Five things to watch in the NYC mayor’s race primary
New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary is heading toward an uncertain finish when voters go to the polls Tuesday as the field’s top tier jockeys for position in the final stretch.
The leading Democratic contenders include Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, three centrists, and civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley, who is backed by many progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups.
Polls show that while Adams leads the crop, the race remains up for grabs for any of the four top contenders.
Here are five things to watch as voting starts.
Can progressives clinch a late victory at the polls?
Adams, Garcia and Yang have been mainstays at the top of the few public surveys that have been released, but Wiley has enjoyed a surge in the polls in recent weeks as progressives coalesce around her bid.
Wiley spent months fighting to lead the progressive lane in the primary against other contenders like New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales. However, she began consolidating support from liberals in the city after Stringer’s campaign was derailed by sexual misconduct claims from two women and Morales’s bid suffered from internal dysfunction over a unionization push.
Wiley has won the endorsements of prominent lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and groups including the New York Working Families Party, Democracy for America and EMILY’s List.
That boost has led to a rise in the polls, with surveys consistently putting her in the top four, including a poll from PIX11/NewsNation/Emerson College released Thursday showing her in second place behind Adams.
Despite the surge, progressives are anxious over whether she has had enough runway to ride out her campaign peak given the looming primary date.
Do concerns over crime dominate the race?
A rise in violent crime in New York City has taken center stage in the primary, with the top four contenders touting their policies regarding law enforcement to gin up support among their respective bases.
Adams, Garcia and Yang have all portrayed themselves as allies of police, saying law enforcement would be critical in combating the rise in crime while also facing reforms. All three have advocated for a rise in the number of cops on the streets, including in the city’s subways.
Meanwhile, Wiley has pushed for the city to divert funds away from law enforcement and invest more in alternative community programs to try to reduce crime.
“What we have the opportunity to do right now is to be smart about growing public safety,” Wiley said at a debate last week. “We are hiring police officers to do the job of social workers. We are hiring police officers to do the job of psychologists.”
Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran New York City political strategist, said the issue could either help Adams given his law enforcement background, or Garcia, who has centered her campaign around a message of being an effective manager.
“Is this about disorder, or is this about crime, and how do you separate them? The Garcia argument is that disorder will be an issue because it can be managed. The Adams argument is it’s about crime and disorder, and they have to be managed, but not in the same way. And for that you need an expert on crime, and if you deal with crime, you can take care of disorder. So, is it management, or is it crime? That’s the decision New Yorkers have to make,” he said.
Does the Garcia-Yang alliance boost them in the home stretch?
Garcia and Yang raised eyebrows over the weekend when they campaigned together, a move broadly interpreted as an informal alliance in the city’s ranked choice voting system.
Yang said that voters, who will be able to rank their top five choices, should write down Garcia as their No. 2 choice if they back him. However, Garcia declined to make a reciprocal call to her supporters.
The not-quite-alliance seemed to be an effort to undercut Adams’s momentum, leading the former police captain to accuse Garcia and Yang of trying to prevent a Black or Hispanic candidate from winning the mayoralty.
“For them to come together like they are doing in the last three days, they’re saying we can’t trust a person of color to be the mayor of the city of New York when this city is overwhelmingly people of color,” Adams said over the weekend.
Observers say such groupings are common in ranked choice voting, though it’s unclear if the late announcement will trickle down to Garcia and Yang’s respective supporters.
“I think it’s smart to try to be each other’s number one and number two,” said progressive strategist Luke Hayes. “I don’t know if that translates to all their supporters doing it, but I think it’s a good way to engage with ranked choice voting. I’m surprised other candidates haven’t done it.”
Their decision drew criticism from some who argued it was motivated by little more than their desire to topple Adams from his front-runner status.
“It probably doesn’t,” Sheinkopf said when asked how the match-up impacts the race. “This theoretical alliance isn’t based on ethnicity, and nobody’s sure what it’s based on, it’s not clear. An attempt to influence ranked choice voting? Possibly. We don’t know how that’s going to work out yet.”
What will turnout be like?
Like many things about the mayoral primary — and pandemic-era politics — the primary’s precise turnout is unclear. But one thing is nearly certain: It will be low.
Several factors are coalescing to make Tuesday’s primary a low-turnout affair: lingering concerns over the coronavirus, a schedule change that moved the primary up from September to June, the election taking place in an off-year and possible confusion over how voting even works.
That’s all on top of historically low turnout in New York city municipal elections. Turnout was below 25 percent in both the 2013 and 2017 mayoral races.
While more New York City voters came out in 2018 and 2020 for the midterm and presidential cycles, those numbers are expected to fall again this week.
“Certainly in 2018 and 2020 you saw a nice jump in turnout. It doesn’t look like 2021 will repeat that trend,” said Hayes.
What impact does ranked choice voting have?
New York City is providing ranked choice voting with its highest platform in the country’s history. As such, much is unknown about how the experiment will shake out.
Under the system, voters will rank their top five choices. Should no candidate win an outright majority, votes on subsequent choices after the No. 1 spot will be reallocated until one candidate takes more than 50 percent of the vote.
No candidate appears to be a clear beneficiary of the method, given that polling has not shown that any of the top contenders are overwhelmingly voters’ second choice.
“It’s a first go-around, so I think there’s going to be a lot of lessons learned by candidates and campaigns of things to know for the next time,” Hayes said.
Ranked choice is also expected to lengthen the time needed to process the results and declare a winner in the primary.
De Blasio was declared the Democratic nominee in 2013 in under a week. But the tallying this time around is expected to run well into July, with Hayes saying a result could come as late as the middle of July barring an unexpected blowout.
“We don’t know how long this is going to take. It could be immediate, it could be weeks down the road,” said Sheinkopf. “No one knows what ranked choice voting really means here, because we haven’t experienced it yet.”