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Heated NYC Mayoral Primary Race Enters Final Days; City Uses Ranked-Choice Voting for First Time

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Early voting is underway in a historic New York City Democratic primary election for mayor, 35 City Council seats and several other key races. For the first time in almost a century, New Yorkers will use ranked-choice voting, which allows them to choose up to five candidates in order of preference in each race. In the mayor’s race, Brooklyn borough president and former New York police officer Eric Adams has led recent polls, while businessman Andrew Yang seems to be falling behind. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have already cast their votes ahead of the June 22 Democratic primary, with the general election set for November 2. Journalist Ross Barkan says despite New York City’s reputation as a progressive stronghold, the Democratic primary for mayor reflects “an incredible amount of diversity” within the Democratic coalition. “You have a real competition of ideas,” he says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Yes, early voting is underway in a historic New York City Democratic primary election for the mayor and many other key races. It’s the first time in a citywide election voters will use ranked-choice voting to choose up to five candidates in order of preference.

In the mayor’s race, Brooklyn borough president, former New York City police captain Eric Adams has led recent polls, while businessman and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang seems to be falling behind. The race also includes civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, the former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer,, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former federal Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and businessman Ray McGuire.

The top mayoral candidates took the stage last night for a final debate. This spirited exchange came when the candidates were asked about the worst idea they’ve heard from their opponent. We’ll hear from Eric Adams, Ray McGuire and Dianne Morales, but first Maya Wiley.

MAYA WILEY: My godson, who is 6’3”, six-foot-three-feet tall, Black and beautiful, I’ve had to accompany him to court for riding his skateboard while Black. I’ve had to accompany him to court for sitting in a park while Black. And the worst idea I’ve ever heard is bringing back stop-and-frisk and the Anti-Crime Unit from Eric Adams, which, one, is racist, two, is unconstitutional, and, three, didn’t stop any crime, and, four, it will not happen in a Maya Wiley administration.

DAVID USHERY: Ten seconds, Mr. Adams?

ERIC ADAMS: You don’t have to worry about danger when you have private security in your — on your block. I don’t and never will allow stop-and-frisk to be returned and abuse people. I know real solution for people in New York is: You have private security, you don’t have to worry about any of that stuff.


MAYA WILEY: Eric Adams is feeling the Mayamentum. And let me just say that the important issue for New Yorkers, that everyone understands that public safety is broad, complex, and it means making sure we’re spending our dollars wisely. And I will have a moral budget that protects all our people.

RAY McGUIRE: Let’s be very clear: For Black and Brown communities, neither “defund the police” nor stop-and-frisk —

DIANNE MORALES: You don’t speak for Black and Brown communities.

RAY McGUIRE: — nor private security —

DIANNE MORALES: How dare you assume to speak for Black and Brown communities as a monolith?

RAY McGUIRE: Because I talk to Black and Brown communities. Because I talk to them.

DIANNE MORALES: You cannot do that. You cannot do that.

RAY McGUIRE: Oh, I can. Yes, I just did.

DIANNE MORALES: The defund movement actually was started —

RAY McGUIRE: You know what?

DIANNE MORALES: — by young Black and Brown people.

RAY McGUIRE: I just did do it. You know what? I just did do it.


RAY McGUIRE: And you know one other thing?

DIANNE MORALES: You can’t erase them in that way.

DAVID USHERY: Candidates, you can’t talk over each other.

RAY McGUIRE: You know what else I’m going to do? I’m going to do it again.

DIANNE MORALES: That might be your truth.

RAY McGUIRE: I’m going to do it again.

DIANNE MORALES: It is not the truth for the community as a whole.

AMY GOODMAN: Those last voices, Dianne Morales taking on Ray McGuire, an excerpt from last night’s New York City mayoral debate, the last one before the June 22nd Democratic primary, though people are already voting. But that [June] 22nd, voters choosing also candidates for 51 City Council seats from among hundreds of people running, as well as city comptroller, who’s the city’s chief fiscal officer and budget watchdog, and the Manhattan district attorney.

For more, we’re joined by Ross Barkan, an an investigative journalist who’s closely following the primary, a columnist for The Guardian and Jacobin. He also has a new book coming out next week titled The Prince: Andrew Cuomo, Coronavirus, and the Fall of New York.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ross. So, for an audience in the rest of the country and around the world, if you can talk about the significance of the mayoral race, its ups and downs, and who really is vying to run this city?

