BROOKLYN, N.Y. ― Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams holds a lead in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City as ballots continued to be counted on Tuesday night.
In New York City’s newly adopted ranked-choice voting system, another candidate could rise ahead of Adams in later rounds as less formidable contenders are eliminated; the final result may not be known for weeks.
But Adams has a plurality of first-choice votes cast in person, putting him in a strong position to win the primary. Absentee ballots have yet to be counted.
Given the city’s strong Democratic tilt, such a win would all but assure him control of City Hall.
Adams, who was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and raised in Jamaica, Queens, would be NYC’s second Black mayor. The city’s first Black mayor, David Dinkins, served from 1990 to 1993.
Recalling his modest upbringing at an election results party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Adams declared to a cheering crowd of supporters, “The little guy won today.”
Adams, who walked on stage at the Schimanski nightclub to chants of, “The champ is here,” acknowledged that there were still more rounds of ballot counting until he ― or any other candidate ― reaches the outright majority of the electorate required to officially win.
“We know that there’s going to be twos and threes and fours ― we know that,” he said. “But there’s something else we know, that New York City said, ‘Our first choice is Eric Adams.’”
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, at one time Adams’s chief rival, conceded the race earlier in the night after early returns showed him coming in a distant fourth place.
“I am a numbers guy. I’m someone who traffics in what’s happening by the numbers,” Yang told supporters. “And I am not going to be the next mayor of New York City, based upon the numbers that have come in tonight.”
Progressive civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, who was on track for a strong second-place showing told her supporters that she still had a path to victory in subsequent rounds of vote counting.
“It’s not just this girl that’s on fire,” she said. “New York is on fire.”
Running as a “blue-collar mayor” capable of taming a spike in violent crime, Adams will owe a potential victory to an outer-borough coalition of working- and middle-class Black and Latino voters, union members and moderate white residents.
Adams also had the backing of Wall Street billionaires who cumulatively contributed millions of dollars to a super PAC supporting his candidacy.
The diversity of Adams’ coalition was evident among the Black, Latino, Asian and Jewish supporters commingling on the dance floor on Tuesday night.
“I am going to be your mayor. And I want you to believe again,” Adams said at the conclusion of his 40-minute speech. “Let’s bring our city back!”
In an era of progressive firebrands, self-funders and media-driven personalities, Adams’s rise through established political institutions, reliance on traditional interest groups and penchant for horse-trading mark a revival of machine-style politics.
“He represents the old party,” said David Schleicher, a Yale law professor and Manhattan resident who studies New York City politics. “In a low-turnout election dominated by frequent voters, a kind of traditional style of politics ― an interest-group formation politics ― is the successful strategy.”
From the start of his campaign, Adams, a former police captain who was a voice for reform within the New York Police Department, made reducing the rising number of shootings and murders afflicting the city’s low-income, non-white neighborhoods the central focus of his bid.
As a Black man who endured a police beating as a teenager and a former cop critical of what he considered the NYPD’s excessively broad use of “stop-and-frisk” prior to 2014, Adams is a liberal by the standards of the hard-line 1990s.
The former state senator speaks of the need for both “prevention” ― efforts to provide young people with opportunities that reduce the likelihood of criminality ― and more short-term “intervention,” including the need to increase patrols in trouble spots and make more gun arrests.
“We’re going to educate our young people,” Adams said on Tuesday night. “The best public safety plan is a job.”
Regardless, tough-on-crime rhetoric became the hallmark of Adams’s campaign, rankling progressives eager to translate last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations into bold reforms ― and deeper NYPD budget cuts.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic waned and violent crime supplanted the city’s reopening as voters’ top concern, Adams’s bet on the primacy of public safety paid off.
“Democratic voters, particularly minority voters, were looking for a criminal justice strategy that combines justice and security,” said Bruce Gyory, a New York Democratic strategist. “His positioning was perfectly tapered to the mood of the electorate.”
“He has the experience. He has the background knowledge.”
Gladys Stackhouse, a Black law student in Crown Heights, ranked Adams first, citing gun violence as her top concern.
“He has the experience. He has the background knowledge,” Stackhouse said.
Referring to thwarting the uptick in gun violence, she added, “If anyone can do it out of all those candidates, I believe that he can.”
If the results hold, Adams will have defeated seven other major candidates: Yang, Wiley, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales and former Citigroup senior executive Ray McGuire.
Thanks to Yang’s name recognition from the 2020 presidential campaign, his availability to the press and his upbeat demeanor, he initially led in public polls.
