Eric Adams declared victory in the mayoral primary Tuesday night even as main rival Kathryn Garcia refused to give up an increasingly uphill climb to become the first woman to lead New York City.
The Brooklyn borough president held a one percentage point lead of roughly 8,400 votes against Garcia, according to a new, unofficial and still preliminary ranked-choice tabulation released by the city’s Board of Elections — spurring The Associated Press to call the race for him.
“I’m honored to be the Democratic nominee to be the mayor of the city I’ve always called home,” said Adams, a 60-year-old former cop who is poised to become the city’s second Black mayor. “Thank you, New York!”
The BOE’s ranked choice voting tabulation — its second since Primary Day two weeks ago — now includes a tally of all in-person votes as well as most of the 125,000 absentee ballots Democrats returned by the June 29 deadline.
The alliance Garcia struck with entrepreneur Andrew Yang in the campaign’s final days appeared to give her a boost over third-place finisher Maya Wiley in the new ranked choice voting system, which allows voters to list up to five candidates in order of preference. Absentee votes got Garcia closer to Adams, who was ahead by 50.5% to 49.5%.
Nearly 3,700 absentee ballots were returned to voters so that they could “cure” or fix any minor errors, such as unsigned envelopes. Voters must send those absentee ballots back to the BOE by Thursday in order for them to be included in the final, official count and tabulation, which is expected by July 14.
It was unclear whether those and an unknown number of provisional ballots cast by voters who didn’t immediately show up on the registration rolls would help Garcia or trigger a hand count, though a legal challenge to the results appeared possible given the tightness of the race. A hand count would come into play with a half of a percentage point between the candidates — about 4,500 votes in this case.
Garcia’s campaign said the candidate, a 51-year-old Brooklyn resident, would hold a news conference Wednesday. The New York Times reported that the campaign said it was “seeking additional clarity on the number of outstanding ballots.”
Adams released a statement declaring he triumphed thanks to an “historic, diverse, five-borough coalition led by working-class New Yorkers.”
“Now we must focus on winning in November so that we can deliver on the promise of this great city for those who are struggling, who are underserved, and who are committed to a safe, fair, affordable future for all New Yorkers,” Adams said.
If Adams’ lead holds, he would become New York’s second Black mayor, after David Dinkins, who won the 1989 election.
A Race Like No Other
The 2021 election cycle has been unlike any other in the city’s history — with the pandemic, a 13-candidate Democratic primary, endless Zoom forums, mail-in ballots available to all, early voting and a new ranked-choice structure.
The Democratic campaign unfolded in the shadow of the deaths and economic devastation wrought by COVID-19 and amid a rise in shootings that allowed Adams to tout his credentials as a former crime-fighter who also battled systemic racism from within the NYPD before launching an electoral career as a state senator 15 years ago.
He put together a coalition of union and other supporters in Brooklyn and across the city — built largely on relationships forged during a long political career that’s been dogged by ethical questions on everything from his role in a racetrack casino contract to transparency over his property holdings.
Garcia, a political novice, crafted a career as a bureaucrat known for her management skills — running the Sanitation Department under Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also tapped her to deal with crises in public housing and later with food distribution when the pandemic hit.
Wiley, another de Blasio administration veteran, emerged as the progressive candidate in the race, drawing distinctions between herself and moderates like Adams, Garcia and Yang. She also 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.
Unlike many of her competitors, Garcia was the only candidate who campaigned to be voters’ second- or third-choice pick — a strategy that helped narrow the gap between her and Adams. Garcia picked up more than 43,000 votes from Yang when he was eliminated in the seventh round of voting compared to the roughly 37,000 Adams received, according to the BOE’s preliminary tabulation.
BOE Botched Count
The primary election has tested the beleaguered board, which initially bungled the first tabulation of the ranked-choice voting by including 135,000 dummy votes used to run a simulation, skewing the preliminary results. The rocky rollout of the new voting system highlighted long-standing issues at the BOE, which City Council members and state lawmakers vowed to address in a series of upcoming hearings.
The widespread use of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic means that those votes play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the mayoral election. New York City voters requested roughly 221,000 absentee ballots, and just over 125,000 Democratic Party ballots had been returned to the BOE last week’s deadline.
A previous preliminary tabulation the BOE released last week that did not include any absentee ballots showed Adams leading the pack with Garcia about 15,000 votes behind — and Wiley eliminated in the penultimate round, just 347 votes behind Garcia. Wiley finished fewer than 12,000 votes behind Garcia in Tuesday’s second-to-last round.
Wiley released a statement Tuesday night thanking her staff and supporters, emphasizing the need to “recommit ourselves to a reformed Board of Elections and build new confidence in how we administer voting in New York City.” She pointedly did not concede.
Lawyers representing the campaigns of the top three contenders filed lawsuits that preserve their right to challenge the results in court.
The Democratic victor will face the Republican nominee, Guardian Angels founder and media personality Curtis Sliwa, who notched enough in-person ballots to win outright over GOP rival Fernando Mateo, a longtime advocate for bodega owners and livery drivers.
Race to Reshape the City
The race for mayor, widely considered the most crucial contest in at least a generation, is among those to be determined by the ranked choice voting tabulations with city government in for an overhaul as New York emerges from the pandemic.
In the comptroller’s race, Councilmember Brad Lander maintained his edge over Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who conceded the race Tuesday evening after BOE data showed him trailing by more than 24,000 votes.
The latest BOE tabulations offered insight into who is likely to win the borough president nominations, too.
City Councilmember Mark Levine will almost certainly become Manhattan’s borough president after his rival, state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) conceded Sunday.
Councilmember Antonio Reynoso took the lead by nearly 19,000 votes over Jo Anne Simon, who conceded Tuesday night, to win Brooklyn after 11 rounds.
In Queens, Borough President Donovan Richard held onto his lead over Elizabeth Crowley after three rounds, though just over 1,000 votes separated the two.
In The Bronx, Vanessa Gibson appeared to beat fellow Councilmember Fernando Cabrera for borough president. On Staten Island, Ex-Rep. Vito Fossella narrowly beat Councilmember Steven Matteo, who conceded the GOP race, while Mike Murphy handily won the Democratic nod.
The preliminary results for 35 open City Council seats showed that the legislative body was headed for its first female majority in its history.