Brooklyn Borough President and mayoral candidate Eric Adams holds press availability outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall. – New York, NY – June 24, 2021 (Shutterstock)
By Gotham Gazette
With nearly every vote counted and the latest unofficial tallies for the June election released on Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams took a seemingly insurmountable lead in the Democratic mayoral primary and claimed victory.
Given the city’s overwhelming Democratic enrollment advantage, Adams will be heavily favored in the general election against Republican Curtis Sliwa and is likely to become the second Black mayor of New York City.
The city Board of Elections on Tuesday released the latest tabulation of ranked-choice votes from the primary election, including for the first time more than 118,000 absentee ballots after previously tabulating about 820,000 votes cast in early and in-person voting. After eight rounds of counting, Adams emerged with 403,333 votes, or 50.5%, and leading by one point over former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, who received 394,907 votes, or 49.5%, while almost 140,000 votes were inactive by the final round, meaning those voters had not ranked either of the two finalists.
Former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley came in third and was about 12,367 votes behind Garcia in the seventh round before being eliminated. When her ballots moved, Garcia got a much larger bump (129,446 votes) than Adams (49,669 votes), closing the gap to the small margin of just 8,426 votes. More than 70,000 of the ballots that sat with Wiley did not go to either Adams or Garcia for the final round.
There are fewer than 1,000 absentee ballots that are still going through a “cure” process that allows voters to fix minor mistakes and ensure a valid ballot. The final cured ballots are due back with the BOE by July 9, after which the BOE will be able to conduct the final count and announce an official result, expected by July 12.
But Tuesday’s numbers led the Associated Press to call the race for Adams and for him to declare victory.
“While there are still some very small amounts of votes to be counted, the results are clear: an historic, diverse, five-borough coalition led by working-class New Yorkers has led us to victory in the Democratic primary for Mayor of New York City,” Adams said in a statement. “Now we must focus on winning in November so that we can deliver on the promise of this great city for those who are struggling, who are underserved, and who are committed to a safe, fair, affordable future for all New Yorkers.”
As the Democratic nominee, Adams will face Sliwa, the radio host and founder of the Guardian Angels, and other general election candidates. Adams is all but assured a victory in the fall general election considering there are nearly eight registered Democratic voters in the city for each Republican voter. Party-unaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans by more than two-to-one.
Wiley seemed to acknowledge her loss on Tuesday, though she did not concede outright as she expressed criticism for the many missteps made by the BOE. Last week, the Board came under heavy criticism for releasing an initial RCV tabulation with erroneous numbers, accidentally counting about 135,000 votes that were part of a test run of the new system. The Board then apologized, took the numbers down and issued a corrected tabulation on Wednesday. In that corrected tabulation, after nine rounds of ranked votes, Adams received 358,521 votes or 51.1% while Garcia came in second with 343,766 votes or 48.9%. But in the round prior, Garcia had eliminated Wiley by less than 350 votes, giving Wiley some hope heading into the counting of absentee ballots, but they wound up favoring Garcia significantly.
“We now have an initial and uncertified counting of absentee ballots and tabulation of Rank Choice Voting. It would be an understatement to express dismay at the BOE’s administration of this election,” Wiley said in a statement. “And that has made today’s brunch at dinnertime, a long and drawn-out day for New Yorkers,” she added, referring to the BOE’s failed promise to release the data earlier in the day.
In thanking her supporters, Wiley added, “We will have more to say about the next steps shortly. Today we simply must recommit ourselves to a reformed Board of Elections and build new confidence in how we administer voting in New York City. New York City’s voters deserve better, and the BOE must be completely remade following what can only be described as a debacle.”
Garcia is set to deliver remarks on Wednesday morning from Central Park. Wiley will also hold a media availability later Wednesday morning outside of the Lucerne hotel. Adams is set to make a series of media appearances on Wednesday morning to celebrate his victory.
