An allegation of sexual assault against mayoral hopeful Scott Stringer could help boost two of his fellow progressives in the race: Maya Wiley and Dianne Morales, political analysts said.
And the benefits could go beyond traditional all-out endorsements with the June 22 Democratic mayoral primary shaping up as the first citywide test of ranked choice voting, in which voters make their top five picks in order of preference.
“Scott has seen his path to Gracie Mansion going through the progressive areas of the city. He’s intentionally gone after that and tried to nurture that wing of the party for at least a couple of years,” said Eli Valentin, a political consultant. “The moment he loses that, those folks need to find a home.”
The city comptroller’s run for City Hall was thrown into turmoil this week when Jean Kim, who has worked as a lobbyist, accused Stringer of sexual assault and harassment, which she said occured when she was volunteering on his 2001 public advocate campaign. Stringer called the allegations “totally and categorically false,” and his campaign refuted several details of Kim’s account.
Ms. Kim and her attorney have made a number of claims that are demonstrably false. They said Ms. Kim was an 'unpaid intern' on the Stringer campaign. This is false. In fact, she was a 30-year-old adult and friend of Scott's who was employed elsewhere. https://t.co/plCfIPPTGn— Tyrone Stevens (@TyroneCStevens) April 29, 2021
Stringer’s most powerful supporters — the United Federation of Teachers and Working Families Party — put out statements acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations, but have not rescinded their endorsements.
Some Stringer backers have already pulled their support, and others are actively mulling possible next steps. Mayor Bill de Blasio called for an investigation into the allegations. Mayoral candidates Kathryn Garcia and Shaun Donovan quickly demanded Stringer end his campaign, while Wiley and Morales added their voices to the call Thursday.
“Scott Stringer has held himself out as this progressive politician, and given what I’ve learned from Jean about him, I feel that if New York City needs a progressive mayor, they have several super qualified female progressive candidates, any of whom would do a great job,” said Patricia Pastor, the lawyer representing Kim.
‘Lacking in Justice and Equity’
So far, none of the groups or individuals who’ve taken back their endorsements of Stringer — including State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens), environmental group Food and Water Action and grocery-worker union UFCW Local 1500, among others — have picked replacement candidates.
In other cases, ranked choice voting is changing the political calculus.
State Sen. Jabari Brisport (D-Brooklyn) yanked his second-place backing of Stringer and declared he’s all in for his first choice pick, Morales, whom he praised as an “extraordinary and dedicated progressive leader.”
The Progressive Women of New York withdrew its third-place pick endorsement of Stringer Thursday night but declined to endorse someone else as a replacement.
“If people hear this news and believe Jean Kim, the progressive choices become consolidated behind Dianne and behind Maya,” said Courtney Williams, a member of the steering committee of the Progressive Women of New York, which had already endorsed Morales and Wiley as first and second picks, respectively.
Wiley, who on Thursday picked up endorsements from women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem and Time’s Up co-founder Robbie Kaplan, didn’t directly respond to questions about whether she wanted Stringer’s former supporters to throw their weight behind her.
“I am asking for every vote from every New Yorker, and I am going after every endorsement of everyone who hasn’t made a decision in this race. That’s what I’ve been doing before Scott Stringer and that’s what I’ll keep doing after Scott Stringer,” she said.
Morales told THE CITY that she has not been focused on Stringer, but acknowledged she and her team have been “struggling” with the news of the accusation.
“This moment in time makes it crystal clear that we’re severely lacking in justice and equity, particularly for women, and that that is a shift that needs to happen,” Morales said.
Late Thursday, hours after she spoke to THE CITY, Morales called on Stringer not only to quit the mayoral race, but to resign as comptroller.
‘Too Soon to Tell’
Whether Stringer can bounce back from the accusation in time for the June primary remains an open question. While he rolled out a plan to improve access to commuter rail on Thursday, he also had to again address questions about Kim’s allegations.
“It’ll be a tough race for Stringer because of the short amount of time he has to reposition himself,” said Karen Hinton, a former de Blasio spokesperson, who said she changed her first pick from Stringer to Wiley. “It feels like he’s damaged severely, but another scandal could appear against someone else on the ballot and attention will be taken away from that…. It’s wait and see.”
Hinton is one of several women who have accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and creating a toxic workplace. Stringer has joined the chorus calling for Cuomo’s resignation. (Cuomo this week denied misconduct allegations.)
It’s unclear whether how much the defections so far will hurt Stringer, political analysts said, noting that the power of endorsements can vary.
“I think it’s too soon to tell exactly the degree of damage here. We’ve got to see it play out,” said George Arzt, a veteran Democratic political consultant. “I never thought the support of electeds was transferable to the electorate… but if the bleeding is staunched after [a couple endorsements get rescinded], then I do think his candidacy is still viable.”
If major organizations like UFT and the Working Families Party decide to back away from Stringer and endorse another candidate, that would likely deal the comptroller a major blow, Valentin said. But Stringer may not lose support so quickly.
“We’ve always felt like Scott is the progressive with the best case to win,” said a person involved with an organization supporting Stringer. “In the midst of this, I still think he still is.”