Eric Adams, who is considered the leading candidate for mayor of New York City, came under intense fire on Wednesday from Democratic rivals who used questions about his residency to cast doubt on his ethical fitness to lead the city.
Mr. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, claims as his primary residence an apartment in the multiunit townhouse he owns at 936 Lafayette Avenue, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
But he also co-owns a co-op in Fort Lee, N.J., with his partner and has said publicly that he moved into Brooklyn Borough Hall for a time after the pandemic hit. On Tuesday, Politico New York published an article examining where Mr. Adams spends most of his time, noting that he appeared to have spent several nights in Borough Hall in recent weeks and highlighting discrepancies over his residency on official documents.
In response, Mr. Adams invited reporters to the townhouse, where he plied them with vegan pastries, offered a tour of what he said was his apartment — pointing out the “small, modest kitchen” and “small, modest bathroom” — and sought to dismiss residency questions in a news conference during which he at times grew emotional.
The tour came a day after Mr. Adams confirmed that he would skip a debate among the top candidates scheduled for Thursday, saying that he would instead attend a vigil for a 10-year-old killed in gun violence in Queens.
“How foolish would someone have to be to run to be the mayor of the city of New York and live in another municipality,” said Mr. Adams, joined by his son, Jordan.
Mr. Adams’s spokesman said that he lives at the Lafayette Avenue address, that he uses it with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and the city’s Campaign Finance Board and that he has been registered to vote there since 2017.
The appearance and tour did little to dampen attacks from his Democratic rivals and their teams, who said there were serious issues of transparency, ethics and integrity at play as they unspooled some of the fiercest, most personal criticisms of the campaign so far.
“Eric Adams has a problematic record of not being fully honest or transparent with the voters of New York,” Kathryn Garcia, a former city sanitation commissioner, said in a statement. “As we recover from Covid, the last thing we need is a career politician with a hidden agenda at City Hall. Our city cannot recover if the mayor lacks integrity.”
Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, called on Mr. Adams to release records related to his residency, and Maya D. Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, called the controversy over Mr. Adams’s residency “bizarre.”
“I think there’s some straight-up questions that are fundamental about, where do you live, Eric?” she said.
And in a rare display of cross-campaign comity, Andrew Yang’s co-campaign managers, Sasha Ahuja and Chris Coffey, released a list of questions for Mr. Adams on Wednesday that, they noted, were intended to add to questions raised by Ms. Wiley’s team the day before.
“Why would anyone vote for a candidate who can’t even be honest about where he lives?” Ms. Ahuja and Mr. Coffey asked, as they detailed a list of ethics concerns. “How are the traffic problems in Fort Lee? What are you hiding?”
Mr. Adams and most of the other candidates have sharply criticized Mr. Yang for spending time at his home in New Paltz, N.Y., with his family during the pandemic, and Mr. Yang has discussed his time out of the city in a manner many found to be tone-deaf.
The Colony at 1530, the Palisade Avenue building in Fort Lee where Mr. Adams co-owns an apartment with his partner, Tracey Collins, is more than 30 stories tall with views overlooking the Hudson River. On Tuesday, two valets said they recognized Mr. Adams when shown his picture by a reporter.
Mr. Adams has done at least seven web appearances from the Fort Lee apartment between April 2020 and February of this year, according to research by a rival campaign.
“We did over 100 forums,” Mr. Adams said Wednesday. He acknowledged that at times he may have joined forums while at the apartment he co-owns with Ms. Collins in New Jersey. “There’s nothing wrong or unethical about doing them,” he said.
At the news conference, Mr. Adams insisted that he was simply private about his home life. He appeared overcome with emotion and unable to speak for more than a minute as he retold a story of being shot at when he was speaking out against racism in the police department, just days after his son, now 26, was born.
“I realized the life I was living, my advocacy, was going to take his dad away from him,” said Mr. Adams, who during the news conference smiled and waved at some neighbors as they passed by. “Throughout my entire police career, none of my colleagues knew I had a son. I wanted to shield him from the reality of what I was doing. I became very private.”
