The Democratic primary election
for mayor of New York City
has already begun.
Given the city's Democratic leanings, the winner of the primary, which concludes on Tuesday, is almost certain to take the top job.
In many ways, New York City, with a population of nearly 8.4 million people
, is an American outlier: it is denser, more multicultural, and less car-dependent than the rest of the country.
But this year, after eight years of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city's first Democratic leader in two decades and a self-styled progressive despised by activists on both the left and right, the city could chart a course for the Democratic Party
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia
, former de Blasio advisor Maya Wiley
, and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang
are the leading candidates for control of City Hall.
Other candidates who are less formidable include city Comptroller Scott Stringer
, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former Housing
and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan
, and former Citigroup senior executive Ray McGuire
Adams and Yang, both moderate by New York City standards, have led the polls for the majority of the race, but Yang's standing has recently fallen, while Garcia, another moderate running as a competent technocrat, has risen.
Although the outcome is still likely to disappoint the city's activist left, Wiley, who has recently consolidated progressive support, is now in a competitive position.
The top four candidates are profiled below.
in New York’
Adams, a former New York City Police
Department captain turned state senator and borough leader, is a throwback to New York's glory days of machine politics.
Adams has used long-standing relationships with politicians
leaders, clergy, and union
leaders to carve out a career in public office marked by sometimes-outlandish antics, lax ethics, and a keen sense of the political winds.
“The way he talks, the way he debates, he is so old-school New York politics,” Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a Democratic media
consultant who used to work
for de Blasio, said.
Adams has been the subject of federal, state, and local investigations for alleged violations of campaign finance
or ethics laws, as Yang frequently points out.
None of the investigations have yielded anything more than a rebuke of Adams' judgment, despite the fact that it is clear that he used his campaign account and a nonprofit that is not subject to contribution limits to solicit support from real-estate moguls and other well-connected individuals whose interests he went on to advance while in office.
At the same time, Adams has a distinct personality. After being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes
in 2016, which threatened his eyesight, Adams became a vegan
and an exercise
enthusiast, losing 30 pounds and eliminating his Diabetes symptoms. He meditates every day and writes in a journal, which he credits for his tendency to refer to himself in the third person.
Despite being an outspoken member of a group of Black cops calling for reform within the NYPD
, Adams was also a registered Republican in the late 1990s and suggested that the party had something to offer Black Americans.
in the state Senate
was marked by his cozy relationship with Republicans
, who held the majority at the time, and a Democratic colleague, Hiram Monserrate, who was expelled in 2010 for slashing his girlfriend with broken glass. Adams objected to Monserrate's expulsion, claiming that he wanted to see if his assault
conviction was overturned on appeal.
's unsuccessful bid to defeat a progressive primary challenger in 2018, Adams backed his reelection as a Democratic state senator aligned with Senate Republicans.
In recent weeks, Adams' scandals have taken an increasingly bizarre turn. A Politico
investigation raised questions about whether Adams lived in Brooklyn or split his time between Borough Hall and his partner's condo in Fort Lee, New Jersey
Adams, who gave reporters a tour of a ground-floor apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood where he claims to live, compared the charges to former President Donald Trump
claim that former President Barack Obama
was not born in the United States
Despite his past and present blunders, Adams' strong performance in the mayoral primary has been fueled by a deep well of support in the city's working- and middle-class, Black and Latino
That support has grown as a result of his early and ongoing focus on the city's rising number of shootings
and murders, as the city's recovery from the pandemic
has taken flight, and violent crime
has emerged as a key issue in the mayoral race.
The shooting in Mt. Eden on Thursday, in which a 10-year-old and a 5-year-old were caught in the crossfire but miraculously unharmed, is yet another sign that our city's gun violence
crisis has reached dangerous new heights. As Mayor, addressing this crisis will be my top priority from day one. pic.twitter.com/au9yTRp3ZO — Eric Adams (@ericadamsfornyc) June 19, 2021
Even as he promises to invest in long-term progressive solutions aimed at addressing the root causes of crime (a path he refers to as "prevention"), Adams has insisted on the need for more "intervention" as well as short-term tactics such as stationing more cops in subways and resurrecting the city's plainclothes policing unit.
Yang has largely matched Adams' tough-on-crime rhetoric and policy proposals in recent weeks, but Adams made it his central theme from the start, and when it comes to crime, it is difficult to out-do a former cop, let alone one who has mused about carrying a handgun at City Hall.
