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Adams Takes the Lead

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Adams Takes the Lead

Pro-public safety and moderate Democrats also made a strong showing in yesterday’s mayoral primary. June 23, 2021
New York
Politics and law

“New York City said our first choice is Eric Adams,” said the grinning Brooklyn borough president at his primary-night party after racking up a sizable lead on Tuesday in the race to be the city’s next mayor.

With nearly 800,000 ballots counted as of this morning, Adams has claimed 32 percent of the Democratic primary’s first-choice votes. Attorney Maya Wiley and former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia netted 22 percent and 20 percent, respectively, while Andrew Yang claimed a disappointing 12 percent of the vote and has dropped out of the race. The remaining nine Democratic candidates earned 5 percent of the vote or less. In a seven-to-one Democratic city, the winner of this primary contest will likely go on to victory in the general election on November 2.

But not before facing Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels founder and Republican nominee for mayor. Sliwa bested his opponent Fernando Mateo, a yellow cab and bodega advocate, by nearly 44 points. Sporting his signature red beret onstage next to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the long-time radio host promised at his primary-night victory party to support the police and take the fight to Adams.

A victory for Adams would signal the electoral strength of the outer boroughs of New York City and the Democratic political machine that coalesced around his campaign. Adams handily won among black and Hispanic voters, as well as in four of the city’s five boroughs, placing third in Manhattan to Kathryn Garcia. “Social media does not pick a candidate,” Adams said. “People on Social Security pick a candidate.”

His opponents could only dream of such a turnout. Scott Stringer, the city’s outgoing comptroller, nabbed just 5 percent in a contest once considered his for the taking. Financier Ray McGuire spent more than $10 million on his campaign, along with nearly $6 million in independent PAC dollars, to get a mere 2 percent of first-round votes. Meantime, progressive Dianne Morales and former housing secretary Shaun Donovan posted similarly disappointing vote shares, despite a wide gap in the sums spent on their candidacies.

The race is still far from over. Wiley and Garcia are still in the running, and the Board of Elections will count as many as 200,000 absentee votes in a process that may stretch into mid-July. In this first test of the ranked-choice voting system in a New York City mayoral race, the outcome may hinge on the second- and third-choice rankings among the top-three candidates. The absentee ballots are concentrated in Kathryn Garcia’s election strongholds of Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, and polling shows her with broad-based support across the field; she may well be the best-positioned candidate to consolidate the remainder of the anti-Adams vote. Nevertheless, of the nearly 400 ranked-choice races held in America since 2004, the first-choice ballot winner has won 96 percent of the time, and of the 15 come-from-behind winners, none overcame a lead as large as Adams’s.

Turnout in New York’s 2021 primary election was higher than anticipated. The nearly 800,000 votes counted so far in the primary race exceed the total received in the last competitive mayoral primary in 2013. Another surprise? Three of the top four candidates are moderate Democrats (at least by New York standards): Adams, Garcia, and Yang. Public safety proved a top priority for New York City voters. According to Manhattan Institute polling, four in ten voters who supported defunding the police wanted more cops in their neighborhood.

If Adams ultimately wins New York City’s primary and general elections, the police-officer-turned-politician will become the second black mayor in the city’s history. He will have won as a relatively moderate, pro-public safety candidate backed by a multiethnic coalition and a party machine of his own making. “I am a New York story,” Adams declared on primary night. He may soon write the next chapter of that story in City Hall.

Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

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