What's at stake

Primary Election Day in New York City, 2021

“Father Knickerbocker decides between the Tammany Tiger “spoils government” candidate and “non-partisan government” candidate Seth Low” —1897, Library of Congress

On Saturday, three days before the primary election that will effectively decide New York City’s next mayor, the leading contenders for the top job were campaigning across the five boroughs in a way that looked almost normal.

Kathryn Garcia, Eric Adams, Andrew Yang and Maya Wiley were out in the heat, pressing the flesh. Block parties, Juneteenth celebrations and barbecues formed the backdrop.

It was one of the longest days of the year — the sun rose at a little before half past 5 a.m., and the light lingered, dimmed a bit by sporadic rain, until half past eight in the evening. When night fell, in certain quarters, crowds formed around TVs in local bars, just before midnight, to watch the Nets fall in a heartbreaker to the Milwaukee Bucks in downtown Brooklyn.

If you squinted, in the right light it looked sort of like the waning days of any regular, competitive local election race.

But everywhere I look, beneath the flashes of exuberance, I see the struggle the city’s been through over the last 16 months coming through like a palimpsest. It’s still difficult to comprehend how quickly everything we knew and took for granted about New York City disappeared from sight, in early March and April of 2020. The number of people killed, the number of people infected, the number of jobs lost — the figures are so high that they’re difficult to conceive. As of June 21, 2021, the city’s COVID death toll stood at 33,378 people. More than 950,000 people have been infected. More than 900,000 jobs were lost, in what felt like an instant, and more than half of those have yet to return.

The last 16 months reminded us how delicate the city’s ecosystem is. And it showed, clearly, how competent political leadership, at all levels of government, is critically important to ensuring the city’s survival.

Which is why I’m a little nervous about the fact that as of Sunday, June 20, 2021, the last day of the nine in which New Yorkers could vote early in the primary elections, just under 200,000 people, had taken advantage of the new flexibility they have to exercise the franchise. That amounts to about 4.9 percent of the more than 3.8 million active registered Democrats and Republicans in New York City. For context, in 2013, a low turnout primary, just 20 percent of voters cast ballots in the primary. The Board of Elections reported more than 220,000 absentee ballots have been requested, but as of Monday, just 82,000 had been returned.

Are New Yorkers going to surge to the polls Tuesday? Are hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots coursing through the mail, yet to be counted? Is it possible that, even after all we’ve been through, and given what’s at stake, New Yorkers aren’t invested in this election?

As of May 2021, unemployment stood at 10.9 percent citywide — an improvement from the 20 percent rate the city experienced at COVID’s height, but still nearly triple the pre-pandemic rate of near 4 percent. Meanwhile, the road to recovery stretches out ahead.

The city’s Independent Budget Office estimates it will take until late fall of 2022 for the city to regain 75 percent of jobs lost, and employment won’t reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024. The current hotel occupancy rate stands at 40 percent, still less than half what it was in February 2020. Yellow cab trips numbered a third of their pre-COVID level, while Uber and Lyft trips are just 63 percent of what they were in February 2020. According to one study, just 20.7 percent of New York office workers have gone back to in-person work.

The next mayor and the Council will wield extraordinary power over whether these trends improve, or not. The next mayor has, at his or her disposal, billions of dollars in federal aid to bandage up the economy’s still soft and wounded underbelly — the still shaky sales and tourism tax receipts, and deflated commercial property values.

And although year-to-date total numbers of reported crimes in the city’s seven major crime categories— murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand theft auto— are down 2.5 percent from their 2019 level, spikes in a handful of serious crime categories have gripped New Yorkers’ attention.

Murders, though nowhere near their early 90s levels, are still up more than 50 percent year to date from where they were the same time period in 2019. Shootings have increased more than 100 percent, year to date, from the same period two years ago.

In an Ipsos poll released Monday of likely NYC primary voters, 49 percent ranked crime as the most urgent concern the next mayor should address, compared to 24 percent who said reopening businesses/the economy should take priority.

That 49-24 split is a gulf that’s widened since April, when the chasm between voters who said crime should be the next mayor’s chief concern vs. those who ranked the economy number one stood at 35-29 percent.