“When crime became such a dominant issue in the race, that positioned Eric Adams as the candidate to beat,” a New York Democratic strategist told Stardia, requesting anonymity for professional reasons.
‘Gracie Mansion’s Progressive’
If Adams is running as a lock-'em-up moderate who despises the activist left, civil rights
attorney Maya Wiley is a supporter of the social movements and causes that have given radical new life to city politics in recent years.
Wiley, a former de Blasio counselor, is positioning herself as the city's chance to deliver on the progress that de Blasio promised but did not deliver.
“I am the progressive who can win this race,” Wiley said at a press conference in June, adding, “I look forward to earning the vote of every single New Yorker so we can choose a path where we can all prosper.”
Even in a race defined by calls to reduce crime, Wiley, who would be the city's first Black woman mayor, has remained committed to bold reform proposals, including $1 billion in cuts to the NYPD budget to be transferred to social programs
and footage of NYPD cars ramming Black Lives Matter
protesters last summer in one of her ads.
Until the final few weeks of the campaign, Wiley occupied an inverse goldilocks position, with neither the perceived electability of Stringer, a relative newcomer to left-wing causes, nor the ideological purity of Morales.
But, with Stringer sidelined by sexual misconduct
allegations and Morales’ campaign derailed by union-busting allegations, progressives
rallied behind Wiley in June as their last best alternative to a moderate CEO
The surprise endorsement of Wiley by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
(D-NY) on June 5 was a watershed moment, as Ocasio-Cortez framed a vote for Wiley as the only way to avoid a return to the pro-business and pro-police consensus of Mike Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani
“These are the stakes,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding, “Maya Wiley is the one, and she will be a progressive in Gracie Mansion.”
A recent poll showing Wiley in third place, trailing Adams and Garcia but ahead of Yang, has rekindled progressive hopes of a victory and suggested that laments about the ascendant left's disarray in New York City may be premature.
There will be a large turnout for Black elected officials.
Democratic consultant, Olivia Lapeyrolerie
Wiley appears to benefit from a ranked-choice voting
system, which allows some ideologically flexible Black voters
who vote for Adams to rank Wiley high up as well. Obtaining substantial Black support alongside that of college-educated liberals was one of de Blasio's key political strengths, but it has since eluded many other would-be progressive leaders.
“You will see a large turnout for Black elected officials,” said Peyrolerie, who is Black.
At the same time, Wiley's rise to prominence has heightened criticism from Adams and other moderates of her privileged brand of progressivism. Wiley lives with her family in an upscale Brooklyn community where a private security
car patrols the streets, and she has actually elicited criticism from civil rights advocates for going too easy on police officers accused of misconduct.
“She is a hypocrite,” said Mona Davids, a South African immigrant
, moderate political consultant, and charter school parent in Co-Op City, Bronx.
Wiley's demise emboldens those like Davids who accuse the activist left of being disconnected from the city's multiracial working class.
“The activist left’s small but vocal minority does not speak for the majority of New Yorkers and working families,” she claimed.
A Newcomer Who May Have Peaked Too Early
For the first few months of the mayor's race, it appeared that Andrew Yang, the city's first Asian American mayor, was the only candidate campaigning publicly.
Yang’s team used a “flood the zone” approach to media coverage, similar to Pete Buttigieg
’s 2020 presidential campaign. He was everywhere, playing piano outside the Coney Island theme park in his announcement video, taking selfies with supporters of his proposal for universal basic income, and entertaining New Yorkers with his commentary on professional basketball
Most importantly, Yang's earnest and upbeat tone felt like an elixir to the pandemic's dark cloud, a cheerleader the city needed to emerge stronger from the crisis.
On January 14, he tweeted, "New York City! Can you feel it? Our comeback begins today!"
The New York Times
took a scathing look at Venture for America, a nonprofit Yang founded to create startup jobs
in underserved communities.
Local and national media also emphasized Yang's reliance on the advice of Bradley
Tusk, a former Bloomberg adviser who profited personally from lobbying against regulation of tech companies like Uber
, which did not help matters when Tusk told a New York Times columnist that Yang is an "empty vessel," reinforcing suspicions that Yang would be a Trojan horse for big business.
