With Council Member Brad Lander Ahead, The Progressive Left Is Within Striking Distance of Comptroller Seat

City Council Member Brad Lander, the resounding pick of the progressive left-wing Democrats in New York City, ended primary night well ahead of his rivals in the crowded race for New York City Comptroller which received relatively little attention compared to the heated race for mayor.

With no rounds of ranked-choice voting yet completed, and as many as 207,000 absentee ballots to account for, Lander was 64,000 votes ahead of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson with 31% of the vote; Johnson trailed behind with 22% of the vote.

“I’m feeling great this morning,” Lander told Pat Kiernan, on NY1 Wednesday morning. “This is a strong and significant lead, but I’m a big supporter of ranked-choice voting and we have to see the tabulations.”

Johnson’s campaign manager Anthony Perez said they were optimistic they would pick up additional support during ranked-choice voting rounds to take place over the next few weeks.

“It’s impossible to know how this is going to play out,” Perez said. “But we feel that our campaign is in a strong position: we’ve built a broad, diverse coalition.”

Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a financial reporter for CNBC came in third, with 12% of the vote.

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Johnson and Lander were rival frontrunners vying for a position that not only has far-reaching fiscal authority but also offers a visible launching pad for seeking higher office. The city comptroller oversees a large staff that audits city departments and programs, manages the massive public pension funds for city workers, and reviews city contracts.

Johnson repeatedly polled ahead of the pack since making a late entrance to the race in March. (Johnson bowed out of running for mayor last fall, citing mental health concerns.) The two council members have butted heads both in the Council, with Lander opposing Johnson’s budget deal last summer, citing a failure to reduce the NYPD budget by $1 billion dollars, and in recent debates.

Lander’s platform centered around creating new municipal bonds to build out a network of solar panels on rooftops across the city, more aggressive audits of the NYPD and Department of Correction budgets, and pushing for more deeply affordable housing on city-owned land. Although some of his proposals don’t fall entirely within the realm of the comptroller, he could influence the legislative process and collaborate with other branches of government in this new role.

In the mayor’s race, the city’s progressive flank struggled to coalesce behind a single candidate, ultimately lining up behind civil-rights attorney Maya Wiley after allegations of sexual harassment against Scott Stringer and internal dissent within Dianne Morales’ camp derailed both of their campaigns.

In the comptroller’s race, however, Lander shored up a plurality of progressive backers early on, including the Working Families Party, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and dozens of other progressive unions and groups.

Progressive icon Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Lander in March, and went to bat for him, appearing in his ads, attending rallies and regularly posting about his campaign to her colossal social-media following. She eventually backed Maya Wiley’s campaign for mayor in a surprise announcement, with just a week before the start of early voting.

Ultimately, Lander earned 51,299 more first-place votes than Wiley did in her bid for mayor, according to tallies from the city’s Board of Elections.

“Progressives may have been all over the map in the mayor’s race,” said Naomi Dann, a spokesperson for Lander’s campaign, adding that didn’t mean people should discount the citywide momentum of the progressive movement. “New Yorkers want a more equitable city.”

It remains to be seen if Lander can hold onto his lead once voters’ second, third, fourth and fifth choices are tallied. Several more moderate candidates in the race had tens of thousands of supporters combined, including Assemblymember David Weprin and Caruso-Cabrera. Perez, from Johnson’s campaign, said they’re hopeful they can shrink Lander’s lead once the ranked-choice counting process begins on June 29th.

“We expect to know much more about the final results by next week, and we encourage New Yorkers to let this process play out so every vote is counted and ranked,” he said.

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