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After 11 people were fatally shot inside a Pittsburgh synagogue three years ago, a politician nearly 400 miles away demanded an immediate shift in protocol.

“From now on, I will bring my handgun every time I enter a church or synagogue,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a retired police captain who is now a leading candidate for New York City mayor, said the following day, encouraging trained cops to do the same.

The responses were swift: Emails poured into his office from New Yorkers horrified by the suggestion. They invoked red-state Republicans and the National Rifle Association, and one person expressed gratitude to live on the other side of the East River. The anger was offset by a few people who agreed with the proposition — including one who requested a reference letter to obtain his own permit to carry a concealed weapon, according to previously unreported emails POLITICO obtained through a freedom of information request.

Now Adams is among the top-tier Democratic candidates running to be the next mayor of New York, ranking second in most public polls and sitting on a $7.8 million war chest. As he competes in an eight-person field, he is carving a path formed by his biography: A Black man who openly discusses being a teenager assaulted by police officers, only to become one himself at a time when the city was mired in crime. He quickly challenged orthodoxies within the NYPD.

But as a proud former police officer running for mayor with crime on the rise, Adams is often castigated for being out of step with the activist wing of a party whose vote he is seeking on June 22.

He wants to reinstate a plainclothes unit disbanded by the NYPD last year to focus on gun safety. He readily denounces the “defund NYPD” slogan that surged after the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. He has defended the controversial practice of stop-and-frisk if used correctly. He wants spot checks for guns entering the city at Port Authority bus terminals.

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