Additional reporting by Gabriel Sandoval
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams emerged as the early leader in the Democratic mayoral primary Tuesday, gaining more initial first-place votes than any contender in the crowded field.
But New Yorkers will have to wait weeks before learning who the winner of the crowded Democratic primary — and the likely next mayor — will be.
As of early Wednesday, the Brooklyn borough president had garnered 31% of the first-place ballots cast in person on Primary Day and during early voting under the new ranked choice voting system. He was followed by Maya Wiley with 22% and Kathryn Garcia with about 20%.
Ranked-choice counting, eliminating candidates with fewer top-five picks on voters’ ballots, stands to increase those margins. The rankings will begin at the Board of Elections once absentee ballots are in.
“We know that this is going to be layers,” Adams told supporters in Williamsburg late Tuesday. “There are going to be twos and threes and fours, we know that. But there’s something else we know — that New York City said our first choice is Eric Adams.”
There was far less drama in the Republican contest as Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa beat livery driver and bodega owner advocate Fernando Mateo by such a margin that The Associated Press declared him the outright winner. Sliwa is likely to lose in the November general election given the city’s overwhelming Democratic majority.
The preliminary results in the Democratic race trickled in after the leading candidates spent Tuesday traversing the city through steady rain, making dozens of campaign stops across the five boroughs to greet voters outside of subway stations, schools and even a sanitation garage.
‘A Numbers Guy’
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who surged in early polls of the race despite no previous political work in the city, conceded after a lackluster showing among voters who ranked him number one. He placed fourth, with a little under 12%.
“You know, I’m a numbers guy. I am not going to be the next mayor of New York City,” Yang told supporters at a rooftop restaurant in Midtown.
Yang — who previously ran for U.S. president — came under fire repeatedly for not knowing enough about the city he was looking to lead, failing to vote in municipal elections and stumbling to answer questions about local policies.
“There was so much about New York city I did not know,” he said.
Yang spent the waning days of the campaign hitting the pavement with Garcia, urging his voters to rank her number two — the only two candidates to form such an alliance — a move that could propel the former Sanitation commissioner as ranked choice voting goes into the next round.
“It is going to come down to opening up those ballots and making sure that every single New Yorker’s voice is heard,” Garcia said late Tuesday. “We voted for this. We voted to make sure that we could have this expanded sense of democracy.”
Wiley, a civil rights lawyer, struck a similar tone, telling supporters, through a hoarse voice: “Every single vote will count. Every single New Yorker who voted will count. Fifty percent of the ranked choice vote has not yet been counted.”
In a campaign season marked by many firsts — from a new system of ranking candidates to a pandemic that limited many in-person events — the winner of the Democratic primary also may very well be one of the firsts in their field.
If Garcia or Wiley clinches the nomination, they’re likely to become the first female mayor of the city. Adams or Wiley would become the second Black mayor in the city’s history, after David Dinkins.
And the stakes couldn’t be higher for the city’s eight million residents.
The next mayor will lead a city that’s still struggling to comeback from the pandemic — more than 33,000 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19, about a third of small businesses have closed their doors and high unemployment rates have barely inched down in recent weeks.
The next mayor will inherit a host of challenges and tough balancing acts in areas ranging from policing to confronting budgets with $5 billion shortfalls predicted for the next few years.
A Long Count Ahead
Tuesday’s results are just the first step in a weeks-long process to determine who will likely become the city’s 110th leader, due in part to the advent of ranked choice voting and COVID-19 pandemic expanding voting options.
For the first time, New Yorkers ranked up to five candidates for races from mayor to City Council under the first citywide test of the new system. Ranked choice voting has been utilized in 21 other jurisdictions, from San Francisco to Cambridge, but nowhere as populous as New York City.
While Adams secured the most first place votes from New Yorkers who voted in-person Tuesday and among those who cast their ballot during the nine-day early voting period that ended Sunday, tens of thousands of absentee ballots have yet to be counted.
In response to the pandemic, New York changed its rules to make it easier for any voter to request an absentee ballot and vote by mail.
Voters requested more than 222,000 absentee ballots, and so far nearly 91,000 have been returned, according to the city Board of Elections. The ballots need to arrive at the Board of Elections by June 29 — but they won’t begin to be counted until after July 9, the deadline for a “curing” process that allows voters to correct ballot errors.
So far, voter turnout among Democrats has already surpassed the 646,000 votes cast during the 2013 primary, the last time the city’s top job was competitive. More than 734,000 New Yorkers’ ballots have been counted, with more to come — potentially placing the final tally within striking distance of turnout for the 2020 presidential primary when 23% of local Democrats voted.
While Adams’ lead bears well for him in the short-term — the candidate with the most first-place votes in the first round has won in all but 15 of the 429 ranked choice elections in the U.S. — that datapoint is unofficial and only preliminary.
It is based on a count of first-choice votes cast early or in person on Primary Day, and excludes absentee votes or affidavit votes.
That means much could change — and there’s a long way to go until we have a more comprehensive understanding of which candidate is leading. The BOE will run a ranked choice voting tabulations on June 29 and July 9 for two more unofficial indications of the results.
The earliest the final, official outcome will be clear — when the BOE counts every vote and certifies the results — is the week of July 12.
Progressives, whose options included city Comptroller Scott Stringer and former non-profit executive Dianne Morales, saw those two candidates’ fortunes fade, leading to a boost for Wiley.
Decades-old sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against Stringer, who denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Morales’ campaign imploded amid a unionization effort from staffers and a work stoppage in response to complaints of poor compensation and a toxic work environment.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — whose victory as a newcomer over longtime Rep. Joe Crowley rocked Democrats in 2018 and shepherded a wave of progressive politics — endorsed Wiley (among a slew of candidates in other races). During an interview on Hot 97 Tuesday morning, Ocasio-Cortez said that Stringer was her second pick.
“I think he’s also a really strong candidate from a policy perspective,” she said, adding, “Maya’s the move to make for number one, for sure.”
Even if the progressive vote doesn’t end up coalescing around a mayoral candidate — Adams, Yang and Garcia are considered moderates — most of the city government will be remade.
Primary elections for comptroller, public advocate, Manhattan district attorney, two-thirds of the City Council seats and all five borough presidents offer opportunities for the left to exert its influence.
Depending on the election’s outcome, deep blue New York City will likely draw national scrutiny as new leaders grapple with conflicting calls reverberating from coast to coast: holding police accountable for misconduct and shifting resources from law enforcement budgets — while ratcheting up police presence amid a spike in gun violence.
And New York City, once the epicenter of the pandemic and indelibly changed by it, will demonstrate whether an economic powerhouse can mount a comeback that includes bringing equity to residents disproportionately affected by the human and fiscal toll.