Additional reporting by Mónica Cordero, Dimitri Fautsch and Aria Velasquez
The mayoral candidates blazed their campaign trails with fervor in the final weeks before the primary election, shedding masks, embracing voters and hoping their non-Zoom facetime would pay off.
THE CITY traced the top four Democratic candidates’ whereabouts between April 1 and June 22, using public schedules released by their campaigns and social media posts.
The result provided insight into each candidate’s strategy to vie for New Yorkers’ votes — and offered hints on where priorities may be for primary winner Eric Adams, who is likely to become the city’s 110th chief executive due to the overwhelming Democratic voter enrollment.
In all, Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang made roughly 800 appearances around the five boroughs between April Fools’ Day and Primary Day as pandemic restrictions eased and in-person campaigning resumed after months of seemingly endless online forums.
The campaign season, unlike any other, culminated with Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, clinching the Democratic nomination last week. He led former Sanitation Commissioner Garcia by less than one percentage point, some 7,100 votes, in the ranked choice voting tabulation.
Overall, Adams won 41% of first-place, in-person votes in the election districts he campaigned in, followed by Garcia (39%) and Wiley (35%). Yang, despite hitting up the greatest number of election districts, won 21% of in-person ballots.
In general, neighborhoods where candidates campaigned most frequently had higher voter turnout than areas they skipped, an analysis by THE CITY found. Campaign-hotspots averaged 32% turnout, while the rate for the rest of the city was 25%. More than 930,000 people or 28% of active Democrats voted in the primary — the highest rate since 2012.
Garcia and civil rights attorney Wiley, who came in third, conceded the race to Adams last week. Yang, who forged an eleventh-hour alliance with Garcia, conceded shortly after the in-person vote ended.
The mayoral candidates campaigned mostly in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens — in that order — with City Hall Park and the area around Adams’ home turf of Brooklyn Borough Hall as the most popular campaign stops.
Adams and Wiley made the most trips to Upper Manhattan. Garcia often stayed close to her home in Park Slope and Yang campaigned in Chinatown. And while highly coveted endorsements helped deliver some areas to candidates, other efforts fell flat.
Some parts of the city were overlooked: Wiley did not visit Staten Island. Only Yang trekked to Fresh Meadows.
“I would hope that a [hopeful for] mayor of New York City would at least bother to go to all five boroughs and at least have a hot dog, but time is money,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University.
The COVID-19 pandemic largely crippled typical in-person campaigning in the initial weeks of the race, which marked the first municipal primary since the vote was moved from September to June. Yang stumped widely early on and wound up catching the virus.
But as infections decreased citywide and vaccinations became widely available in April, the candidates set off on a mad dash, hitting nearly every corner of the city within 12 weeks.
The candidates ate namesake bagels and visited bars with eponymous margaritas (Maya-rita, anyone?). They got down with dancers both young and old. They biked between boroughs, took pies to the face, hula-hooped and spoke to congregants at mosques, temples and churches.
“In an ideal world, you would want to reach everyone in all five boroughs, but strategically you know that certain neighborhoods just aren’t going to be yours,” said Greer.
Unlike his rivals, Adams didn’t spend much time campaigning in Brownstone Brooklyn or the Upper West Side, areas with perennial high voter turnout for Democrats. Instead the 60-year-old former cop frequently campaigned in Upper Manhattan, The Bronx and southeast Queens — home to significant numbers of Black and Latino working-class New Yorkers.
“There’s a finite amount of time that you can have a candidate out there campaigning and any campaign will tell you you need to focus that time and energy on your base and your core constituency for a winning coalition,” said Evan Thies, Adams’ campaign spokesperson. “You also follow that plan based on the message of your campaign and the type of voter you’re attempting to appeal to.”
It’s a strategy that paid off.
In Assembly districts, including Queens Village and Laurelton, where Adams showed up much more often than other candidates, six out of 10 in-person voters ranked him in the top spot.
Thies said Adams’ campaign messaging on public safety and affordability resonated across neighborhood lines, speaking directly to the concerns of working-class New Yorkers.
“All of these things matter in a very real way to lower-income and middle-income, working-class communities and they’re going to respond to that message a lot more than wealthier communities,” Thies said.
As a seasoned politician and former activist cop, Adams entered the campaign with significant name recognition. But the campaign still relied on some high-powered surrogates with deep ties to their community to help boost Adams.
