Accusations of voter suppression, racism and opportunistic political maneuvering took center stage on the eve of Tuesday’s primary as the candidates vying to become New York City’s next mayor made their final pitch to voters.
It brought a raucous end to a primary season like no other, amid a pandemic that’s created huge challenges for whomever wins the Democratic primary and likely will step in Jan. 1 as the city’s 110th chief executive.
Meanwhile, it could be weeks until New Yorkers learn who is nominated for seats from City Hall to City Council, due in part to the advent of ranked choice voting.
Voters can rank up to five candidates under the first citywide test of the new system, which advocates tout as discouraging negative campaigning and promoting coalition-building among candidates. But until this past weekend, the leading Democratic candidates campaigned as usual, hurling barbs at each other in their bid to secure the nomination.
A last-minute alliance between front runners Andrew Yang and former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia is threatening to ratchet up tensions in an already heated election as Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams leads in the polls.
While Yang on Saturday urged his supporters to rank Garcia as number two, she did not return the favor. Still, the pair have been campaigning together since, standing alongside one other at events and appearing jointly on campaign mailers.
Adams and his surrogates went as far as to claim that the alliance, announced on Juneteenth, was aimed at disenfranchising Black and Latino voters.
‘The Wrong Message’
“I think you sent the wrong signal and the wrong message. That is how many of the African-American and Hispanic candidates felt after they saw this,” Adams said on CNN Monday morning.
Adams, who is Black, said he couldn’t speak on behalf of his supporters claiming, without basis, that the Yang-Garcia pairing will suppress voters.
“I can say this: that African-Americans are very clear on voter suppression — we know about a poll tax, we know about the fight that we’ve had historically, how you had to go through hurdles to vote,” Adams said.
“So if they feel, based on their perception, that it suppressed the vote, then I respect their feelings,” he added.
Mayoral candidate Maya Wiley — a Black civil rights lawyer who worked for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration — called Adams’ characterization of the partnership between Yang, who is Asian, and Garcia, who is White, “dangerous.”
“At a time when we’re seeing real voter suppression laws being enacted, using racism charges to undermine confidence in ranked choice voting is cynical, self-interested and dangerous,” Wiley said in a statement.
While allianances like Garcia and Yang’s are typical in ranked choice voting elections, de Blasio chalked up their pact to an “opportunistic move by candidates.”
A Bevy of Candidates
In the Democratic primary — the outcome of which will likely determine the outcome of the mayoral race in November given the party’s overwhelming enrollment advantage — voters may select from a slate of 13 candidates.
Adams, a former transit cop, has gained frontrunner status. His most competitive rivals are Garcia, running on her managerial competence; Yang, an entrepreneur and one-time presidential hopeful; and Wiley, to whom progressives have recently pinned their hopes.
The top eight candidates are rounded out by city Comptroller Scott Stringer; Ray McGuire, a Wall Street executive; Shaun Donovan, who worked in the Obama administration as the housing secretary and budget director; and Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive.
Finance executive and NYC Votes creator Art Chang, entrepreneur Joycelyn Taylor, attorney Aaron Foldenauer, rapper Paperboy Love Prince and attorney Isaac Wright Jr. also appear on the ballot.
On the Republican side, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa is running against Fernando Mateo, a restaurateur and advocate for bodega owners and taxi drivers, for the GOP mayoral nod.
The campaign trail, for months confined largely to Zoom rooms, has generated its share of scandal, drama and oddities.
Stringer, who was once considered among the favorites and a darling among some progressives, saw his campaign upended last month as sexual misconduct allegations from two decades ago were leveled against him by a former campaign worker. He has denied the accusation, as well as a second that came to light earlier this month.
The campaign of Morales, considered the furthest left of the field, imploded amid a unionization effort from staffers and a work stoppage in response to complaints of poor compensation and a toxic work environment. Morales fired about 40 of her nearly 100 staffers, navigating allegations of union-busting, and has continued campaigning.
With Stringer and Morales mired in controversy, many of their supporters on the left, including the Working Families Party, turned their attention to Wiley.
Adams’ residency came under scrutiny earlier this month after an investigation revealed gaps in the borough president’s record-keeping, calling into question where exactly he lives. Efforts by the Adams’ campaign to clarify that he resides in Bedford-Stuyvesant, sharing a ground-level apartment with his son, only added to the confusion as the famously vegan politician’s refrigerator wasn’t stocked up with some of the usual items he credits with reversing his diabetes.
THE CITY recently revealed that Adams never listed a Brooklyn co-op he bought in 1992 with a friend on required financial disclosure forms — and still appeared on documents listed as co-owner in 2021, 14 years after he says he gave away his stake in the apartment.
High Stakes, Turnout Uncertain
The next mayor will inherit a city that’s still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far killed more than 33,000 New Yorkers, shuttered about a third of small businesses and led to high unemployment rates — making this one of the most consequential elections in the city’s history.
A myriad of challenges will face the mayor: balancing public safety concerns amid a rise in gun violence with the need to hold police officers accountable, to shaping a budget while contending with an approximately $5 billion shortfall predicted for the next few years.
But whether recent events drive New Yorkers to the ballot box en masse remains to be seen.
The last time the city’s top job was competitive in 2013, roughly 20% of enrolled Democrats voted in the primary election, which de Blasio won. Campaigns and political observers are watching closely to see whether Democrats will surpass the 646,000 votes they cast during the 2013 primary.
More than 191,000 New Yorkers voted early, according to the city’s Board of Elections, which began June 12 and ended Sunday. By the BOE’s count, nearly 221,000 absentee ballots have been requested throughout the five boroughs and roughly 82,600 have so far been returned.
But all that adds up to just a tiny fraction of the roughly 3.9 million active Republican and Democratic voters in the city who are able to vote in Tuesday’s primary.
Adding to tensions is the wait until results become final.
The results of Tuesday’s election in most races likely won’t be clear until the week of July 12 at the earliest. By the time polls close Tuesday, the BOE will release preliminary first rankings from in-person ballots cast on Primary Day and during early voting.
A Citywide Turnover
The results of the election won’t just shake up the mayoral administration: Most of the city government will get a makeover.
Stringer is term-limited as comptroller, the city’s chief financial officer and auditor of agency spending. Eight Democratic candidates are running to replace him. All five borough president seats are at stake, with only incumbent Queens Borough President Donovan Richards vying to defend his seat.
In addition, eight Democrats and one Republican are running to become the new Manhattan district attorney, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams will try to keep his post against two other Democrats and one Republican candidate seeking the role of the city’s watchdog.
On top of those races, about 300 candidates are vying to fill 35 of the 51 City Council seats up for grabs. The body, which can introduce legislation and act as a check on the mayor’s power, has the potential to be substantially reshaped based on the primary.
The sheer number of candidates in the mayoral race on top of the many other contests at play has led to an unprecedented surge of financial activity as campaigns rake in donations and benefit from a new public matching funds system through which more than $109 million went to candidates in all races.
Meanwhile, independent expenditures — groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates — have put over $37 million to work to influence voters.