Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams made a controversial appeal to gentrifiers at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event Monday.

“Go back to Iowa,” Adams, who is expected to be a top Democratic contender in New York’s 2021 mayoral race, told transplants. “You go back to Ohio! New York City belongs to the people that [were] here and made New York City what it is.”

Brooklyn Borough President Adams railing against gentrification: "Go back to Iowa, you go back to Ohio"

"Go back to Iowa, you go back to Ohio. New York City belongs to the people that were here and made New York City what it is," — Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Monday, railing against gentrification and the affordability crisis.

Posted by Spectrum News NY1 on Monday, January 20, 2020

The fiery remarks, which some critics compared to President Trump’s tweet last year declaring that four minority Democratic congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” took place during a celebration honoring King that was hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Harlem. Though Adams later clarified that he only objected to new arrivals who don’t bother to acknowledge longtime residents or get involved in their communities, many on social media said that his remarks were unnecessarily divisive and uncomfortably close to xenophobic diatribes aimed at new immigrants.

“I guess we should look to relocate the Statue of Liberty,” read one typical response. “Don’t want to give anyone the impression we want anymore out of towners. Good way to honor the spirit of Martin Luther King.”

Though Adams has yet to make an official announcement, he has told reporters that he is “pursuing running for mayor” in 2021, when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) reaches his term limit. According to the Gotham Gazette, he boasts the second-largest war chest out of all of the likely contenders, and had raised a total of $2.3 million as of last week.

At the start of his impassioned speech Monday, Adams lamented that issues such as drug addiction and gun violence had long plagued urban areas but weren’t taken seriously until they reached the suburbs. Then, he started talking about rodents. The borough president recently faced criticism from animal rights activists for showing off dead rats at a news conference and declaring that the city wasn’t doing enough to fight what he described as a “pervasive” infestation of vermin. On Monday, he defended his approach, saying that rats were going after children in public housing projects.

“We have had these characters come up and say, ‘How dare you kill these rats?’ " Adams told the crowd. “What the hell is wrong with you? You are saying that the rats are more important than our children.”

The borough president invoked King’s legacy, noting that “he did not allow others to be comfortable while everyone else was living in horrific conditions.” He went on to suggest that anyone uncomfortable with discussing the issues he raised, such as homelessness and racial inequities in the education system, “would just have to get over it.”

“You are not going to enjoy this city, and watch the displacement of the people who made this city,” he said, according to live-streamed video of the event that was shared by the National Action Network.

Before telling new arrivals to go back to the Midwest, Adams offered up praise for the city’s longtime residents. “You were here before Starbucks,” he told the audience. “You were here before others came and decided they wanted to be part of this city. Folks are not only hijacking your apartments and displacing your living arrangements, they displace your conversations and say that things that are important to you are no longer important.”

According to a Bloomberg News analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, the New York City metro area saw more of its residents move away in 2018 than any other U.S. city. While it’s impossible to say how much of that exodus can be attributed to gentrification, a 2017 study conducted by the New York City Comptroller’s Office found that the number of black residents in gentrifying neighborhoods had sharply declined between 2000 and 2015. While those areas saw an influx of new businesses, the city also experienced a 31.4 percent drop in the number of black-owned businesses between 2007 and 2012, according to the report.

Adams’s comments, which the New York Daily News categorized as “racially charged,” received loud applause at the Harlem forum but faced a markedly different reception on social media. Some questioned whether Iowa was “the new dog whistle for white people,” while others pointed out that New York has long prided itself on being an international city that welcomes newcomers from all over.

“As a gay man who migrated to NYC from a conservative town in rural oregon, I am appalled that MY borough president would use such discriminatory rhetoric towards those of us who sought a more welcoming city to call home,” read one response.

The backlash even reached Ohio. The state’s GOP chairman, Robert Frost, told the New York Post, “We got a lot of great things going on in Ohio. Ohio has an open door if people are frustrated in New York.”

Other critics pointed out that Adams has accepted campaign donations from real estate developers, who directly benefit from an influx of wealthy new arrivals. “If Eric Adams wants to dunk on gentrifiers and people who move into the city, maybe he should stop taking so much d--- money from the real estate industry who created this problem,” tweeted Brandon West, a Brooklyn-based candidate for New York City Council. “I won’t hold my breath.”

Adams, who will face a competitive primary if he vies for the city’s top office, later amended his remarks. “Let me be clear: Anyone can be a New Yorker, but not everyone comes to our city with the spirit of being part of our city,” he wrote on Twitter. “I have a problem with that, and I’m unapologetic in asking more of our new arrivals to communities who were once waking up to gun shots and not alarm clocks.”

When asked what, specifically, he wanted new transplants to do differently, Adams replied, “Some of it is as simple as saying ‘hello’ to your fellow neighbors. It’s also patronizing local businesses that have been there for years. It’s adopting a local school or shelter and lending a hand. It’s breaking bread with new faces and building bonds.”

Many of his critics weren’t satisfied by that answer. “Sounds a lot like the other side when they say they don’t hate immigration, it’s just that immigrants need to assimilate better,” said one reply. Another described Adams’s insistence that newcomers have the proper “spirit” as “Trumpian chauvinism/xenophobia, just applied on a local level.”

“This is how Republicans talk about immigration,” tweeted Josh Barro, a business columnist for New York magazine.

But others defended the borough president, saying that they were tired of seeing newcomers treat native New Yorkers with disrespect. “As a displaced Brooklyn native, lemme translate,” tweeted the writer Kwanza Osajyefo. “Dear Colonizers, we know our low-income hoods are a steal to rent/buy but for us POC with longterm retail leases and rent controlled apts, it’d be nice if you acknowledge we live here too.”

De Blasio, meanwhile, suggested that Adams had simply expressed himself badly.

“The mayor doesn’t agree with how it was said, but the borough president voiced a very real frustration,” the mayor’s spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein, told the Daily News. “We need to improve affordability in this city to ensure New Yorkers can stay in the city they love, but New York City will always be a city for everyone.”