NEW YORK — Polls have closed in New York City’s first ever ranked-choice election and, while the die has been cast, voters may not know the outcome for weeks.
The winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary is almost certain to become mayor in the city’s November general election at a time of unique challenge: Recovering from high unemployment, flattened tourism and a chaotic school year of remote learning spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, if a sustained rise in violent crime continues apace, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s successor will confront a rash of shootings and hate crimes that continue to threaten the city’s recovery.
Crime frequently topped polls as a leading concern among voters, vaulting Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — a former police captain who ran almost singularly on a promise of restoring safety to the city — into first place and minimizing the impact of the “defund NYPD” movement that got a foothold in city politics last year.
“New Yorkers are feeling this energy,” Adams told reporters in Manhattan Tuesday morning, repeating his campaign pledge to drive down shootings.
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia and former counsel to de Blasio Maya Wiley formed the top-tier of the crowded race in recent weeks. Yang and Garcia were the only ones to form a late alliance in the race, a common move in other ranked-choice campaigns around the country.
The Democratic nominee will not be officially determined until the city Board of Elections releases its tally of absentee ballots on July 6. Further extending the ballot count is the advent of ranked-choice voting, which allows New Yorkers to select up to five candidates for each position. The system kicks in when no candidate attains 50 percent of votes on the first pass. The board plans to issue preliminary results of ranked ballots on June 29.
Yang spent months in first place after bursting into the primary with high name recognition and a relentlessly positive message. He filmed an ad riding the famous Cyclone roller coaster to tout the city’s comeback, made a show of buying movie tickets with his wife when theaters reopened and took on the powerful teacher’s union over school closures.
But the city’s steady reopening throughout the spring took some of the wind out of Yang’s sails, and his campaign faltered amid a series of public mistakes that critics said demonstrated what they had feared all along: A candidate who never voted in a mayoral election during his 25 years in the city lacked the municipal know-how for the job.
Sensing the public’s growing concern over crime, Yang adopted a strong anti-crime posture, but it was difficult to wrest the issue from Adams, who boasted 22 years on the police force and spoke openly about being assaulted by cops as a Black teenager in Queens.
The two developed a bitter rivalry, which was on full display during televised debates. Yang has recently taken to questioning Adams’ true residence following a story by POLITICO detailing confusing answers and botched paperwork about where he lives.
Adams and his surrogates went as far as accusing Yang and Garcia of attempted voter suppression of Black New Yorkers by teaming up in the final days of the race. They said their joint appearances were part of a strategy to appeal to one another’s supporters, but Adams slammed the arrangement, at one point invoking poll taxes that were employed to suppress Black votes.
Garcia, the city sanitation commissioner under de Blasio for seven years, made a surprising surge in her first bid for public office. She was lagging in the polls and facing difficulty fundraising, but the coveted endorsement of the New York Times and Daily News editorial boards helped propel her to the top tier late enough in the race that she did not sustain many negative attacks. In recent weeks, Adams began airing ads attacking her.
Wiley, the leading progressive candidate, competed for attention and endorsements with city Comptroller Scott Stringer and nonprofit CEO Dianne Morales, and didn’t pick up sufficient steam until each of their campaigns imploded.
Wiley decided to join the race last summer, as the city was gripped by police accountability protests that matched her passion and experience. But the ground shifted under her and her law enforcement reform agenda did not end up matching the wishes of a majority of voters.
As they chose their candidates Tuesday, voters also weighed in on the new voting system and offered a variety of reactions.
“I like having the option,” said Shannon Sciaretta, 24, of Queens. “Instead of picking one candidate I can pick a bunch of them, and maybe one of them will stick.”
Others were less enthused.
“I thought the whole thing sucked,” said retiree R. Reiser, 66, after casting his ballot on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “There’s so many candidates and there are so many offices and the information available was really tough to get … You don’t know what anybody stands for.”