How The NYC Mayoral Race Revealed A “Tale Of Three Cities”

Bill de Blasio won the mayoralty after having famously campaigned on a liberal critique (made famous by Mario Cuomo) of New York City as a “tale of two cities” based on growing economic inequalities. Eight years later, following the count of first choice votes for mayor late Tuesday night, the map of New York City’s electorate revealed a more nuanced tri-color divide between outerborough communities, wealthier sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and progressive neighborhoods scattered in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who ran on a platform of public safety, swept central Brooklyn, southeastern Queens, and the Bronx, areas dominated by working and middle-class Black and Latino voters. Maya Wiley, the former civil rights attorney who emphasized police reform, assembled pockets of progressive support in parts of gentrified Brooklyn, Manhattan’s East Village and central Harlem, and northeastern Queens. Meanwhile, Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner who touted her credentials as a crisis manager, swallowed up large swaths of Manhattan, including the Upper West and Upper East sides, as well as parts of brownstone Brooklyn, considered home to the city’s managerial class.

“It’s the tale of three cities,” said Kimberely Johnson, a political science professor at New York University who examines race and urban politics.

At the opposite ends of the spectrums, she argued, those who showed up at the polls were left-leaning New Yorkers who voted to defund the police, and middle-class Blacks in southeast Queens who sought to ensure the safety and stability of their neighborhood. Meanwhile, the city’s professional class, who were most likely to pay attention to the New York Times endorsement, were drawn to the promise of competent but also moderate leadership.

Going forward, political experts say the next mayor will face the challenge of having to wed support from these three politically powerful groups that are separated by geography, ideology, and oftentimes race and class.

With the ranked-choice tabulation process yet to begin, the contest is not over. But Adams has a sizable lead; he is currently in front of second-place candidate Wiley by about 76,000 votes and third-place finisher Garcia by about 97,000 votes. The final outcome may not be known until July 12th.

If he prevails, Adams would be only the second Black mayor of New York City, one who has used his own rise from poverty to show that he will represent the interests of the city’s working class.

Johnson said he could elect either to dip into Garcia’s managerial class supporters, who have overlapping priorities of safety and education, or into Wiley’s progressive base. She added that she believed the latter was more unlikely because Adams “has never played nice” with progressives in the past.

But Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at NYU, argued that the power of the mayoralty was both a persuasive and tempering force.

“There’s no substitute for winning,” he said.

He believes the next mayor will have opportunities to forge coalitions with people who didn’t support him or her. This year’s earlier June primary, he added, meant that whichever Democrat is elected will have a nearly six-month head start to build relationships prior to taking office.

At a press conference Thursday morning, Adams appeared undaunted by the task of unifying the city following a race that became increasingly fractious in the late stretches.

He asserted that New Yorkers of all political stripes had “basic” priorities in common.

“You want your babies to be educated. You don’t want your son to die like 10-year old Justin, to a stray bullet,” he said, referring to the fatal shooting of a child in Far Rockaway earlier this month. “You want to be able to get on the subway system and someone won’t slash you or shove you to the tracks. You want to be able to live in housing with landlords that are not trying to force you out.”

He later added: “After we’re safe, after we live in affordable housing, after our children are educated, then we can start arguing and debating over all those other things.”

At one point, Adams declared, “I am the face of the new Democratic Party.”

In an allusion to some of his rivals, he said: “We don’t want fancy candidates. We want candidates where their nails are not polished. They have calluses on their hands. And they’re blue-collar people that understand a blue-collar country.” He said cities had failed by leaving behind Black and brown communities.

But his battle with progressives will likely center around policing. Many on the left, led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have been deeply critical of Adams over his proposal to increase the number of police on streets and subways.

“Based on the evidence it’s just wrong,” she said during an event earlier this month. “Not only does it not reduce violence, it perpetuates it because we trap young people into cycles of incarceration and desperation.”

Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate who handily won his primary re-election, has echoed that critique and joined Ocasio-Cortez in supporting Wiley. Yet he also revealed that he elected to include Adams on his ballot, saying he was “most singularly concerned about Yang.” Citing her last-minute alliance with Yang, he also declined to rank Garcia.

There are already signs of rapprochement. In the afternoon, Adams appeared in a photo op with Brooklyn city council member Brad Lander, a progressive who is leading his rival Corey Johnson in the race for city comptroller. The duo were on hand for the renaming of a street after the late New York City journalist Pete Hamill in Park Slope, where voters were split between Wiley and Garcia.

Like Williams, Lander won an early and full-throated endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez.

“We’re building on a long relationship,” Lander told reporters.

Adams paid Lander the ultimate compliment, by applying the word he so often used to describe himself during his mayoral run.

“Brad was a grinder,” he said.

By the nature of the position, comptrollers, who serve as the chief financial executive of the city, have generally had contentious relationships with the city’s mayors. As shown by Scott Stringer, the current comptroller who ran for mayor, the job can serve as a springboard for higher office. “They are in competition by definition,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran political consultant.

Sheinkopf said Thursday’s joint appearance was a politically shrewd decision by both men. But he argued that such moments would be fleeting.

“It’s a show unity and kindness before they rip each other up post-November,” he said.

Gwynne Hogan contributed reporting.

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