But as the campaign wore on, the founder of a successful test prep company stumbled under withering media scrutiny. His massive online presence made him a fatter target for progressives wary of his ties to big business fixer Bradley Tusk, as well as his pro-Israel comments and other gestures aimed at courting New York City’s more conservative Democrats.
More than anything, Yang, who spent the height of the pandemic at his second home in New Paltz, New York, and had never previously voted in a city election, failed to demonstrate a knowledge of city politics capable of reassuring voters wary of his inexperience. Several notable flubs, including the suggestion that he wasn’t aware of the existence of domestic violence shelters, solidified the impression that he was not ready for prime time.
Peter Mancini, a public-school teacher and real-estate broker from Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood, voted for Adams after hearing police officers he knows vouch for Adams’s character.
Adams “seems to be the realest one of all of them,” he said.
As for Yang, Mancini said, “He doesn’t seem like he’s ‘city’ enough.”
“I did what I needed to do to show people I’m a Brooklynite.”
Progressives, disappointed by the difficulties besetting their favored candidates ― Wiley, Stringer and Morales ― heatedly debated whether Yang or Adams was the more objectionable.
Those who preferred to rank Adams last and omit Yang noted that Adams at least derived his legitimacy from a base of working-class voters.
“He has a genuine, durable base of support among real human beings in this city,” wrote Matt Thomas, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America’s New York City chapter. “If he wins, it will be proof of concept that politics is still possible in New York.”
Although ranked-choice voting is designed to make campaigns less negative, the final stretch of the mayoral primary was a scorched-earth brawl.
Yang and Garcia began campaigning jointly on Saturday in a last-minute bid to gain support from one another’s core voters. The arrangement was uneven: While Yang instructed his supporters to rank Garcia second, Garcia did not reciprocate.
Still, it was enough to enrage Adams, who accused the pair of wanting to prevent a “person of color” from winning, despite Yang being an Asian American. Adams and his allies took it a step further, alleging a plot to suppress the votes of Black and Latino New Yorkers who favor Adams.
“We know Andrew Yang is a fraud. He’s a liar,” Adams said Monday. “We could care less about Andrew Yang.”
For his part, Yang seized on Adams’s ethics scandals, which had prompted what Yang called the “rare trifecta” of federal, state and local investigations. He noted that Adams’s own labor union, the Captains Endowment Association, endorsed Yang, and he instructed his supporters to omit Adams from their ballots entirely.
The Yang campaign even ran a TV ad blasting Adams for being a registered Republican in the late 1990s and being the subject of “decades of corruption investigations.”
The last-minute barrage of attacks and media scrutiny did not inflict lasting damage on Adams. Following a Politico report that suggested he might be splitting time between Brooklyn Borough Hall and his girlfriend’s home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, rather than living full time in a Brooklyn residence, Adams took reporters on a tour of a ground-floor Brooklyn apartment he owns.
“I could care less what they write, what they say,” he told Vanity Fair. “I did what I needed to do to show people I’m a Brooklynite.”
Adams sounded even more dismissive on Tuesday night, using his speech to distinguish between younger journalists who were hostile to him and older journalists who appreciated his record. Two of those younger journalists ― independent writer Ross Barkan and New York magazine reporter David Freedlander ― were barred from the election results party.
“My advice to the younger reporters: Understand that Twitter is not academic research,” Adams said, taking an implicit dig at the amateur Twitter detective work attempting to show that he was lying about his Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment.
“What some candidates misunderstood is that social media does not pick a candidate ― people on Social Security picks a candidate,” Adams added.
Outside of prioritizing crime reduction, it is not entirely clear what to expect from an Adams mayoralty.
For all that his political style is traditional, his personality is eccentric. He has mused about shaking off his security detail and carrying a handgun at City Hall. Faced with losing his eyesight to Type 2 diabetes, he embraced a vegan diet and became an evangelist for healthful eating habits that he promises to continue promoting as the Big Apple’s chief executive.
Adams’s stated agenda as mayor is a hodgepodge of mainstream liberal ideas. He wants to remove regulatory obstacles to building more housing stock in wealthy neighborhoods, provide an expanded tax credit to low- and middle-income families, and introduce more meditation and mindfulness programs in city schools.
Most analysts believe that Adams will blaze a relatively business-friendly path and appoint political allies, including numerous term-limited city councilmen who endorsed him, to key posts at City Hall.
On Tuesday night, Adams vowed to woo innovative technology and science companies to the city.
“Miami, you had your run, we’re bringing our businesses back to New York!” he said.
Whatever agenda Adams decides to pursue, however, his deep political networks and stable coalition of churches, unions and other interest groups will likely give him immense power to implement it.
“For the last 40 years, NYC politics has been individually driven,” Schleicher said. “He’s going in another direction ― for good or for ill.”