The electorate’s increasingly concentrated focus on crime, above all other issues, might end up favoring former NYPD captain Eric Adams, who’s been saying on the trail for a while now that “public safety is a prerequisite to prosperity.”

But then polls and politicians tend to do that, don’t they? I mean specifically that they frame issues like the economy, crime, COVID and affordable housing as discrete problems that can be dealt with entirely in isolation, and sequentially, instead of as connected phenomena that have to be addressed in tandem.

Given the fact New York had reached historic low levels of crime in the years before COVID came and killed thousands and threw nearly a million New Yorkers out of work, it seems reasonable to argue that, while Eric Adams’s aphorism isn’t wrong, it’s probably incomplete. Public safety isn’t just a prerequisite to prosperity —prosperity is a prerequisite to public safety.

If I had to give advice to anyone about how to vote, I'd say rank your picks for mayor by whose experience and platform give you some confidence they are capable of fixing not just one problem, but all of the above— tackling the economy, crime, the affordable housing shortage and COVID— all at the same time. 

For anyone reading this who’s still on the fence about who to vote for, here’s a short, by no means comprehensive, list of some of the best coverage of the top four leading contenders in the race, this cycle.

What to read about Eric Adams

  1. “Understanding Eric Adams” — Amanda Luz Henning Santiago, for City & State, April 28, 2021

  2. “Burning the midnight oil: Eric Adams’ mysterious whereabouts off the campaign trail”Sally Goldenberg and Joe Anuta, for POLITICO New York, June 8, 2021

  3. “MTV Cribs: Eric Adams edition” — Jeff Coltin, for City & State, June 9, 2021

  4. “The Company Eric Adams Keeps,” David Freedlander, for New York Magazine, June 17, 2021

  5. “Adams Dodges Gift Tax Questions on Brooklyn Co-op He Says He Gave Away to Friend” — Greg B. Smith and Yoav Gonen, for The City, June 17, 2021

  6. “Adams omitted use of party lawyer's office on campaign records” — Joe Anuta, for POLITICO New York, June 18, 2021

What to read about about Maya Wiley

  1. “Maya Wiley’s choices, and NYC’s: The city is at a crossroads on crime, again” — Harry Siegel, for the Daily News, Dec. 19, 2020

  2. “The Crisis Candidate” Rebecca Traister, for New York Magazine, Feb. 17, 2021

  3. “NYC mayoral candidate Maya Wiley offers a vision of criminal justice reform, but past at police dept. watchdog CCRB reveals a more moderate pose” — Michael Gartland, for the Daily News, May 31, 2021

  4. “Maya Wiley says she should be mayor of New York. Former City Hall colleagues aren’t so sure” — Erin Durkin, Danielle Muoio and Amanda Eisenberg, for POLITICO, June 21, 2021

What to read about Kathryn Garcia:

  1. “Kathryn Garcia doesn’t want Andrew Yang’s praise” — Eric Lach, for The New Yorker, May 1, 2021

  2. “A Woman Has Never Run New York City. Can Kathryn Garcia Change That?” Charlotte Alter, for Time Magazine, May 27, 2021

  3. “Kathryn Garcia for Mayor” — New York Times Editorial Board endorsement, May 10, 2021

  4. “Kathryn Garcia Doesn’t Want to Be Anyone’s No. 2” — Dana Rubinstein, for the New York Times, June 7, 2021

  5. “Make it Mayor Garcia: New Yorkers should choose Kathryn Garcia in the Democratic primary for NYC mayor” — Daily News Editorial Board endorsement, May 15, 2021

About Andrew Yang:

  1. “Andrew Yang’s mayoral campaign is being run by a lobbying firm” — Jeff Coltin, for City & State, April 14, 2021

  2. “Andrew Yang Promised to Create 100,000 Jobs. He Ended Up With 150.” Brian Rosenthal and Katie Glueck, for the New York Times, May 1, 2021

  3. “How Andrew Yang won over Ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn” — Liam Stack for the New York Times, May 21, 2021

  4. “A very late night with the Yangs” — Hunter Walker, for New York Magazine, June 19, 2021

The voting logistics:

The Race for Mayor

Guides to candidates’ policy positions:

  • The City’s “Meet Your Mayor” widget. Let’s you see which candidates’ policy positions most closely align with yours.

The Democratic candidates’ published platforms: