Eric Adams Wins NYC Mayoral Primary, Capping 2 Weeks of Waiting

Eric Adams won New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary, holding off a crowded field of challengers with a campaign focused on reducing crime and restoring the quality of life in a city that was pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Associated Press called the race on Tuesday for Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. He won 50.5% of the vote, edging out former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, who received 49.5% after eight rounds of voting. It was a difference of 8,426 votes.

Eric Adams Wins NYC Mayoral Primary, Capping 2 Weeks of Waiting

The election of Adams, 60, would put the finance capital under the governance of a former New York Police Department captain who appealed to working-class voters. Adams, who served in the NYPD for 22 years, helped turn the race into a referendum on public safety just one year after nationwide Black Lives Matter protests spurred calls to defund the police. His primary win shows the strength of a diverse coalition he built that included unions, conservative voters and Black and Latino leaders.

“I know how we can turn around not only New York, but America,” Adams said Wednesday during an interview on CBS. “New York is going to show America how to run cities.”

The June 22 primary marked the first citywide use of the ranked-choice voting system, allowing voters to select as many as five candidates in order of preference. But the process did not go smoothly, as an error by the city’s Board of Elections partway through the tally threw ballot counting into disarray and led to preemptive lawsuits by many of the candidates.

Voting Rounds

Tuesday’s tally of 937,699 votes, 14% of which came from absentee ballots, showed Adams with a lead of just one percentage point over Garcia. Adams got 30.8% of voters’ top choices, with civil-rights lawyer Maya Wiley garnering 21.3% of first-choice votes and Garcia snagging 19.6% of first-choice votes. Garcia only overtook Wiley in the seventh round, by around 350 votes, after tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang was eliminated. When Wiley was eliminated, 72% of her votes went to Garcia over Adams -- but that wasn’t enough to overtake Adams’s early lead.

After the returns were reported, Garcia held off making an immediate announcement to review the vote tallies with lawyers for the campaign, said spokeswoman Annika Reno. Adams, during an interview Wednesday on CNN, said he had not yet heard from Garcia.

“The legal team is looking into how many outstanding ballots are still out there,” Reno said.

In a statement on Tuesday, Wiley thanked her staff, endorsers, and volunteers for their support and said she will “have more to say about the next steps shortly.”

Eric Adams Wins NYC Mayoral Primary, Capping 2 Weeks of Waiting

Historic Race

Given that Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7-to-1 in New York City, the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to win the general election in November against Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels anti-crime group. A general election victory would make Adams the city’s second Black mayor, after David Dinkins held the post in the early 1990s.

Sliwa said he was ready to go up against Adams in November.

The next mayor of New York will have to lead the city out of a pandemic-induced economic crisis. Although 52% of residents are fully vaccinated, only a fifth of office workers have returned. Tourism is depressed and many small businesses remain closed. The city’s unemployment rate stood at 10.9% in May, compared with 5.8% nationally.

With most of the city ranking Adams and Garcia at the top of their ballots, the vote showed a clear message that residents backed candidates who stressed problem-solving over ideology.

“It was the moderates, not the progressives who were ascendant in this mayoral primary, which reflected the focus of Adams and Garcia upon common sense solutions, not ideological purity, in regard to promoting safety with justice on crime and managerial competence,” said Albany-based political consultant Bruce Gyory.

Eric Adams Wins NYC Mayoral Primary, Capping 2 Weeks of Waiting

Tough on Crime

Adams made policing and crime the centerpiece of his campaign and the race. He also came out against progressives’ calls to cut spending on police departments that arose last summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

“Eric is a person of strong character who will not be bullied by special interests or ideologues,” said Kathryn Wylde, chief executive officer of the Partnership for New York City, a business group that represents JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and dozens of other companies. “His election is the first step in assuring that New York City remains a city of opportunity and inclusive growth.”