What really hurt Yang — who, critics point out, has never voted in a city election — were a series of public gaffes in May that reinforced the impression that he was out of his league. For example, at a campaign discussion hosted by a provider of shelters for those in need of a temporary place to stay, Yang suggested that there should be specific shelters for survivors of domestic violence
— despite the fact that such shelters do not exist.
That's all he's saying.
Brenda Williams works as a home health care
Without a base among Black voters or progressive activists, he needed to capture a significant portion of college-educated voters critical of de Blasio's management of the city, and incidents pointing to his ignorance were not helpful.
“He has no idea what he is doing,” Joan Beranbaum, a retired union lawyer who lives in lower Manhattan
, told Stardia.
Furthermore, Yang's strong online presence and national profile made him a more popular target for left-wing scorn than Adams, despite the fact that many of his aides and allies believe his emphasis on cash relief for low-income families and generally open-minded attitude should make him more appealing to progressives than the former NYPD captain.
By the final debate, Yang had fully embraced his centrist coalition of Asian Americans
, Orthodox Jews, and moderate, outer-borough whites, with a guy complaining about illegal ATVs and mentally ill homeless
men replacing the cheery New York sports
“Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but do you know who else has rights?” he asked at a recent debate. “We do! The people and families of the city.”
Yang resorted to forming a one-sided coalition with Kathryn Garcia on Saturday, intending to rank her second on his ballot and advising his supporters to do the same, despite Garcia, who campaigned alongside him, refusing to reciprocate.
But Yang, whose most ardent supporters are Asian Americans and Orthodox Jews, still has a chance to win, especially if enough voters who rank other candidates first vote for him in some way.
“He’s saying something different, that’s all,” said Brenda Williams, a home health care aide who plans to rank Yang second after Adams. “If we get something different, maybe something happens [sic] better,” she added.
The Manager Who Isn't Enthusiastic
The high drama of the Yang-Adams slugfest, the decline of a seasoned city official like Stringer, and the desire for more efficient city services have all converged to give Kathryn Garcia a shot at City Hall.
Garcia, who supports unrestricted private-sector housing development, more charter schools
, and tougher policing, is ideologically closer to Yang and Adams than to Wiley, Stringer, or Morales.
However, Garcia, who would be the city's first female mayor, has captured the imagination of college-educated liberals — many of whom are ideologically opposed to her stance — through her relentless emphasis on managerial experience and competence.
When the New York Times endorsed her in mid-May, she received a significant boost from this voting bloc, citing, among other things, Garcia's modernization of the city's snow-plow system and successful reduction of lead paint in public housing.
“The city’s recovery and longer-term future... are dependent on a mayor who understands and works the levers of good government,” the editorial board of the New York Times wrote.
Garcia, a divorced, pack-a-day smoker with a dry speaking style, is the candidate for voters who are tired of big personalities and want a boring, no-nonsense, get-it-done technocrat.
I'm not running for mayor to get the title; I'm running to do the job.
Former NYC sanitation commissioner, Kathryn Garcia
In addition to running the city's sanitation department, she was in charge of emergency food
distribution during the pandemic, was the head of the city's public housing authority for a time, and was the chief operating officer of the city's environmental protection department.
“I’m not running for mayor to get the title; I’m running to do the job of mayor because New York City needs someone who will roll up their sleeves and solve the impossible problems,” she said in the final debate.
Some of Garcia's record has escaped greater scrutiny in the rush to find an alternative to Adams or Yang. For example, despite some of Garcia's efforts, the city's recycling rate was 18% as of January 2020, and a state government audit of Garcia's department that came out in September panned the city agency's record on maintaining sidewalk and street cleanliness.
Furthermore, politics is a part of the job of a New York City mayor, and it is unclear whether Garcia has what it takes to win this election, let alone form delicate coalitions at City Hall.
Garcia lacks support in the city's massive working-class Black and Latino communities, which narrows her path to victory, and she failed to secure a cross-endorsement with Ray McGuire, which could have helped her gain support among Black voters in southeast Queens and Harlem
, according to The New York Times.
Garcia, who is adopted, has a Black brother named Matthew, whom she has mentioned in the context of her sensitivity to police racial profiling, and who she posted a photo of them eating breakfast together on Saturday, as well as a TV ad in which she stated that she was “adopted into a multiracial family.”
However, neither Matthew nor Garcia's two Latino children
(her ex-husband is Puerto Rican) have appeared in any of her TV ads, depriving her of the kind of multiracial moment that catapulted de Blasio to the mayoralty in 2013.