New Yorkers Tried to Shoot Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa. Now They’re Trying to Be Mayor.

New Yorkers Tried to Shoot Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa. Now They’re Trying to Be Mayor. 1

It surely says something about New York City’s legendary “bad old days” that the mayoral race concluding on Tuesday pits a candidate who was shot at in the 1990s, possibly by his fellow police officers, against one who was hit, by mobsters.

And it maybe says more about New York City in 2021 that that, in a contest whose outcome has never been in any doubt, those apparent assassination attempts have hardly registered with voters.

That’s despite Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, running the longest of long-shot campaigns as the Republican candidate in a city with a more than six-to-one Democratic voter advantage, repeatedly bringing up how he was shot five times in the service of the city (which is how he’s framed getting shot by a mobster for talking trash about him on the radio).

That was a front-page story in 1992, when there were a near-record 1,995 murders in the city. It was four years before someone shouted the name of a New York City police sergeant driving home before dawn on a winter morning in 1996 (983 murders, for the first year under a thousand since 1968) after studying with a friend for the lieutenant’s exam, and then fired a shot through his back windshield. The tabloids ran brief items about the shooting the next day, and that was that.

That cop was Eric Adams, now the Brooklyn borough president. He leaned heavily on his compelling personal biography during the Democratic primary he won as a rise in 2020 to 468 murders, which would have been a miraculous number in the 1990s, reoriented that race around public safety. Adams didn’t talk publicly about the shooting after it happened and has addressed the shot fired at him only once in the 30 years since, in an interview at the beginning of this year with longtime investigative reporter Greg B. Smith of the local news outlet The City.

Chris Hondros

Adams recalled to Smith that he’d been turning off of Atlantic Avenue onto Classon Avenue in Brooklyn “when he noticed the dark-colored sedan pull inside his lane and a gun barrel pointing out of the driver’s side window. And that’s when he heard someone in the car call his name… Adams stomped on the accelerator and the bullet hit the rear window of the car he was driving, shattering the glass.”

Adams told Smith that he wondered now if the shooter, who he said at the time was Black, could have been another police officer, angry at the co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, a group that frequently blasted the NYPD and its leadership for letting down Black cops and Black New Yorkers.

“I was at the peak of the fight with the Police Department,” Adams said. I don’t know if some officer, someone in their drunken rage, said, ‘Enough of this guy.’”

He concluded: “When I look back, I’m amazed I was able to get out of the department alive.”

Adams’ team declined my requests to talk with him about that shooting, and the shooting of Sliwa, who he’s mostly ignored and also referred to as a buffoon, a clown, and “a leading voice of being racist.”

Talking to my colleague Michael Daly—who’s been reporting on New York City since before Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels in 1979 or Adams joined the Transit Police, then a separate department, in 1982—he joked: “Call this one The Gang That Couldn’t Get Shot Straight.”

Sliwa has revisited the story of his shooting many times over the last three decades, in court and in the press. A couple months after he’d had his arm broken by mobsters wielding bats outside his apartment in the East Village, he was in the neighborhood hailing a cab outside his apartment at 5 a.m. to get to his radio show, where he’d been talking daily about “Teflon Don” John Gotti Sr.’s trial. But the cab started going the wrong way down a one-way street as a Gambino soldier jumped up from the front seat and started shooting the talker with hollow-point bullets before Sliwa escaped by leaping out the open window of the moving car.

The attackers, he later found out, had been circling for days in a fake cab, waiting for him to hail them. They’d gone to a chop shop in Queens and crazy-glued the inside door handles of the fake cab shut. Gunman Mike Iannotti, in Sliwa’s telling to me, feared “this guy is gonna try to get out of the car, he’s gonna try and fight his way out. So he said ‘Fuck him. I’ll shoot him in the head.’

His first shot went right through the back window—I was lucky enough to miss getting hit in the head.​​

“Well, his first shot went right through the back window—I was lucky enough to miss getting hit in the head. I reached for the door handle to try to get out, I was gonna jump into oncoming traffic [and] the door handle broke off into my hand. And then he just started firing away at my lower extremities. And my only maneuver after that before bleeding out was to jump out the window, which I did.”

He continued: “I landed outside of a bar [in Alphabet City] frequented by the Hells Angels and they were running out and saw me, I was in full uniform, and they said “Curtis, Curtis, don’t die on us.’ And that’s when I knew. I knew I was in real serious trouble. They scraped me off the street, threw me into the meat wagon,” and headed to Bellevue, where the doctors saved his life.

As for the idea that two men who’d been shot at back when would be running for mayor now, that was “totally unexpected,” said Sliwa.

New Yorkers Tried to Shoot Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa. Now They’re Trying to Be Mayor. 2

“I mean, normally, people who run for political office do not have any street cred… they’ve been up in the suites. You know, from the white-collar world.” But this election, he said, was between two boys from Brooklyn who’d been incarcerated at Spofford (Adams, as a juvenile) and Rikers (Sliwa, as a young man).

And both candidates, Sliwa noted, have been campaigning without the security details the NYPD provides nominees (and, I’d note, amid a scandal involving Mayor Bill de Blasio’s use of his protective detail as a “concierge service” for his family and just after Gov. Andrew Cuomo became the former governor in part because he’d allegedly been harassing a State Trooper who’d been assigned to his detail at his personal request). Adams flatly said on my FAQ NYC podcast last year that he wouldn’t have a NYPD security detail at all as mayor and that he would continue to carry his own gun (he’s since walked both of those ideas back a bit).

At their second debate and final debate last week, after Adams referred to Sliwa, accurately, as “a person who made up crimes so that he can be popular,” Sliwa replied: “You realize I was shot five times on the order of John Gotti Sr., to John Gotti Jr., in my battles against the Gambino crime family?”

I couldn’t tell you if Adams, who had little interest in further engaging with Sliwa, knew that it was getting shot five times that led Sliwa to confess to making up those crimes, after becoming the victim of a very real one.

Amid doubts after the 1992 shooting about whether it was a publicity stunt (and subsequent trials would eventually prove that this one was no stunt), Sliwa said he didn’t feel “worthy” of the public support he’d received, including hospital visits from then Mayor David Dinkins and his rival and future mayor Rudy Giuliani. Sliwa confessed to having made up six earlier crimes he’d reported, including an injury he said he’d received while fighting off six would-be rapists in a subway station, as a way of ginning up publicity for the Guardian Angels. Disillusioned former members of the group said at the time that there were more lies he still hadn’t confessed to.

I’d arranged a time to talk with Sliwa about all this on Friday, but he ended up in the hospital with another broken arm after he was hit by a cab in Midtown while trying to run to the WABC studio to record an hour of air time he’d purchased attacking Adams. When we connected on Saturday, Sliwa laughed:

“On June 19, 1992, I survived that hit” from the mob, he said. “And then I survived a hit from an innocent cab driver who was probably more horrified than I was.

“I think the moral of this story is, I just have to stay away from yellow cabs.”