In Upper Manhattan, Adams was frequently flanked by Rep. Adriano Espaillat and Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, two local elected officials who represent a burgeoning Dominican diaspora in Washington Heights and Inwood. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. was also often by Adams’ side, joining him as he greeted voters.
Unlike his competitors, who largely ignored southeastern Queens, Adams made frequent stops in the area, particularly toward the tail-end of the campaign.
Adams grew up in South Jamaica, and voters in the area are exactly the type of constituency he was hoping to attract: Black homeowners who “are active in civic life and deeply concerned about public safety and motivated in this election by serious concern about the decline of the city,” Thies said.
There’s one thing Garcia didn’t have going into the Democratic primary: name recognition.
Yang was coming off a long-shot bid for president. Wiley had spent months leading up to the primary as a political commentator on MSNBC and Adams has been involved in city politics for the better part of three decades. Garcia, on the other hand, had to build a profile from relative obscurity as a former de Blasio administration official.
“Being with Kathryn since January, I got to kind of see the full arc of the campaign,” said Nicole Migliore, Garcia’s deputy campaign manager. “Going from introducing herself as, ‘You may not know my name, but you know my work,’ [to] walking down the street and folks calling out her name and stopping her.”
Garcia campaigned in Park Slope the most, making at least 23 stops since April. Nearly half of active Democrats in the 52nd Assembly District, which includes Park Slope, Downtown Brooklyn and Cobble Hill, voted, according to THE CITY’s analysis. Garcia was ranked first by 41% of the in-person voters there.
Migliore said Garcia campaigned in Park Slope in part because it allowed her to hurry back home in time to make digital forums and events, as she balanced meeting voters face-to-face.
Garcia, who set out to appeal to moderate Democrats, made several stops in southern Brooklyn in the days leading up to the primary. She also joined Yang at several campaign stops in Flushing and Chinatown — two neighborhoods with a large Asian population — as they announced their last-minute alliance.
Wiley, who formerly served as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s counsel, came third in the primary, trailing Garcia by nearly 12,400 votes during the seventh round of ranked-choice tabulations.
Progressive support consolidated around Wiley, who benefited from the downfall of fellow progressives Dianne Morales, whose campaign imploded over personnel fights, and city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who was accused of sexual misconduct, charges he denied. Wiley enjoyed the backing of the Working Families Party and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman and Nydia Velazquez, from districts in Queens, The Bronx and Brooklyn.
Still, voters in both Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman’s districts chose Adams over Wiley in their ranking. Only in Velazquez’s 7th Congressional District, which includes Brooklyn, did Wiley win the most in-person votes.
In about 140 stops, Wiley traversed the west side of Manhattan up through The Bronx. She hit Brownstone Brooklyn, Flatbush and Ditmas Park, where she lives, but barely saw areas south and southeast of there, home to large Jewish and Black communities.
Wiley snubbed Staten Island and steered clear of the Upper East Side, an area that’s mostly white with a median household income about twice as much as the city’s average.
Wiley visited parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights more often than others, but still did not win in those neighborhoods. She received 34% of the in-person votes from these areas, while Adams scooped up 45%.
Wiley’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A newcomer to city politics, Yang stood out among his rival candidates for clocking in the most appearances between April and Primary Day.
With some 230 campaign stops to his name, Yang traversed the five boroughs, making frequent forays to Chinatown and Flushing, as he sought to energize neighborhoods with a large Asian population with the prospect of electing the first Asian-American mayor.
His campaign also sought the support of the Orthodox Jewish community — a highly coveted voting bloc. Campaigning on more lax oversight of yeshivas, Yang scored the endorsement of Brooklyn Councilmember Kalman Yeger and Assemblymembers Simcha Eichenstein (D-Brooklyn) and Daniel Rosenthal (D-Queens). Meanwhile, Adams received the late backing of leaders in Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic community, led by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum.
The endorsements of local leaders translated to Yang winning 36% of the votes in Eichenstein and Rosenthal’s districts.
Yang also zeroed in on communities with a high share of East Asians. Yang made 30 stops in Lower Manhattan and Flushing — more than the three candidates combined took.
In those Assembly districts, Yang won the most first-place votes with nearly one-third.
But his frequent campaign stops and support wasn’t enough to elevate Yang, who conceded from the race on primary night after being ranked in the top spot by just 12% of voters.