New York City’s Mayoral Reality Check
New York City on Wednesday night held its final Democratic mayoral debate before the Tuesday ranked-choice primary election that will almost certainly end up determining the eventual successor to term-limited Bill de Blasio in this deep blue metropolis. (Early voting is already underway.)
There were eight candidates on stage at 30 Rock, but only four who have been consistently polling in double digits: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former city Sanitation Department Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, longshot 2020 Democratic presidential challenger Andrew Yang, and civil rights attorney/commentator Maya Wiley, in roughly that order. The mercurial Yang held the early lead in the race and then faded; the taciturn Wiley has vaulted into contention after being endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), the no-nonsense Garcia has climbed steadily while racking up newspaper endorsements, and the inscrutable ex-cop Adams has been the front-runner for weeks.
Given New York’s size and status as a media capital, there is an almost irresistible temptation to read national implications into the low-turnout race. Like de Blasio’s ill-fated presidential bid, such an exercise is fraught with potential humiliation for all involved.
Yet the campaign themes and voter concerns that keep pushing to the forefront are issues that are familiar in many Democratic-controlled big cities this year. And the gap in the treatment of those concerns between candidates/voters on one side and journalists/twitterers on the other suggests an interesting mismatch that may extend far beyond the five boroughs.
This post-debate tweet from The New York Times illustrates the dissonance succinctly:
Watch: Andrew Yang’s response to a question about how he would handle mental health during Wednesday’s NYC mayoral debate drew fire on social media from people who said it lacked empathy or understanding. https://t.co/frKMJ3naJf pic.twitter.com/g9VKD1CoX5
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 17, 2021
“Together,” clucked the Gray Lady, “the comments reflected the aggressive rhetoric Mr. Yang has been using in recent days when talking about social issues and crime.” Readers are left with little doubt about what good New Yorkers are supposed to think about that.
And yet voters—in a Democratic New York City primary, remember—are stubbornly refusing to meet the expectations of the local journalism gentry. A May 17–31 Spectrum News NY1/Ipsos poll showed crime/public safety dominating the list of voter concerns at 46 percent, compared to just 20 percent for fifth-ranked “racial injustice,” and 12 percent for the eighth-ranked “police reform.” With a polling exception or two, that has been the case throughout this campaign.
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