In January, when Andrew Yang jumped into the race to be New York City’s next mayor, he brought a jolt of star power to a race that featured prominent New York City political figures with little name recognition outside of the five boroughs. On the final weekend of campaigning, Yang attempted to put a new mark on the race with marching orders to his loyal supporters: vote for me — then for former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.
“Anyone listening to my voice right now, if you support me, you should rank Kathryn number two on your ballot,” Yang said at a rally in Queens on Saturday. Garcia, meanwhile, didn’t endorse Yang, and when a voter asked her about the event, she replied, “I wanted his number twos.”
The announcement marked the first time one of the top tier candidates publicly laid out a strategy for supporters for how to use New York City’s ranked-choice voting system. The two candidates marched through the streets of Queens Sunday, took questions in Manhattan and walked to a rally against hatred of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Chinatown. They’ll be back on the trail together on Monday night in Queens.
New York City’s primary on Tuesday won’t just determine who leads the country’s largest city through multiple challenges, including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and battling an increase in gun violence, it will also pose a high-profile test for ranked-choice voting. The Democratic primary winner will almost certainly go on to win the general election.
The upcoming election will be the first citywide primary in New York City using ranked-choice voting. Voters will be able to rank up to five candidates, meaning that they’ll have the chance to select their top choice and other favorite candidates in the event their first choice is eliminated. While a candidate isn’t hurt when his or her supporters rank other candidates lower on a ballot, the top candidates have been hesitant to say who else they ranked.
Recent public polling suggests four candidates have emerged in the top tier: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, Garcia and Yang. But the uncertainty of how voters will complete their ranked-choice ballots has made the fluid race difficult to gauge and could produce a surprising result.
A victory by any of those candidates would be historic. Adams or Wiley would be the city’s second Black mayor, Garcia or Wiley would be the first female mayor and Yang would be the first Asian American mayor.
Yang and Garcia have been on opposite trajectories in recent weeks. Yang entered the race with huge name recognition and was a front runner in the first few months of the race this year, but he has seen his standing drop in public polls as primary day approaches.
Garcia initially struggled to gain traction, but she surged after The New York Times and New York Daily News endorsed her last month. She argues that she can solve the city’s problems because of her experience leading massive city agencies.
The alliance prompted some of Adams’ allies to accuse the duo of “voter suppression,” and Adams suggested they were trying to stop a Black or Latino candidate from winning, which Yang and Garcia scoffed at. (Garcia is not Hispanic. She took her husband’s name when she married in 1995 and kept it when they divorced.)
“African Americans are very clear on voter suppression. We know about the poll tax. We know about the fight we’ve had historically, how you had to go through hurdles to vote,” Adams said Monday, according to Politico. “So if [my supporters] feel based on their perception that it suppresses the vote, then I respect their feeling and it’s not for me to interpret their feelings.”
Crime and policing have been the central issues of the race in its closing weeks. Murders are up 14% and shootings are up 64% compared to last year, but the increase in crime this year is still a far cry from New York’s violent past in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Adams, a 22-year veteran of the NYPD, has pitched himself as the candidate who is best equipped to handle the rise in gun violence. Adams has pledged that the NYPD in his administration won’t resemble what it was under former Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani if he’s in charge, but he concedes the city needs intervention to deal with crime right now.
“No one wants to really deal with the ‘right now’ moment…They don’t even have a ‘right now’ plan,” Adams said on Friday. At a rally on Sunday he told supporters, “We will get the justice we deserve with the safety we need.”
Also on Sunday, Adams said one of his campaign volunteers was stabbed while passing out literature in the Bronx. The volunteer is in stable condition according to the NYPD.
On the issue of policing, Wiley has distinguished herself from other frontrunners by pledging to reallocate $1 billion from the NYPD’s budget to fund alternative solutions to policing. She has also said that she would stop the hiring in the next two police cadet classes. Wiley has insisted that safety is her top priority, but she says the city is not properly funding the best ways to deal with mental illness and other root causes of crime.
“Our fear should not trump the facts and the evidence around what keeps us safe,” Wiley said at a rally with some of her top supporters on Friday. “In cities that have growing crime rates that have added police officers and to the police budget, they still have rising crime rates.”
The progressive-left has coalesced around Wiley in recent weeks, as she earned endorsements from Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman and national progressive icons like Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The other four major candidates in the race are New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former banking executive Ray McGuire, former Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and former nonprofit CEO Dianne Morales.
In New York City’s system of ranked-choice voting, a candidate winning a majority of first-choice votes would win the election. Because the field is large and has a number of contenders with support, an outright win race seems unlikely, And if there’s no majority winner, the candidate who receives the fewest first-choice votes will be eliminated and his or her supporters’ second-choice votes will be reallocated based on other selections. That process of elimination and redistribution will be repeated until two candidates remain, and the candidate left with the most votes wins.
Outside of early voting sites, many New Yorkers told CBS News they found the new voting method easy to navigate and appreciated being able to vote for multiple candidates in the event their top choice doesn’t win.
“There are multiple candidates that I do support and policies I support,” voter Harry King of Brooklyn told CBS News. “Having the expanded option that we can select now, I think it just feels more democratic.”
New Yorkers will likely have to wait several weeks to learn who wins the primary. On primary night the city is expected to release unofficial results showing the first-choice results from early in-person voting and election day voting. But, because of New York’s absentee ballot rules, mail-in ballots can arrive until June 29. And voters may also cure their ballots until July 9. Final results may not come until the week of July 12.