggage handler woke me and graciously took me back to the airport to catch my plane.
— Deborah Wilbrink
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].