Last week I wrote about why I thought Eric Adams is very marginally preferable to Andrew Yang in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary. Yang is likable, and I can see why people have gravitated to his sunny vision of a vibrant, business-friendly city. But electing a totally inexperienced mayor buoyed by hedge fund billionaires and singularly focused on public order seems potentially calamitous. Not because public order isn’t important — everyone wants a safe city — but because it has to be balanced with a commitment to justice.
Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, is also buoyed by hedge fund billionaires — as The New York Times reported, increasingly more so than Yang, since some donors have stepped up their support as he’s surged into the lead. But, I figured, Adams understands how the city works, and will owe his power to Black voters who are demanding protection from both crime and over-policing.
That said, an Adams mayoralty would likely be pretty terrible. He has a penchant for dishonesty and demagogy, and both were on full display when he accused Yang and Kathryn Garcia of racism because they had the temerity to join forces against him.
“For them to come together like they are doing in the last three days, they’re saying we can’t trust a person of color to be the mayor of the City of New York,” he said over the weekend. (Yang is, needless to say, a person of color.) Some of Adams’s surrogates went further, saying that Yang and Garcia are engaging in “voter suppression” and trying to “disenfranchise Black voters.”
On the cusp of an election that will determine the future of post-Covid New York, it feels as if we’re staggering toward catastrophe. Both of the male front-runners are, for different reasons, unsuited to the office. New York cannot afford a leader who doesn’t know how to do the job. It can’t afford a mayor who has, as The Times reported, repeatedly pushed “the boundaries of campaign-finance and ethics laws,” and could spend four years mired in scandal, using race to deflect every criticism. Among the leading candidates, our only hope lies with the women, Garcia and Maya Wiley.
I say this not because I so desperately want a female mayor; it would be nice to have a woman in charge, but right now gender representation is the least of the city’s problems. Gender, however, is clearly playing a role in this race.
One recent poll asked voters to name their second-choice candidates. For all the well-known male candidates, the most common second choice was also a man. For the female candidates, the most common second choice was another woman. More than a moderate lane and a progressive lane in this primary, there’s a men’s lane and a women’s lane. And the men’s lane is a disaster.
Adams’s charges of bigotry are flamboyantly cynical, gleefully exploiting liberal taboos about pushing back on most invocations of racism. Worse than that, the Adams campaign is using justified horror about voter suppression nationally to sow doubt about the legitimacy of this election, an almost Trumpian move.
The New York public advocate, Jumaane Williams, determined to stop Yang, recently announced he was ranking Adams, but on Monday spoke out about the rhetoric coming from the Adams camp. “It is disingenuous and dangerous to play on the very real and legitimate fears of bigotry and voter disenfranchisement by pretending it’s present where it’s not,” Williams said.
What Adams is doing is particularly treacherous because there’s a distinct chance that he could win a plurality of first-place votes and still lose Tuesday’s election. A new Ipsos poll shows Adams leading, but an accompanying analysis points out that he “currently is the first choice for only about a quarter of likely Democratic primary voters. This means there is significant opportunity for voters’ second, third, fourth and fifth options to swing the race.”
If that happens, Adams is setting his supporters up to believe that the election was stolen from them. It demonstrates a contempt for democracy — New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly to adopt ranked-choice voting in 2019 — and for the ability of this beleaguered city to move forward under anyone but him.
That makes it all the more urgent that someone besides Adams leads New York’s recovery. My ideal candidate would have Wiley’s politics and Garcia’s technocratic experience, but either one of them is capable of saving this city.
A Wiley victory would be inspirational; she combines Yang’s sense of fun with a deep background in civil rights and an understanding of how City Hall functions. A Garcia victory would be reassuring; no one has done more to keep New York running during calamities from Hurricane Sandy to the pandemic. Ideologically, Garcia is a centrist, but devotion to public service, to making government function well, is itself a progressive value.
New York is in trouble and deserves someone who is neither a neophyte nor a bully. We need, at a minimum, someone decent and competent who understands the bureaucracy the mayor commands. If she doesn’t win, we’re in for a rough four years.