Mayoral frontrunner Eric Adams continued to sow doubt about the ranked-choice voting alliance struck between rival candidates Andrew Yang and Kathryn Garcia on Sunday, sending out a press release calling it “voter suppression,” and insinuating for a second time at a press conference that the alliance was an effort to stop the election of a Black man as mayor.
Speaking outside St. George Episcopal Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant Sunday morning, Adams said he thought Garcia and Yang had made the announcement on Juneteenth, as a deliberate slight towards him, one of seven Black candidates who are on the Democratic ballot for mayor.
“Where people are talking about, ‘How do we lift up Black and brown people in the city as well as all New Yorkers, that was their symbol on June 19th, on the federal holiday,” Adams said. “So I have a problem with that.”
A day earlier Adams called the Garcia-Yang alliance a “backroom deal” in a press release, and said it was an attempt to thwart a “person of color,” from being elected mayor even though Yang is Asian American. A subsequent press release sent out Sunday called it a “Gang up on Adams” tactic, and quoted prominent supporters such as former Governor David Patterson and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. decrying it. In the release, New York County Democratic Leader Keith Wright called it “voter suppression,” while activist Ashley Sharpton, who endorsed Adams and is the daughter of the Reverend Al Sharpton, said it was a “cynical attempt by Garcia and Yang to disenfranchise Black voters.”
Good-government groups who support ranked-choice voting and other candidates in the race pushed back on Adams’ attempt to delegitimize the pair-up, arguing the two were actually doing what ranked-choice voting was intended to do: encourage candidates to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate, rather than rallying their immediate base.
Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, and Sean Dugar of Rank the Vote NYC, two groups that have advocated for the new system, released a joint statement, pointing to other cities with ranked-choice voting like San Francisco, where cross-endorsing is commonplace.
“There is nothing insidious or cynical about two candidates transparently using a legitimate strategy in a democratically approved system of election,” Lerner and Dugar said. “Candidates should keep their criticism to the issues, rather than mischaracterizing a strategy that is available to all who choose to use it.”
Garcia and Yang teamed up this weekend, campaigning together in several locations in Queens and Manhattan, riding around in Garcia’s signature green bus. While Yang has encouraged his supporters to rank Garcia second, she has not returned the favor, though she’s urged New Yorkers to vote and fill out as many choices as they can on their ballots.
“Let me be very clear. I’m not coendorsing,” says @KGforNYC
— Elizabeth Kim (@lizkimtweets) June 19, 2021
Last December, several of Adams’ surrogates and associates unsuccessfully sued the city’s Board of Elections and Campaign Finance Board in an attempt to block the implementation of ranked-choice voting. While Adams was not a direct party in the lawsuit, many of his endorsers were, and his close associate, Brooklyn Democratic Party attorney Frank Carone, led the legal efforts. Adams is currently using Carone’s Brooklyn office space as a campaign office, Politico reported.
Despite his efforts to cast doubt on the Garcia-Yang alliance, Adams told reporters he would wait for the final outcome from ranked-choice voting, which could take weeks after election night, before declaring victory.
“We’re going to tell our supporters and voters, ‘Let’s remain patient. Let’s make sure we look at the outcome,’” Adams said.
On the final day of early voting, and two days before the primary election, mayoral candidates zigzagged across the city, greeting voters and making their final pitches.
So grateful to have been able to vote today with three generations of my family — and to have been there when my son and daughter voted for the first time! pic.twitter.com/11a2y5SdlW
— Dianne Morales for NYC Mayor☀️ (@Dianne4NYC) June 19, 2021
Early voting sites saw a modest trickle of voters throughout the weekend. Through Saturday, about 200,000 voters had cast their ballots early, according to the city’s Board of Elections, about 4% of voters eligible to cast ballots in the primary election.
“Not many people are voting but [I’m] telling them to vote, even if they’re voting for other people,” said 18-year-old Danzel Bersimon who was passing out campaign literature in Washington Heights on Sunday morning. “As long as I’m informing them about the election, I’m perfectly fine with it.”
On Sunday afternoon, Yang and Garcia campaigned together at a rally decrying violence against Asian Americans in Chinatown, which also doubled as a get-out-the-vote event for a long list of candidates running for City Council, comptroller and mayor.
While Yang again encouraged his supporters to rank Garcia number two, Garcia simply spread the word about ranked-choice voting.
“I encourage you to use every single one of your choices, because that makes you more powerful, that makes it so you will be heard,” she said.
Maya Wiley addressed the crowd after Garcia and Yang left the stage, and later, speaking to a scrum of reporters, denounced Adams’ attack on the partnership despite declining to join them.
“I will never play the race card lightly unless I see racism and I’m not calling this racism,” Wiley said. “I believe that ranked-choice voting is better for democracy, period, whoever people vote for.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who has endorsed Wiley but recently tweeted he would also rank Adams, expressed similar concerns about Adams’ remarks.
“He’s wrong, he’s absolutely wrong. He’s incorrect about that, I wish he would change that,” he said.
I know that many New Yorkers are finding it a challenge to rank these candidates – a feeling I can fully empathize with, because I had a difficult time choosing my list as well.
— Jumaane Williams (@JumaaneWilliams) June 19, 2021
Across the city, New Yorkers have been casting ballots using ranked-choice voting for the first time in citywide elections, a change voters in 2019 approved in a ballot referendum. Several voters who spoke to Gothamist/WNYC said they like the new system, even if it takes some getting used to.
“It kind of blew my mind,” said Essence Moraldo who cast her ballot in Brownsville earlier this week. “But I think it was good, cause sometimes you’re not really sure.”
Oleg, 62, a radiation specialist from Coney Island who declined to give his last name, said his wife was concerned the new ballot might confuse her. But after casting his ballot on Friday, he said he’d assure her it was easier than it seemed.
“You still can vote for one candidate,” he said. “But the ranking system will give you basically more choices…That’s what I’m going to tell my wife, who’s concerned about complications.”
Leroy Li, an architect who voted in Downtown Brooklyn earlier this week, said he had to learn more about more candidates than he typically does.
“It gives you more choice at the end of the day,” he said. “Even if someone is not your ideal, you still have an influence. I think it really shows democracy in action.”
Julianne Welby and Karen Yi contributed reporting.