He led a tour of a wood- and brick-trimmed apartment, while reporters inspected the refrigerator, and feverish speculation swirled on social media about whether it matched pictures of refrigerators he had shared in earlier years, when he said he was at home in Brooklyn.
Neighbors in Brooklyn have offered mixed accounts of whether they know Mr. Adams.
“I don’t keep up and down track of him 24/7, but I see him quite a lot,” said David Goodman, a neighbor who owns the townhouse two doors down from the one Mr. Adams owns.
Several others said they had seen much less of him in recent months.
“I haven’t seen him in a while,” said Kaseam Baity, 49, who has lived across the street for about a decade.
On Tuesday, the day before Mr. Adams gave his tour, a reporter for The New York Times knocked on the door and rang the doorbell, but no one answered. There were no names listed next to the apartment buzzers, which were partially covered with black tape.
Contributing to the confusion over Mr. Adams’s residence, his voter registration lists his unit as Apartment 1, but a utility service record from 2019 reviewed by The Times shows a tenant living at that unit. Mr. Adams’s spokesman said the tenant, who lives on the parlor floor above where Mr. Adams led the tour, had most likely misidentified her unit number.
Mr. Adams’s highly unusual Wednesday news conference unfolded as the race entered a tumultuous, increasingly rancorous final stretch, less than two weeks before the June 22 Democratic primary that is almost certain to determine the city’s next mayor.
Mr. Adams, a former police captain, has topped a number of recent polls as he presses a message focused on public safety, a top priority for voters, polls show.
But the race appears fluid even in its final days. It will be decided by ranked-choice voting, and it is difficult to predict what the electorate in a post-pandemic June primary will look like.
A Spectrum News NY1/Ipsos poll released earlier this week showed Mr. Adams leading the Democratic field, followed by Mr. Yang, a former presidential candidate, and Ms. Garcia.
But the poll was conducted in the second half of May, and there has been little data since to capture how a number of major recent developments are registering with voters, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Saturday endorsement of Ms. Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Jumaane D. Williams, the New York City public advocate, endorsed Ms. Wiley on Wednesday, the latest effort to consolidate left-wing support around her candidacy in the homestretch.
“We must unite to elect and rank Maya Wiley to be the second Black and first woman mayor of the city of New York,” Mr. Williams said.
Mr. Williams, who had not previously endorsed any of the candidates, said that as the city’s public advocate, he had considered staying out of the race. But he said he was “disturbed and dismayed” by what he cast as unsubstantive and even fear-mongering rhetoric in the race, and urged New Yorkers to embrace Ms. Wiley’s candidacy.
“This moment is being dominated by a loud discussion of whether New York will return to the ‘bad old days,’” he said. “But for so many of us, those ‘bad old days’ run through Bloomberg and Giuliani,” he said, “through the abuses of stop-and-frisk and surveillance.”
Earlier in the day, as he led reporters down to the basement level where the bedroom is, Mr. Adams warned them to watch out for the creaky first step. There were a pair of African masks on the ledge of the stairway looking as if they were ready to be hung and a dusty-looking smoke detector.
The bedroom smelled a bit damp, and there were some suit jackets in the closet. Three pairs of sneakers were perched on a ledge next to a bed, with a few pairs of slippers next to the closet. The blue comforter on the bed was rumpled, and there were at least five pillows.
Mr. Adams, who has never married, said he didn’t want to subject Ms. Collins, his partner, to scrutiny as well. He said that when he saw her last Saturday, it was their first meeting in over two months.
Even as Mr. Adams found himself on the defensive over residency questions, there were signs of his continued political strength: A major Hasidic faction backed Mr. Adams overnight as their first choice for mayor, after the Yang campaign had previously indicated it had the support of both Satmar factions in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Mr. Yang was the second choice, said Rabbi Moishe Indig, a Satmar leader. “We are still endorsing Yang, and we still believe he is a good guy and a nice guy,” he said. “But he is new. We always want to make new friends, but we don’t want to throw our old friends under the bus.”
Reporting was contributed by Kevin Armstrong, Anne Barnard, Michael Gold, Amy Julia Harris, Jazmine Hughes and Liam Stack.