NYC progressives anxiously watch Maya Wiley's ascent

NYC progressives anxiously watch Maya Wiley's ascent
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Progressives in New York City are anxiously hoping civil rights attorney Maya Wiley is peaking at the right time in the city’s mayoral primary. 

Wiley, a former lawyer for Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioOvernight Health Care: Biden expected to announce vaccine requirement for federal workers | Republican governors revolt against CDC guidance | Pfizer: Third vaccine shot 'strongly' boosts immune response against delta Cuomo ordering all New York state workers to be vaccinated or face testing Biden expected to announce vaccine requirement for federal workers this week MORE (D) and an MSNBC legal analyst, spent months fighting for the liberal mantle in the 13-candidate primary field. But it wasn’t until earlier this month that she saw progressive support coalesce around her after stumbles by high-profile competitors sent a flood of endorsements her way, culminating in the announcement earlier this month that Wiley won the backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez, Bush criticize lack of diversity among negotiators on latest infrastructure deal Fetterman slams Sinema over infrastructure: 'Democrats need to vote like Democrats' House passes spending bill to boost Capitol Police and Hill staffer pay MORE (D-N.Y.). 

Progressives are hopeful that rush of support, which has coincided with a rise in the polls for Wiley, could provide a key boost in a race that has largely been dominated by more moderate Democrats. 

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“It’s the perfect time. So much in politics is timing,” said Our City PAC Executive Director Gabe Tobias, whose group has not made an endorsement but has boosted the more progressive candidates. “Right now, she’s peaking, and this is when voters are paying the most attention.” 

The dam began breaking for Wiley in late May when she started receiving increasingly high-profile endorsements for her bid, helping solidify her spot as the top progressive in the final primary sprint. 

Besides Ocasio-Cortez, Wiley also won the support of liberals like Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (D-Mass.) and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, one of the most prominent progressives involved in the city’s politics. Outside groups like the New York Working Families Party, Democracy for America and EMILY’s List are also backing her. 

“I believe that it is pretty clear why folks like me are endorsing Maya. We’re at a very critical point in New York City,” Williams told The Hill, referencing the pandemic recovery and concerns about crime. “And we have to be clear, we can’t return to normal because normal didn’t work for most folks.” 

“I do think there’s enough time to take advantage of all the things that are happening in Maya’s campaign,” he added. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that happens.” 

Still, some supporters wouldn’t say with certainty that they believed Wiley has enough runway to lock down the nomination with just a week until the primary. 

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A Marist College poll released Monday shows Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams winning the race, followed by former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, while Wiley is knocked out in the 11th round of vote allocation in the primary’s ranked-choice voting system. A survey from the liberal firm Data for Progress, however, showed her jumping to second place, 6 points behind Adams. 

“Maya has probably the most momentum of any of the candidates. It’s probably a good thing going into the last week until the election,” Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, said. “Whether it’s enough to carry through, we’re going to have to really work at it.” 

The opening of the floodgates for Wiley comes at a crucial time for progressives, who had sounded the alarm that one of a trio of centrists could outlast a splintered liberal lane and take the nomination later this month. Whoever wins the June 22 primary is virtually guaranteed to win the general election in November given the city’s deep-blue hue. 

The centrist lane has been occupied by Adams, Garcia and former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew YangAndrew YangPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Kings launch voting rights effort honoring John Lewis Eric Adams to meet with Biden on curbing gun violence MORE. 

While the three candidates have thrown barbs at each other, their broad profiles have consistently put them in the top tier of most public surveys. Adams has touted his solid base of support in Brooklyn, while Garcia has cast herself as an efficient manager, a message that was given a key boost by an endorsement from The New York Times in May. And Yang has continued to benefit from the sprawling social media following he cultivated in his 2020 run. 

That dynamic fueled calls from progressives to unite around one candidate, casting the centrists as Wall Street favorites who would not look out for the working class. 

“With Maya Wiley, we have a candidate that grassroots movements can work with, can inform and can shape, because she comes from it,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a speech announcing her endorsement for Wiley. “If we don’t come together as a movement, we will get a New York City built by and for billionaires, and we need a city by and for working people.” 

The liberal consolidation around Wiley was expedited after scandal struck the campaigns of two progressive rivals, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales.

Stringer was hit earlier this year with allegations of sexual misconduct from two women, leading endorsers to hastily withdraw their support. And Morales, who had cast herself as an activist aligned with the party’s grassroots, oversaw a campaign overhaul following allegations of staff misconduct. 

Progressives, including those who support Wiley, privately concede that the controversies helped her consolidate support among liberals but maintain she has done an effective job of picking up the endorsements that Stringer shed or Morales missed out on. 

“I feel like a lot of progressives, speaking from my own experience, really saw Scott as a real progressive who could win this, who had the resources, had the money, had the name recognition, had the experience. And then because of the set of allegations that have come out against him, really derailed the entire race for progressives,” said Westin, whose group endorsed Stringer in March but withdrew its support and now backs Wiley. 

“I think just the kind of entire discombobulation of the race has made it difficult to try and orient folks and cement the progressive front-runner, but Maya has done that now.” 

Beyond facing a calendar crunch, Wiley has also started fielding increased attacks from primary rivals in part due to the heightened buzz around her campaign. 

Much of the criticism coming Wiley’s way has centered around her stance on policing. Adams, a former police captain, and Yang have both voiced broad support for the police, noting a rise in violent crime in the city, while Wiley has advocated for shifting money from the police to other anti-crime initiatives. 

“A candidate in the race has private security while they’re saying to other families that are frightened over gun violence that you don’t need more security,” Adams said at a debate last week, referencing private security around Wiley’s historic mansion in Brooklyn. “That’s just not fair.” 

Wiley and her allies have pushed back on such attack lines, saying they unfairly play on New Yorkers’ heightened fears amid lingering uncertainty over the pandemic recovery and the crime increase. 

“I think that it’s kind of a rough thing to do after a pandemic when New Yorkers were really all concerned about our safety. It’s been a rough year, and I think that kind of fear mongering, those tactics are in some ways more effective because of that. But I think what I like about Maya is how she talks about public safety proactively, it’s holistic,” said Liat Olenick, a board member of Indivisible Nation BK, which has endorsed Wiley. 

It remains to be seen just how receptive voters are to those and other attacks on Wiley, as well as if her campaign’s surge will last the week. 

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But polls show broad swaths of voters remain undecided, leaving her with a chance to win votes that are still up for grabs. 

“Obviously the more time the better, but I think people are still making up their minds,” said Luke Hayes, a progressive strategist who is not endorsing any candidate. “And I think between the soft electorate and also the potential for rankings, I think people have had their top two, top three, top four, and I think they’ve kind of changed around the order a few times, just depending on news, endorsements, positions, things like that.

“A week can be enough time. I think we’ve certainly seen races where a late break can help a surging candidate.”