What’s in Eric Adams’s Wallet?
And other questions raised by the most absurdly unnecessary government forgery operation ever reported.
4:16 PM EDT on July 6, 2023
For a while now, Eric Adams has been going around making speeches in which he says he has, for decades, carried in his wallet a picture of Robert Venable, a former colleague in the transit police who was killed in a shootout in 1987. Adams told the New York Times about it in February, going so far as to be photographed holding the picture.
But as the Times reported today, "the weathered photo of Officer Venable had not actually spent decades in the mayor’s wallet. It had been created by employees in the mayor’s office in the days after Mr. Adams claimed to have been carrying it in his wallet."
According to a Times source, those City Hall staffers had been ordered by an unnamed person to spin up an amateur document forgery operation in City Hall in support of Adams's claim. They found a photo of Venable on Google, printed a black-and-white copy of it, and then scuffed it up and splashed coffee on it to make it look like an old, worn picture the mayor had been carrying for some time. Two other sources, both former City Hall aides, told the Times they also knew of this clandestine activity shortly after it took place.
Asked about this by the Times, Adams spokesperson Fabian Levy accused the Times of waging a "campaign to paint the mayor as a liar," but did not deny that the photo Adams showed the Times was a recent creation by City Hall staff.
As scandals go, this is not quite Watergate. Volunteering that you have a thing in your pocket when you don't is not a high crime and misdemeanor, it's more akin to the kid I knew in first grade who insisted he could make his house explode with his mind, but he wasn't going to show me because he didn't feel like it. It's the behavior of a not-particularly-serious person. Nevertheless, it joins a lengthy list of episodes in which Adams has staked his name to statements that are either outright untrue or for which there is scant evidence.
Loyal Hell Gate readers may recall Adams's unswerving commitment to the bogus claim that New York City's schoolchildren are buying fentanyl-laced weed at bodegas before school. There's also the time Adams claimed he'd sold an apartment, going so far as to show reporters a document signed by no one but him which he said proved he'd sold it, only for it later to be revealed that in fact he hadn't sold it at all. In other weird murky real estate arrangements, who can forget the tour he gave reporters of the apartment he "lived in," even though the whole thing was a little fishy and it seemed like maybe the actual resident was his adult son.
Then there was Adams's insistent identification as a vegan, right up until it was revealed that actually he quite enjoys eating dead fish. Further back, there's Adams's claim that his car's rear window was shot out in a failed assassination attempt by a fellow NYPD officer, a claim with surprisingly little corroborating evidence. A claimed conversion with God in which the Almighty predicted Adams's election 30 years in advance is also difficult to verify, perhaps not unusual for a conversation of that age and nature. Regardless, people are starting to notice a pattern—and it seems like the mayor is feeling touchy about that.
Shortly after today's Times story dropped, City Hall responded with a mammoth press release that is longer than the article it is responding to, decrying the Times's "false attack" and its "effort to create a divide between Mayor Adams and the Venable family."
The press release marshals numerous family members of Venable and former colleagues of Adams and Venable to affirm a point that the Times story doesn't seriously question: that Adams and Venable were indeed friends. Venable's niece tweeted her dismay that the Times was "using my uncle’s legacy to tear down the Mayor."
One thing that's not in those 1,602 words? A clear statement that the Times is wrong in reporting that City Hall staff were directed to print up a Google photo of Venable and scuff it up to make it appear as though it had been in Adams's wallet for decades. Hell Gate followed up with multiple emails to Levy and City Hall to ask if they were disputing this. Levy instead responded to a slightly different question: "The mayor never directed anyone to reprint or alter a photo," he wrote, "and the assumption by many that that was the case is wildly inaccurate."
We pressed Levy: Leaving aside whether Adams himself ordered up the falsely antiqued photograph, was he disputing that staffers were directed to produce it, perhaps by someone else in City Hall? Levy didn't answer.
"Anyone who was at Bobby’s funeral, or simply knew him, had access to plenty of old photos of him," said former NYPD Detective Tony Barksdale, a former colleague of Adams and Venable, in the press release. "There was never a need for Eric to concoct a story about his relationship with Bobby or ask to create a photo, because he actually had a real relationship with our fallen brother."
Barksdale is certainly right that there was no need for Adams to direct staff to create and artificially antique a photo for the purpose of deceiving the press and the public.
Which makes one wonder: If Venable's memory is so important to Adams, why didn't he just say so and leave it at that, without insisting on the "fact" that he's literally been carrying a picture on his person for decades?
But the fact that a lie is completely unnecessary doesn't really seem to matter to Adams. Indeed, we're learning that gratuitous rinky-dink deceptions are a hallmark of this mayor. Who fucking cares if the mayor eats fish? I don't, except to the extent that he spent a lot of time telling us all he's vegan. Would Adams's political career have sunk if he copped to owning the apartment? Would his work for racial equity in the police department be less valuable if it turned out he hadn't been shot at by fellow officers? Do we care less about the welfare of children if we don't believe the tweens are snarfing store-bought fentanyl-infused cannabis?
These are not high-stakes deceptions. But that's what makes them so baffling and irritating. On the one hand, the fact that the mayor will mislead you about personal dietary habits you didn't even ask him about, suggests that he's perhaps not to be taken at his word about more momentous matters, either. But the miasma of penny-ante bullshit that the mayor secretes as he goes about his daily business is also just an enormous waste of everybody's time, forcing us all to second-guess him even when he's describing the weather.
The Adams administration is reacting to today's reporting with outrage, accusing the Times of fixating on the gotcha of an inconsequential detail to the exclusion of the larger point. One suggestion, admittedly from someone with no experience in politics or public relations, is that if you want people to pay attention to a larger point you're making, a great way to accomplish that goal is to not distract them by telling extremely superfluous and disprovable lies in support of that point.
But if Eric Adams were capable of taking this advice, he would have done so by now. Our mayor just can't help himself: He loves to say things that aren't true. He loves to say them in passing, and then to say them again, and then again, to repeat untrue things to the point where they become part of his mythology, his public identity. For years into the future, we are doomed to be governed by a man who can't be taken at his word, even when he's talking about what's in his pocket.
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