He ran a largely centrist campaign focused on tackling crime and heightening public safety, touting his long career as a police officer and his history of fighting police brutality and racial profiling from within the department. He also centered a pro-growth and just economic recovery, modernizing the city while centering its long-time residents, homeowners, and families, and improving the education system.
Adams also ran on his personal story of growing up poor in Queens, with the threat of homelessness looming over his family; a victim of police brutality as a teenager who decided to join the department to change it; a “blue-collar” New Yorker who spent two decades on patrol; and “someone who has been through a lot and can help New Yorkers who are going through a lot.”
A person of big ambitions, Adams had plotted a run for mayor for years, even decades. As the two-term borough president, and having served four terms in the State Senate before that, he came into the race with an established fundraising infrastructure, name recognition, crucial alliances with labor unions, and strong ties with key voting blocs. He was buoyed fairly early in the race by endorsements from the Hotel Trades Council, DC37 municipal workers, and 32BJ SEIU buildings workers unions, three of the city’s most politically-potent labor unions.
He rode to victory with the support of Black and Latino voters, handily winning nearly all of Central and Eastern Brooklyn, Southeast Queens, Staten Island’s North Shore, and most of the Bronx in early and in-person votes, according to an election map created by Steve Romalewski, director of the mapping service at Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Adams promised voters he could reform the police department while reducing the gun violence in the city that has been spiking over the last year-and-a-half, while also leading its continued economic revival, overhauling the school system, building needed housing, and more.
As mayor, Adams has promised a “People’s Plan” to tackle inefficiencies in city government, using “real-time governance” to manage city agencies, improve effectiveness, and trim the fat of wasteful spending. He’s promised to take the NYPD’s CompStat approach to all of city government, and to ensure that city agencies are not working at cross-purposes, that they communicate better, and that policies are focused on “upstream solutions” whereby government takes preventative measures and stops people from “falling into the river in the first place” instead of “pulling them out of the river” later on. Adams was among the more moderate candidates in the race, with pro-business, pro-charter school, and pro-real estate development positions that rankled progressive activists on top of his approach to policing. But, Adams has pushed back, promising to be far more progressive than most are giving him credit for, with an overhauled police department that is approved by communities, new social infrastructure to help families, and a focus on public health.
In the last few months of the campaign, Adams competed to be the frontrunner with Garcia, Wiley, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, whose unconventional celebrity candidacy came to an ignominious end. Yang polled in first place early on after entering the race but came in fourth on election night, quickly conceding the race.
Adams made few campaign gaffes, came under intense scrutiny for past ethical issues and questions about his real estate holdings and even residency, but still enjoyed a relatively stable trajectory, even as Yang and some of his progressive challengers began to stumble. Comptroller Scott Stringer, the only other elected official in the race and considered an early frontrunner, could not recover after facing allegations of sexual assault and harassment from a volunteer on his 2001 public advocate campaign. Former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, running furthest to the left, fizzled out after a campaign staff work stoppage over pay and working conditions. In the final weeks of the campaign, it appeared that the race was down to Adams, Garcia, and Wiley, who had a lot of momentum among progressives down the stretch, with Yang holding out hope for a surprise rebound.
Adams saw a few sustained days of bad headlines from specific events, revelations, and comments. He twice hosted in-person fundraisers when the second wave of the coronavirus was sweeping the city. He once suggested the off-duty police officers should bring guns to houses of worship as a means of protection, a statement that his opponents used as a cudgel against him in official debates. He also said he would forgo a police detail and carry his own gun as mayor, though he later backtracked. He faced criticism about having said fairly recently that stop-and-frisk is a “great tool” in policing, though his opponents took the comments out of context and painted him as less a voice for police reform, including on stop-and-frisk policies, than the record shows.
The most notable scandal for Adams, and perhaps the strangest of the entire race, was a newscycle surrounding the issue of his residency. When Politico New York reporting suggested that Adams might not have been spending many nights in the city, but instead staying in New Jersey with his partner at the condo they own together when he wasn’t sleeping at Borough Hall during the pandemic, he sought to refute the rumors by giving reporters a tour of his garden-level apartment at a brownstone he owns in Brooklyn, raising more questions. His opponents pounced on his lack of clarity at the second official mayoral debate, though it did not seem to cause any lasting damage to his campaign. There were other questions, again reported by Politico, about Adams’ faulty paperwork, including taxes.
