Mr. Adams, a moderate Democrat whose campaign focused on crime and public safety, has a long history in New York politics and has faced scrutiny over his ethics.
Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, had a solid advantage on Wednesday in the Democratic primary for New York mayor, leading his closest competitors, Maya Wiley and Kathryn Garcia, by a sizable margin.
Mr. Adams’s lead is not decisive, and the returns so far only factor in first-choice votes cast under the city’s new ranked-choice voting system. It will be some time before an official winner is declared, both because absentee ballots are still outstanding and voters’ subsequent rankings will come into play. Ms. Wiley and Ms. Garcia still have paths to victory.
But many New Yorkers are looking to learn more about Mr. Adams, the candidate who currently seems best positioned to win the primary.
Mr. Adams himself was already looking to City Hall as he spoke to supporters on election night. “Tonight we took a huge step forward,” he said on Tuesday, before outlining his vision of the city in a speech that was at turns buoyant and defiant.
A campaign focused on crime and public safety
During the campaign, Mr. Adams carved out a lane as one of the more moderate candidates in the Democratic primary race. He did so in large part by drawing a contrast between his views on policing and crime, and those of left-leaning rivals like Ms. Wiley and Dianne Morales.
As public safety became a major issue in the race, following a rise in violent crime in the city, Mr. Adams tried to strike a tricky balance.
He trumpeted his credentials as a former police officer and said they gave him the experience needed to address a rise in violent crime, but he also billed himself as a reformer who had taken on police misconduct.
“I don’t hate police departments — I hate abusive policing, and that’s what people mix up,” Mr. Adams told The New York Times. In his campaign’s closing weeks, he seemed to bet that voters would understand that distinction.
But Mr. Adams, who grew up in Queens, also stressed his working-class background, calling himself a blue-collar candidate who would fight for New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet in an expensive city that had left them behind.
He also counted on his ability to court working-class and older minority voters outside Manhattan. The early returns suggest those groups supported him at the polls.
A rise through the ranks
Mr. Adams spent more than 20 years as a New York City police officer before entering politics. He has said that he was motivated in part to join the force after he was beaten by the police at age 15. Mr. Adams believed that he could change the culture of policing from within.
During his time in the department, Mr. Adams was a strong advocate for Black officers. Through his involvement in Black police fraternal organizations — the Grand Council of Guardians and 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, a group that he co-founded — Mr. Adams questioned his superiors publicly, speaking out against discrimination, police brutality and the department’s excessive use of stop-and-frisk tactics.
The latter issue, in particular, illustrated the precarious tightrope that Mr. Adams walked during the campaign: Though he once fought the stop-and-frisk policing strategy, which was used disproportionately in New York against Black and Latino men and is reviled by the left, he has also supported its limited use.
Some who knew Mr. Adams during his time as a police officer thought even then that his challenges to Police Department leadership were meant to position him for public office. As early as 1994, he had determined he wanted to be mayor, he told The New York Times.
In 2006, Mr. Adams retired from policing to run for the State Senate. He won and represented parts of central Brooklyn in Albany until 2013, when he became the first Black person elected Brooklyn’s borough president.
Over the years, he cultivated relationships with union leaders and other elected officials, many of whom endorsed his mayoral bid. He also built ties to wealthy donors, who boosted his campaign war chest, and to the lobbyists and party machine that helped him get out the vote on Tuesday.
A complex history
Mr. Adams’s time in politics also left a track record and a paper trail that made him vulnerable to attacks from his rivals over issues of transparency and ethics.
His relationships with lobbyists, donors and developers have come under scrutiny throughout his career, in some cases prompting investigations.
Mr. Adams has never been formally accused of misconduct, but a review by The New York Times found that he at times pushed the boundaries of ethics and campaign-finance laws.
As a state senator, he was accused of “exceedingly poor judgment” by an investigator who found that he and others had improper links to a company that was trying to become the purveyor of video slot machines at Aqueduct Racetrack. Mr. Adams was the chair of the Senate’s racing and gaming committee at the time.
As borough president, he started a nonprofit group that took donations from developers who sought his support for projects or zoning changes, prompting a probe into whether he violated conflict of interest regulations.
Mr. Adams said in a statement that he and his campaigns had never been charged “with a serious fund-raising violation, and no contribution has ever affected my decision-making as a public official.”
He also accused those questioning his ethics of holding him to a higher standard because he is Black and from a lower-income background.
Whether accusations about Mr. Adams’s conduct eroded support for him remains unclear, though ranked-choice voting results to come may offer a fuller picture.
But questions about his honesty reached a kind of fever pitch in the final stretch of the campaign after Politico New York reported that Mr. Adams had used conflicting addresses in public records and that he was spending nights at Borough Hall.
Other candidates began to question whether Mr. Adams really lived in a townhouse in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn that he has said is his primary residence.
Andrew Yang, in particular, accused Mr. Adams of living in a co-op in Fort Lee, N.J., that he owns with his partner. A report from The City found that Mr. Adams did not disclose his ownership of that co-op when he ran for State Senate in 2005.
Mr. Adams dismissed the controversy about his residency as a politically motivated effort to shake him from the front-runner status he comfortably occupied in the race’s closing weeks.