It was a provocative, possibly divisive, message from a mainstream mayoral candidate in New York City.

The candidate, Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, spoke of how new arrivals to New York were “hijacking” apartments from longtime residents.

“Go back to Iowa,” Mr. Adams, a Democrat, said on Monday at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters in Harlem, at his annual Martin Luther King’s Birthday event. “You go back to Ohio. New York City belongs to the people that was here and made New York City what it is.”

His comments struck at a broader anxiety across all five boroughs about gentrification and affordability, and whether those forces have homogenized the city for the worse.

In neighborhoods across the city, in places like Harlem, Washington Heights, Long Island City and Bushwick, residential and commercial rents have risen, displacing longtime businesses and residents, and upending the character of those areas.

Yet some leaders in New York suggested that Mr. Adams had gone too far. Indeed, Mr. Adams on Tuesday sought to clarify his comments, signaling that he did not, in fact, want newer residents to start packing their bags.

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