ROSS BARKAN: Sure. So, New York City, obviously, is by far the biggest city in America. And while I wouldn’t necessarily call it a trendsetter, you are having far more people vote in this municipal contest than any other municipal contest in any other city. It’s really more akin to a statewide race.

So, there are millions of registered Democrats. Probably 800,000 Democrats are going to vote next Tuesday. So, you know, the winner is really — will be competing and trying to win many different factions that are somewhat representative of the Democratic Party. So, New York, while it has a reputation as very much a left-of-center city, and it is — it’s much more progressive than it used to be — there are still a wide array of different people who are coming to vote. It’s an incredibly diverse electorate. You have Black voters. You have Latino voters. You have Orthodox Jews. You have young, affluent voters and educated voters. You have working-class voters. It really is this tremendous mix of people. And while I wouldn’t go as far to say that the winner can say something about the future of the Democratic Party, you can say that within New York City there is an incredible amount of diversity even in that Democratic electorate.

And right now there are four candidates, I would say, who really have a shot. You know, the famous one is Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate and entrepreneur. There’s Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, who is a former police captain, would be the city’s second Black mayor. And there are two women who are competing to be the first female mayors of New York City ever, and that is Maya Wiley, who worked for Bill de Blasio as his counsel — Bill de Blasio, the outgoing mayor — and Kathryn Garcia, who also worked for Bill de Blasio as his sanitation commissioner — though all have been quite critical of de Blasio, which is very interesting.

And I would say, finally, there are definitely competing currents kind of with the left versus the center in this race, where you have candidates who are taking on more moderate postures on policing, on crime, even on economics, and then you have candidates who are also hewing to the left on issues, as well. So you have a real competition of ideas.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, in terms of — the other big thing that’s happening this time around is ranked-choice voting. And I am, actually, pretty worried about the counting of ranked-choice voting, given the fact that the New York City Board of Elections is notorious for botching election procedures. And now they’re going to be dealing with this very complicated system of determining who the winner is. I worry this thing could go on for weeks and months, in terms of challenges, to even figure out who won. What is your sense of to what degree voters understand ranked-choice voting?

ROSS BARKAN: Voters, I think, for a long time did not have a great understanding. I do see the awareness increasing a lot. You’re seeing interviews with voters who are now going to vote in early voting, who say, “Yes, I understand.” I early-voted myself, and I’ve seen the ballot. It is clearer than I thought it would be, which was good.

I agree that the Board of Elections in New York City, in New York state, is notoriously dysfunctional and patronage-ridden.

We will not know the outcome of the vote on Tuesday, because New York state law mandates that the absentee ballots get counted after the election. This is not true in a lot of other states. So, this is a law that has yet to be changed. So the absentee ballots must be counted first; then you enter into the RCV calculation. And so, the tabulation of these votes won’t occur until July. That is without any kind of malfeasance; that’s just the schedule we’re on right now.

Post-July Fourth, they will tabulate all the first-, the second-, the third-, the fourth-, the fifth-place votes, and then you will have a winner. It’s possible on election night you may see a candidate far ahead, and you could probably guess that candidate will win. It’s also possible that candidates could be bunched up, where there is a lot of unpredictability, and perhaps the first-place finisher does not win. You see rare instances where the first-place finisher in fact loses out to another candidate.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you — the battle over who’s the progressive candidate here. Clearly, Maya Wiley has been emerging in recent weeks as the standard-bearer of many of the progressives in New York City. But I know several of these people. I’ve known them for years. I’ve known Eric Adams, personally, for more than 30 years. And while he has been portrayed as the more conservative candidate, people forget that when — I knew him when he was a sergeant in the transit police in New York City fighting racism within the department and also fighting police abuse within the department. It’s a lot harder to fight police abuse from within the department than it is from outside the department. But there’s no doubt he’s increasingly become more conservative as the years have gone on. I’m wondering, among these candidates, who do you see as having the momentum in recent months to potentially win?

