Even as Eric Adams completed his rise in New York City politics and became older, questions remained over ethical issues and his ties to people with troubling pasts.
His fund-raising tactics have repeatedly pushed the boundaries of campaign-finance and ethics laws. His relationships with his donors have drawn attention and prompted investigations. Some donors and even a former buildings commissioner have been indicted.
Mr. Adams, a moderate Democrat in his second year in office, has not been implicated in any misconduct, but a broad public corruption investigation involving his chief fund-raiser and his 2021 campaign has drawn the greatest even closer to the edge.
On Thursday, federal agents conducted an early-morning raid at the Brooklyn home of Brianna Suggs, Mr. Adams’s top fund-raiser and a trusted confidant. The inquiry is focusing on whether the mayor’s campaign conspired with the Turkish government to receive illegal foreign donations.
Mr. Adams, who typically takes great pains to distance himself from any investigation of people in his outer circle, took the opposite tack on Thursday.
He abruptly canceled several meetings in Washington, DC, where he was scheduled to discuss the migrant crisis with White House officials and members of Congress, and returned to New York.
Appearing at Gracie Mansion on Thursday night, Mr. Adams said he wanted to be “on the ground” to “look at this inquiry” as it unfolded.
His decision to return risked leaving the impression that he placed more importance on the investigation than the migrant crisis, and political experts said the mayor had allowed the raid to distract him from addressing a key policy goal.
“The timing is not great for the mayor because he’s been very clear that the city needs a lot more funding from the federal government,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor who is currently a fellow at the City College of New York. “This was an opportunity for him, literally and symbolically, to be in Washington with his tin can demanding more funds for New York.”
The biggest prizes loyalty and has a close inner circle of top advisers, many of whom are expected to work on his re-election campaign. Ms. Suggs, 25, is particularly valued: She is close with Ingrid Lewis-Martin, the mayor’s longtime aide, and she has helped Mr. Adams raise millions of dollars.
She claimed to have helped bring in more than $18 million to his 2021 campaign, according to her LinkedIn profile, and more than $2.5 million to his 2025 campaign, according to campaign finance records.
The mayor’s impressive fund-raising haul was designed, in part, to discourage potential Democratic primary challengers from entering the 2025 race, even though he is unpopular with many liberal and progressive Democrats who have started searching for a strong candidate to run against him from the left.
The 2025 mayoral race is still relatively far away, but the raid and investigation could encourage candidates to seriously consider challenging Mr. Adams, said Basil Smikle, director of the Public Policy Program at Hunter College, who served as campaign manager for a rival mayoral candidate in 2021.
“The question has always been how close the scandal is to the mayor, and this is getting pretty close — that could be a concern for him,” Mr. Smikle said.
“If there’s still lingering concerns, it could open the door for a progressive challenger and, quite frankly, for a moderate Republican or independent challenger as well,” he said.
Indeed, on Thursday, Evan Roth Smith, a political consultant who worked on Andrew Yang’s 2021 mayoral campaign, posted on social media: “2025 starts today.”
Mr. Roth Smith said in an interview that the raid had created a “radically different picture” of the coming race and that ambitious politicians might be giving it another look.
That was not the case with Christine Quinn, the former City Council speaker who lost the Democratic primary for mayor a decade ago, and who has entertained thoughts of running for mayor again one day.
“I said I’m not running against Mayor Adams and that hasn’t changed,” Ms. Quinn said. “Obviously the news for the mayor isn’t good,” she added, but she said the ultimate implications were unclear.
A person close to the political operation of Zellnor Myrie, a state senator from Brooklyn, said that interest in whether Mr. Myrie would run for mayor had grown after news of the raid, and that Mr. Myrie had received calls from stakeholders and donors asking if he was seriously considering a campaign.
The mayor’s allies, however, were quick to defend Mr. Adams and urged New Yorkers not to assume the worst.
Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, a state assemblywoman who leads the Brooklyn Democratic Party, questioned whether the scrutiny of the Adams administration might be racially motivated — a charge that some of Mr. Adams’s supporters have lodged before.
“I’m concerned about whether these investigations are just targeting him because he’s a Black major,” she said. “You have people who try to take people down who are really trying to help the city.”
She added: “I’m not concerned about any wrongdoing on his part.”
Still, the mayor’s ethical issues and ties to people with troubling records go back many years.
As Brooklyn borough president, he took money from developers who lobbied him or won his recommendations for crucial zoning changes.
As a state senator, he became embroiled in a scandal after his committee helped choose a purveyor of video-lottery machines at Aqueduct Racetrack.
One adviser, the Rev. Alfred L. Cockfield II, who manages a political action committee associated with the mayor, pleaded guilty in 1998 to transporting cocaine.
As senior, Mr. Adams hired David Johnson, a former top aide to Gov. David Paterson whose involvement in a criminal harassment case led Mr. Paterson to withdraw from the 2010 governor’s race.
Mr. Adams has also been linked with a Brooklyn pastor known as the “bling bishop” who was charged with fraud and extortion and to twin brothers who share a criminal history involving money laundering.
His senior deputy for public safety, Philip Banks III, was an unindicted co-conspirator in an expansive corruption scheme in 2014; Federal prosectors said he accepted trips and other gifts while a high-ranking police officer.
In September, Eric Ulrich, Mr. Adams’s former buildings commissioner, was indicted by the Manhattan district attorney on 16 criminal charges, including counts of conspiracy and bribetaking.
Mr. Bragg also indicted six people, including a retired police inspector who once worked and socialized with Mr. Adams, for conspiring to funnel illegal donations to the mayor’s 2021 campaign. Two brothers recently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conspiracy charge in the donor case.
And one of the mayor’s closest advisers, Timothy Pearson, is being investigated over reports that he recently pushed a security guard into a table at a migrant center.
Mr. Adams has said that he does not hold people’s pasts against them, pointing to his own arrest on trespassing charges at the age of 15 as evidence that people evolve.
He has sought to distance himself from Mr. Ulrich’s indictment and the donor scheme, and his campaign has said that it “always held itself to the highest standards.”
The mayor’s predecessor, Bill de Blasio, faced his own swirl of investigations into his fund-raising, although he survived the inquiries and won a second term.
“The question remains: How much corruption is too much corruption for New Yorkers?” Ms. Greer said. “I don’t know if New Yorkers will see this as a witch hunt, the inevitable or something to be concerned about.”
Lincoln Restler, a city councilman from Brooklyn and a frequent critic of the mayor, said he found details of the investigation for which the raid was conducted to be “profoundly disturbing” and was sure that New Yorkers would be concerned and want answers.
“The ethical clouds around the mayor,” he said, “have turned into thunderstorms.”