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Eric Adams’ strong performance in the New York City mayor’s Democratic primary primary reflected his ability to build an old-school political coalition that united black and Latin American voters with unions.
He was able to convince the working class, mostly outside of Manhattan, that he was the best candidate to protect the city from crime and restore it economically. But even when he had a lead of 75,000 votes on his closest rival Maya Wiley on Wednesday night, his victory was not certain.
Nearly 70 percent of voters did not vote Mr. Adams, President of Brooklyn District, as their first election, and the end result will depend on how many of those voters lower him on their ballot papers.
Under the city’s new ranked voting system, in which voters select up to five candidates in order of preference, thousands of votes are distributed among candidates before a final winner is determined. Tens of thousands of postal ballot papers must also be counted, and the entire process can take until July 12th.
It remains mathematically possible that Mr Adams’ closest rivals – Ms. Wiley, a former lawyer to Mayor Bill de Blasio, or Kathryn Garcia, a former commissioner for urban sanitation – still rank first on the ranking tables, but it seems unlikely that of voting experts.
In ranked elections in the USA in the past two decades, the candidate who comes first in the first ballot usually wins. Ms. Wiley or Ms. Garcia would have to be ranked overwhelmingly higher than Mr. Adams among voters who supported other unsuccessful candidates.
It is also unclear how many voters put five candidates in the spot; a phenomenon known as “voter depletion,” when every candidate elected by a voter has been eliminated, could favor Mr. Adams.
“It’s mathematically possible, but highly unlikely,” said Ken Sherrill, a retired political science professor at Hunter College, of either Ms. Wiley or Ms. Garcia’s victory. “Seventy-five thousand is a very large number to overcome.”
If Mr. Adams wins the primaries – and the November general election – he would be the city’s second black mayor after David N. Dinkins, who was elected in 1989. she and Mrs. Garcia both want to become the first woman to be elected mayor of New York.
Ms. Wiley did well in some mostly black neighborhoods in Brooklyn and in Astoria and Long Island City in Queens. Ms. Garcia had strong support in Manhattan and parts of Brownstone Brooklyn.
But Mr. Adams, who ran for moderate, led in all counties except Manhattan and did particularly well in the Bronx. In some parts of the city, such as Jamaica in southeast Queens, Mr. Adams won more than 60 percent of the vote, compared with 15 percent for Mrs. Wiley.
“Adams used his approach to policing by saying that we need justice and security at the same time to bring this traditional coalition together,” said Bruce Gyory, a veteran democratic strategist.
The city’s electoral board will run its first ranked ballot on Tuesday, which will cover all personal votes to get a better feel for the likely outcome.
Some progressive groups tried to convince voters to keep Mr. Adams off their ballot papers; Ms. Garcia made multiple appearances with Andrew Yang, a rival candidate, towards the end of the campaign to be ranked by his supporters.
On the day of the primary, MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the city’s most famous progressive, criticized Mr. Adams and pushed hard on Mrs. Wiley.
And many voters said they placed Ms. Wiley and Ms. Garcia in the top two spots on their ballot papers, and it is possible that one of them could win the majority of the other’s supporters in the ranked election.
Ms. Wiley told reporters in Brooklyn on Wednesday that she still had a way to win and said she had “every reason to believe we can win this race.”
When asked if she was considering giving in, Ms. Wiley scoffed at the idea.
“No,” she said with a slightly indignant laugh. “Because I win.”
Ms. Garcia did not hold public events and her campaign said she was spending time with family.
The fact that three of the top four candidates were relatively moderate – Mr Adams, Ms. Garcia, and Mr Yang, a 2020 presidential candidate – seemed to signal the mood in the city as New Yorkers emerge from the pandemic. The recent surge in gun violence has created widespread security concerns.
But Ms. Wiley received nearly a quarter of the first-choice vote, proving that part of the electorate liked her message of cutting the police budget and focusing on inequality. It is possible that Mrs Wiley, who became the flag bearer of the left, peaked too late in the race. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez only backed Ms. Wiley in the last month of the race after other left-wing candidates stalled.
If Mr Adams wins in the coming weeks, his victory could curb the momentum of the progressive movement in New York and reinforce the idea that rising crime and public safety are more of a concern for voters.
Still, progressive candidates had strong performances in several key races: Alvin Bragg led the Democratic primary for the Manhattan District Attorney; Brad Lander led the race of city auditors; and left-wing candidates won mayoral elections in Buffalo and Rochester.
The night had other little surprises: In the Republican primary for the district president of Staten Island, Vito J. Fossella, a former congressman, had a slight lead over Steven Matteo, a prominent city councilor. Mr Fossella decided not to run for re-election in 2008 after being charged with drunk driving and admitting fathering a child in an extramarital affair.
Whoever ultimately wins the Democratic primary will run against Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, in November. Mr Sliwa received nearly 69 percent of the vote among the roughly 58,000 Republicans who voted in the primary.
Mr. Adams’s leadership reflected a strong strategy for the outskirts. His institutional backing from the Brooklyn Machine and veteran Democrats in Queens and the Bronx likely helped him win key constituencies.
Mr. Adams appeared to do well in Latino neighborhoods – a key demographic that he campaigned on with key leaders like Ruben Diaz Jr., president of the Bronx County. For example, in the heavily Latino Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, Mr. Adams won more than 45 percent of the first election votes, compared with less than 20 percent for Ms. Wiley.
Mr Adams ran a disciplined campaign – his motto was “stay focused, don’t distract, drag” – and hammered in the message that he was the only candidate who could tackle both crime and police reform. Mr. Adams also secured a number of critical endorsements and raised more than $ 10 million in war chests – most of the candidates enrolled in the Public Matching Funds program.
Mr Adams, who ran as a working-class outsider, focused on communities hard hit by the pandemic – a message he touched on during his keynote address, said Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University.
“There are so many communities that feel left out and Adams, as his authentic self, appeared just as angry and hurt and inspired as those communities,” said Professor Greer.
As one of the moderate candidates in the Democratic field, Mr. Adams would be a significant departure from Mr. de Blasio in style and content, although Mr. de Blasio was believed to be privately supporting Mr. Adams in the race.
Mr de Blasio praised Mr Adams on Wednesday, saying their coalitions are similar.
“I pay tribute to Eric Adams – the strength he has created in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx,” he said. “Eric obviously had an outskirts-focused, working-class strategy. That’s a lot of what we did in 2013. “
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo also entered the race and said he would welcome a new mayor; his feud with Mr de Blasio is well established. Mr. Cuomo said that Mr. Adams had demonstrated competence on the issue of public safety, which is most important to New Yorkers.
“I have a good relationship with Eric Adams,” said Cuomo. “I know him. He was in Albany. We worked together.”
This was the first year the city offered early voting in a mayoral election, and turnout was better than expected. Almost 800,000 votes have been counted in the Democratic mayoral election so far – more than the turnout in the last competitive mayoral election in 2013. This number will increase as the counting and processing of postal votes – more than 100,000 have already been received.
Postal votes are unlikely to differ much from the voting patterns seen in the Primary Day vote count, although a large number from Manhattan could favor Ms. Garcia.
At his main evening party on Tuesday, Mr. Adams smiled widely as he celebrated his lead. Then he targeted the city’s news media and elites, saying he focused on voters who appeared reliably at the polls.
“Social media doesn’t select a candidate,” he said. “People in social security choose a candidate.”
Anne Barnard contributed to the coverage.