Shootings in New York were up 73% in May from a year ago. Hate crimes were up 93% year to date through May 30, though overall crime remains lower than in previous decades. Early to pounce on residents’ concerns over crime, Adams often spoke of his opponent’s public safety plans in apocalyptic terms.

“Black and brown babies are being shot in our streets, hate crimes are terrorizing Asian and Jewish communities and innocent New Yorkers are being stabbed and shot on their way to work,” Adams said after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Wiley, who supported cutting the NYPD’s budget. “They are putting slogans and politics in front of public safety and would endanger the lives of New Yorkers.”

During his campaign, Adams pledged support for a modified version of stop-and-frisk -- which has disproportionately affected Black men -- and said he would restore a plainclothes police unit tasked with confiscating illegal weapons that was disbanded after complaints it used excessive force. Police reform, he said, would come through his leadership of the department and better training rather than taking away money from the police force.

The focus on public safety appeared to resonate with voters in the majority Black and Latino districts that pushed Adams to victory. He built up sizable majorities in assembly districts that included neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn. Adams also carried districts in the outer areas of Queens, much of Central and Eastern Brooklyn, Northern Manhattan, the Bronx and parts of Staten Island.

His campaign leaned on the support of labor organizations like District Council 37, which has 150,000 members, making it the city’s largest public employee union, and 32BJ -- the local building-services affiliate of the Service Employees International Union -- which mobilized 6,500 volunteers on behalf of the borough president.

“Our members wanted someone who represented their experience in the halls of power, who will be a champion for working people,” said 32BJ president Kyle Bragg.

Scrutiny and Setbacks

Adams was knocked back in the last weeks of the campaign after a Politico story raised questions about whether he actually lived in the Brooklyn brownstone listed on campaign paperwork. Adams took reporters on a tour of his home and showed his electronic toll records in an effort to prove he didn’t actually live in New Jersey. Adams also drew scrutiny over multiple ethics investigations, his ties to the real estate industry, and for accepting donations from developers.

Early polls saw him trailing only Yang, who capitalized on the name recognition from his failed 2020 Democratic presidential bid. Yang conceded on election night.

Partway through the weeks-long count, New York City election officials erroneously tabulated 135,000 test ballots, creating confusion. Once the error was corrected, and ahead of the absentee count, Adams’s lead narrowed to just over 14,000 votes after nine rounds of ranked-choice voting.

Those results spoke to the benefits Garcia reaped from the ranked-choice system and from her decision to campaign jointly with Yang in the final days of the campaign.

Voters like Christopher Ashley, a 38-year-old Queens resident who ranked Wiley first and Garcia second, were indicative of the strong feelings Adams’s campaign elicited. Ashley called Adams’s rhetoric “deliberately divisive.”

From Arrest to Public Service

Eric Adams Wins NYC Mayoral Primary, Capping 2 Weeks of Waiting

Despite the closeness of the race, Adams was quick to position himself as the mayor-in-waiting and cast his win as a the first sign of change in the national Democratic Party. He suggested an early transition and said he’d meet with his candidates for police commissioner in July. He’s pledged to appoint a woman to run the police force.

If elected mayor, he will also have to reconcile his tough-on-crime message with the political realities of what could be the city’s most diverse City Council ever.

“Progressives are growing in strength and numbers, and we plan on holding our next NYC Mayor accountable and pass a strong progressive agenda that centers Black, Brown, immigrant, and working-class New Yorkers,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, New York State Director of the Working Families Party.

Adams’s rise is the culmination of a decades-long career in public service. Adams joined the NYPD after he was arrested and beaten by officers when he was 15.

During more than two decades in the NYPD, he co-founded a reform group called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. After leaving the force in 2006, Adams was elected to the state Senate and became the first Black Brooklyn borough president in 2013.

“He rose from humble beginnings by dedicating his life to uplifting all New Yorkers,” said Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn in a statement. “We congratulate Eric Adams on a well-deserved victory, and on becoming only the second Black mayor in New York City history.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.