ROSS BARKAN: Eric Adams definitely has a good chance, because he is putting together a very reliable coalition, which is working-class Blacks and then moderate white voters, Orthodox Jews, outer borough ethnics. You know, these are people who do show up to vote. So, if you’re trying to win a mayoral race, having support from the Black community is very important. Bill de Blasio had the same in his 2013 race. So, Eric Adams definitely has an inside track right now. And you’re right, he came up out of this police reform movement. He still talks about police reform, but he’s also campaigning as a tough-on-crime mayor, certainly very aggressively against “defund the police.” He is also very close to the real estate industry and supportive of landlords, and not particularly friendly to tenant issues. So, that’s kind of his posture.

And you have Andrew Yang, who similarly has been positioning himself as a tough-on-crime candidate, though with fresher or newer ideas, but also someone who says he takes public safety very seriously.

It’s really Maya Wiley who is now the standard-bearer, sort of by default — Scott Stringer accused of sexual assault. Another candidate, Dianne Morales, imploded. Wiley is not necessarily the favorite of various socialists and progressive groups, but she is now the default, and so there’s been a coalescing around her. AOC endorsed her. So, it’ll be very interesting to see where she ends up, if she can come from behind and win and pull a de Blasio. Remember, at this point in the primary eight years ago, de Blasio had established himself as a clear front-runner. Right now that’s Adams, but Adams does not have the lead that de Blasio did have in 2013. So, I would say the race is much more volatile than it was back then.

AMY GOODMAN: And you this front-page piece in The New York Times a few days ago, saying — I mean, here you had Maya Wiley, who’s gotten the endorsement of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 1199, the union, and other progressives. But the front-page piece was about de Blasio — even though she was his lawyer, city lawyer — working behind the scenes for Adams, saying, in that way, he would preserve his progressive legacy.

ROSS BARKAN: Yeah, it’s a strange thing, because I would not agree with de Blasio that Eric Adams is best positioned to preserve his legacy. But the thing with politics is a lot it’s personal. Eric Adams and Bill de Blasio go back a long time. Eric Adams, I would say, unlike a lot of other politicians, was not known for attacking Bill de Blasio when he was mayor, and was not known for gratuitous criticisms of Bill de Blasio when he was mayor. The two always seem to have an understanding.

Both Maya Wiley and Kathryn Garcia worked for de Blasio, now have been quite critical of him and also, you know, don’t speak warmly about their time in City Hall. So, I can imagine, for de Blasio himself, he is aggrieved that he gave both of them jobs and promotions, and they are not grateful in any way. That’s politics. I mean, I’d say, unfortunately, it’s not always about policy and ideology; it can be about these kinds of relationships.

So, Eric Adams is the person Bill de Blasio feels most personally comfortable with. He is trying to rally organized labor behind Adams. He’s been pretty successful at that. And so far, the race is going, I would say, de Blasio’s way and that Adams is the favorite, and Yang has lost strength. But anything can happen on Primary Day. There are still a lot of variables.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, you mentioned Kathryn Garcia, who, surprisingly, has gotten the editorial endorsements in major papers, including The New York Times. And there are some analysts who believe that due to ranked-choice voting, she may not come out at the top of the — at the front of the pack, but, through ranked-choice voting, she may end up actually winning the primary. Your sense of Kathryn Garcia’s role?

ROSS BARKAN: She’s definitely come on very strong. The New York Times endorsement was a big surprise. Originally, I would have guessed Scott Stringer would have gotten it, but then he was accused of sexual assault, so that fell by the wayside. Then I personally imagined that Maya Wiley would get it, because she was positioning herself as a liberal candidate sort of in the mold of what The New York Times usually endorses. But they really went out of left field a bit and supported Kathryn Garcia, who’s really running as a technocratic moderate, someone who’s supportive of charter schools, someone who is against taxing the rich, someone who is fairly supportive of the real estate industry and skeptical of rent stabilization.

That being said, I think, unlike Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia is less alienating to some voters. You know, Adams and Yang each have the challenge of ending up on a lot of ballots. Both of them now have the potential to be dropped from the ballots of a lot of highly educated progressives and high-information voters. Each of them have sustained negative news cycles. Each of them cause voters who read The New York Times to recoil. Kathryn Garcia does not. So, she does have some potential, because she’s going to show up on a lot of ballots. Andrew Yang himself helped elevate her, when he said she was his number two. And it’s possible that will backfire on him in the end, because she is going to be people’s number twos. And she —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you so much for being with us, Ross Barkan. His new book, The Prince. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe.

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