The X account of New York City Mayor Eric Adams put out a peculiar X about the dreadful situation in Haiti. I quote the X as it was reprinted in a New York Post article:

We call New York City the Port-Au-Prince of America. We feel the pain of our Haitian neighbors feel as the situation grows dire. To the people of Haiti and our own Haitian community here in New York City, know that we stand with you today and always.

Eric Adams’ X account

I just published an article about X’s efforts to re-brand itself to distance itself from its former brand, Twitter. The jury is still out on whether X will be successful in shedding its Twitter legacy (I have my doubts), but I am confident that whoever is running Mr. Adams’ X account committed a major branding SNAFU (I am confident that Mr. Adams is not one of the select politicians who sends his own social media posts, but I cannot rule out the possibility that he signs off on the posts).

The New York Post article and other reports keyed in on the first part of Mr. Adams’ X:

We call New York City the Port-Au-Prince of America.

Eric Adams’ X account

That part of the X received an X “community note” because many X users correctly concluded that absolutely no one calls New York City the Port-Au-Prince of America. The New York Post and other outlets focused on the accuracy of Mr. Adams’ staffer’s assertion. I agree that no one calls New York City the Port-Au-Prince of America. But that was not my first thought about the X. My first thought was about branding.

Now I begin by noting that Mr. Adams has no reason to take advice from me. He charted a 30-year political path that took him from being a rabble-rouser in the New York Police Department to Mayor of the largest city in the United States. I am a mere small online website admin. Moreover, I voted for Curtis Sliwa over Eric Adams in the 2021 election and I will submit for the record that nothing has happened since Mr. Adams took office in January 2022 to make me think for even a moment that I voted incorrectly. Mr. Adams has no reason to take advice from me but one: I have, without question, a better understanding of political branding than do his staffers, social media interns, flunkies, or whoever is X’ing from his X account.

Haiti has a long, deeply troubled history. There are many think-pieces on why Haiti is the way it is, but we do not need to jump into that debate today. Haiti has been largely dysfunctional for many decades, going from corrupt authoritarian leadership in the Duvalier era to a series of hapless, often corrupt leaders at the mercy of events. At the moment, Haiti effectively has no government as of publication time and most of the capital, Port-Au-Prince, has fallen to gangs led by figures such as a man who goes by Barbeque and an aspiring rapper. Any provisional Haitian government will have to confront extreme gang violence with a small and outgunned police force. The bright idea of the international community seems to be to send Kenyan police officers into Haiti. Yes, that sounds questionable – but I suppose it would be hard for it to go worse than the most recent UN intervention, which led to a cholera outbreak and other generalized unpleasantness.

To be sure, I have read that Haiti has much to recommend it in better times. But Haiti’s brand at the moment is anarchy, destitution, and violence. Just like no one other than Mr. Adams’ interns calls New York City the Port-Au-Prince of America, no thinking person would choose to use Haiti as a positive point of comparison to their city.

No one except Mr. Adams’ interns.

Now without passing judgment here on Mr. Adams’ tenure as Mayor, some of the issues that have dominated the public discourse on his mayorality include crime, the influx of aliens who recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, and the quality of city services. Mr. Adams usually insists that all is well on his end and that whatever problems exist are the fault of Albany, the City Council, or the Federal government. Again – the issue is not whether or to what extent he is correct – but that is the message he has conveyed throughout his administration. Haiti, which is at the moment a failed gang-run state under the most charitable understanding of current events, is very much the opposite of what Mr. Adams wants people to think when they think about the Adams mayorality and New York City.

I have never met Mr. Adams and will almost certainly never meet him. But I am certain that he would not take the following made-up statement as a compliment:

Mr. Adams, under your leadership New York City has become the Port-Au-Prince of America.

Mr. Adams would almost certainly be offended if I said this to him. Why? Because he would understand it is an assessment of conditions in NYC as well as an attack on his policies on various issues from crime to his handling of homelessness and incoming foreign nationals. No one, and I mean no one, would tell Mr. Adams that New York City has become the Port-Au-Prince of America and mean it in a positive way.

(Even his social media staffer would probably know better.)

(For whatever it is worth, I will, in the spirit of charity, opine that New York City is not the Port-Au-Prince of America despite the terrible dining shed and ATM vestible situations.)

I will grant that it is entirely possible that Mr. Adams thinks that having a brand, any brand, is better than no brand at all. For example, Mr. Adams randomly attacked the State of Kansas for allegedly not having a brand back in 2022 (note I raised some questions about New York City’s brand in my analysis). That was especially peculiar since Kansas, a heavily Republican state, had a Democrat Mayor running for re-election who probably did not much appreciate a prominent Democrat from New York of all places giving her opponents a comically easy talking point (she won notwithstanding Mr. Adams’ help). You would think that Mr. Adams, who has shown that he is very brand-conscious, would know better than to go all in on the Port-Au-Prince brand. This is part of why I am still leaning into “the intern did it theory.”

Now one can quibble: “But New Leaf Journal Editor they clearly mean that New York City has a large Haitian ex-pat community.” Rest assured, I know what they meant. But as former President Mitt Romney can tell you based on many examples, meaning is not branding. Secondly, I note that the mockery that the X received, both on X and in media reports on the X reactions (aside: there are way too many articles about social media reacting but that is a separate matter) was based on the actual meaning of the X – namely that the citizens of New York City never signed up for New York City being the Port-Au-Prince of America.

I conclude with a bit of unsolicited advice for Mr. Adams, his interns, or whoever he handed control over “his” X account. This is important. Allow me to put it in a block quote so that everyone understands how important it is:

If you are the mayor of an American city that is legally named The Port-Au-Prince of America, deny to the hilt that any well-meaning individual would call your city The Port-Au-Prince of America. Never compare that which you are responsible for to Port-Au-Prince.

Note that I only singled out Port-Au-Prince because of Mr. Adams and/or his misguided staffers. There is a broader principle here. I would similarly submit categorical recommendations against comparing the city or state you run to Gaza City, Kandahar, Mogadishu, Sonora or any number of other unfortunate places. However, I exempt saying that a candidate “won by Saddam Hussein margins” because I laughed the first time I saw that description a long time ago (see the inspiration).