Pragmatic Progressivism: The Common Message and Philosophy of Phil Murphy and Eric Adams

Murphy in Somerset

The victory of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary was more than just a personal triumph.  It was a signal to Democrats throughout the nation as to the type of message and philosophy that could lead to an era of Democratic dominance, both in the Northeast and nationally.

Eric Adams and New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy share a common message and philosophy of Pragmatic Progressivism.  It is a credo that has as its strategic goals bold systemic reform, social justice, and dramatically enhanced economic opportunity for long victimized minorities. Pragmatic Progressivism relies on a tactic of activism for the attainment of its policy objectives.

At the same time, the Adams-Murphy brand of Progressivism is guided by Pragmatism, a recognition that politics is the art of the possible.

There is an Aramaic Talmudic saying that can serve as a watchword for the term “Pragmatic” in Pragmatic Progressivism: “Tafasta Merube Lo Tofasta” – translated, “if you grab too much, you get nothing.”  There are two pragmatic considerations that always will guide the progressivism of Phil Murphy and Eric Adams: 1) Fiscal and budgetary reality; and 2) likelihood of legislative approval.

Pragmatic Progressivism is NOT moderation. Political moderation is almost always without ambitious strategic goals and is reactive, as distinguished from the proactive, goal-oriented nature of Pragmatic Progressivism.

Yet most importantly, Pragmatic Progressivism must be distinguished from Socialist Progressivism, an extremist movement whose avatar is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) (AOC), supported by her fellow “Squad” members, House of Representatives members Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).

To begin with, Phil Murphy and Eric Adams believe deeply in the capitalist, free enterprise system, only wishing to implement reforms that will make the system more equitable for all, while AOC and her fellow Squad members want to destroy the capitalist system and replace it with a socialist regime.

AOC and her fanatical Socialist Progressive acolytes are not interested in systemic reform of police – they want to destroy the efficiency of police forces by the defunding of police.

By contrast, Phil Murphy and Eric Adams oppose defunding of police but instead emphasize restoring the trust between police and the community.  They have focused on police accountability, body camera requirements, improved training, strict limitations on use of deadly force, and enhanced police-community communication.

And it must be said that Phil Murphy and his departing Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal have been national leaders in systemic police reform.  We can anticipate that Eric Adams will follow the Murphy-Grewal playbook.

One of the most significant differences between Pragmatic Progressives and Socialist Progressives is in the area of American foreign policy.  AOC and her cohorts are virulently anti-Israel, and the Socialist Progressive anti-Israel doctrine would endanger the future safety and security of the Jewish State.  By contrast, the Pragmatic Progressives Phil Murphy and Eric Adams are unquestionably loyal and strong supporters of the State of Israel.

There were three other consequences of the New York City Mayoral primary, all of them favorable to New Jersey and the cause of Pragmatic Progressivism.

The first was the unmistakable rebuff to AOC by the third place loss of her endorsed Democratic mayoral primary candidate, Maya Wiley.  AOC had hoped to run a Democratic primary insurgent race against US Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic Majority Leader in 2024.  All hope of a credible AOC primary race against Schumer, however, have vanished in the wake of the Wiley defeat.

Schumer maintains good relationships with New Jersey US Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez.  His political good fortune is thus also a New Jersey positive.

The second was a major advancement for the Jewish-African-American alliance, something near to my heart since my youth involvement in the 1960s Civil Rights movement.  New York City, particularly the Borough of Brooklyn, had been a venue of significant setbacks in this alliance twice in the last sixty years, the first during the 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville teachers strike and the second during the clashes between the African-American and Jewish communities in Crown Heights in 1991.

Adams, however, has had an excellent relationship with the Jewish community, and he was able to build a strong coalition of both Jewish and African-American voters.  With his presence at City Hall and the growing influence of pro-Israel African-American Congressman Hakeem Jeffries,  also from Brooklyn and considered to be a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, the prospects for the future of the Jewish -African-American alliance, both in New York and nationally have brightened considerably.

The third is the impact the Adams victory may have on the direction to be taken by the new bright star in the New Jersey Progressive Democratic firmament, Imani Oakley, who has announced her insurgent 2022 Democratic primary campaign in New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District against incumbent Representative Don Payne, Jr. ( She will not defeat Don Payne, Jr. in 2022, but most political observers predict a bright future for her.

Oakley is considered to be an AOC-style Progressive.  She does have considerable political sagacity, however, and the results of the New York City primary may persuade her that the Eric Adams-Phil Murphy style of Progressivism provides a more auspicious career path for her.

Adams is a certain winner in the general election for New York City mayor this November, and Murphy is an overwhelming favorite in his reelection quest.  I believe that when the nation awakens on Wednesday, November 3, 2021, the media message will be the triumph of Pragmatic Progressivism, as exemplified by the victories of Phil Murphy and Eric Adams.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

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