Adams also dealt with scrutiny around prior baggage that will surely be part of the general election discussion. He was a registered Republican for seven years between 1995 and 2002, before switching back to the Democratic Party. While his positions on marriage equality made him a progressive champion in the Senate, his moderate balancing act on policing issues has raised flags for reformers — even though he’s been a reformer in his own right he’s also even during this mayoral campaign said “I’ve always been conservative on crime.” He has been the subject of multiple ethics investigations at the federal, state, and local levels during his career in elected office, though he has never been charged with wrongdoing.
He has at times flip-flopped on issues including his position on the specialized high school exam and, notably, on ranked-choice voting. Despite supporting the new voting system when it was presented to voters as a ballot question, he later joined members of the City Council in a lawsuit to delay its implementation. He alternately said he would accept the results of the election and raised questions about its legitimacy. He also showed a penchant for other misleading or false statements, often claiming he was the only candidate talking about certain issues when that was not the case or misrepresenting his own stances. At times, he sought to avoid taking controversial stances, like punting to say that state lawmakers should decide on the city’s charter school cap and role of the specialized high school exam in admissions. As he has done throughout his decades in the public eye, Adams also made several inflammatory statements during the campaign, showing a readiness to mix it up with other candidates despite the possible rewards from ranked-choice voting in running a more positive campaign.
While Adams racked up support from many elected officials in Brooklyn and beyond, it was a sign of his complicated political career and tendency to go his own way that he did not receive any first-rank endorsements from members of his home borough’s congressional delegation, several of whom went with Wiley.
Adams, who was supported by the leadership of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and powerful labor unions, was the apparent favorite of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who reportedly urged some of those unions to back the Brooklyn borough president. While de Blasio never formally endorsed Adams, they have long had a good relationship and have avoided criticizing each other directly. Adams has pledged to improve many facets of de Blasio’s government, including policing and police-community relationships, and how government is run more broadly to reduce inefficiencies and inequalities.
As the likely next mayor, Adams will have an especially long interregnum period given how he may be perceived even amid the general election competition.
The city that the next mayor takes over on January 1, nearly six months from now, could be significantly different than the one discussed through much of the primary, which began when the city was still largely in the grips of the pandemic. Vaccination, covid variants, economic trends, gun violence rates, and more could all be much different come January, but the next mayor will likely have to continue to pursue the recovery of major industries like tourism, while working to further alleviate educational gaps caused by the pandemic, and bolstering a public health system that nearly buckled under the stresses of COVID-19. He will have to reassure a concerned public that he can continue to drive down crime and homelessness while building more affordable housing and creating well-paying jobs for those who need them. He will have to contend with resolving labor contracts for more than 320,000 municipal workers. The constant pressures of crumbling public housing and the fallout of climate change will require focused infrastructure programs. Commuters of all stripes will demand improvements to mass transit and alternative transportation, many seeking more protected bike lanes and dedicated busways.
Adams has put forward ideas and plans on all of the above, and professed a strong desire to get into the nuts-and-bolts of running city government. He has said he will make New York City a national model for how to run a city, but by being in the five boroughs and doing the work, which would be a marked contrast to de Blasio, who quickly sought to play on a national stage and eventually ran for president in a misguided and unsuccessful effort.
“People talk about the tale of two cities but we need to acknowledge that the dysfunctionality of government is the author of that book,” Adams said when he officially launched his campaign in November 2020, in a Zoom news conference. It was a pointed dig at his future predecessor and current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who won office in 2013 with a progressive vision of ending income inequality and wanted to create the fairest city in America. The electorate chose differently this year.
“We need action and we need it now,” Adams said at the launch. “The city is in serious trouble. We have already been through a lot and the future we face is full of monumental challenges. Now is the time to turn our pain into purpose together.”