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NEW YORK – For most other times in New York City history, the Democratic candidate for mayor could spend that time after elementary school basking in the glamor of victory and an almost guaranteed walk to City Hall.
But this is like no other time in the city’s history and the next few weeks will be a complicated and possibly chaotic time for mayor politics.
“This is new territory for all of us,” admitted top candidate Eric Adams on Friday.
In the very first ranking election in New York, he was nine points ahead in the first election. If other US ranking polls are used as a guide, Adams has a 96 percent chance of emerging as the winner.
But unlike other such competitions, this one took place when the city was emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic and more than 120,000 postal ballot papers had not yet been counted. With around 800,000 ballots cast on election night, that could potentially affect the outcome, and runners-up Maya Wiley and Kathryn Garcia argue the race is far from over.
The leaderboard pick won’t be released until Tuesday, which means the gaps between Adams, Wiley and Garcia could get even closer.
“We all pretend it’s done,” said Garcia pollster Adam Rosenblatt. “The most important piece is still missing.”
This puts Adams, the president of Brooklyn borough, in electoral no man’s land: He is preparing to become the next mayor after a pro forma election against Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa, while at the same time leaving open the possibility of that he couldn’t be the candidate.
“We know that the votes have to be counted. We know there is a process. We will follow this process, ”said Adams. “But while this process is going on, we’re going to send a signal to New Yorkers: Believe.”
For the next several weeks, Adams will simultaneously be counting the votes in the race he just ran, moving his campaign to general election mode, and preparing to hire a new government. If he becomes mayor and replaces the temporary Bill de Blasio, Adams will be immediately tasked with calming a surge in violence, catching up 1 million public school students from more than a year of distance learning, and trying to get the city’s economy back on its feet the ravages of Covid-19.
He made a push on Friday to start the transition asap. Typically, an elected mayor waits until the general election to begin planning his administration. Adams argued that given the weight of the problems facing the next mayor – and with the primary now in June instead of September – the new administration should start meeting with the old administration as soon as the Democratic candidate shows up.
“We have to start a conversation. We can’t say, ‘Let’s start over on January 1st.’ It’s unfair to the New Yorkers, ”said Adams on Friday, admitting that other candidates should be part of this conversation with de Blasio. “I will encourage him to make his commissioners available to anyone who wants to sit down with them and find out what’s going on in our agencies.”
Adams’ campaign says the candidate is trying to prepare for the litany of crises that may be waiting on the next mayor’s desk.
“Eric’s responsibility now is to think about the general election and how he would rule as mayor,” said Adams advisor Evan Thies. “As he waits for the process and acknowledges that it has not yet completed, he is still making sure that it is ready to go right away.”
Adams took to the streets the day after election day and said his commanding leadership translated into a mandate for his campaign message; one that has focused heavily on reducing gun violence in low-income colored communities, where the increase in shootings has been worst.
Adams, a former black police captain who was beaten by police as a teenager in Queens, was particularly well placed to get this message across while pledging to curb aggressive and abusive policing. Opponent Andrew Yang, an early leader who cashed in on primary night, tried a similarly tough approach to crime but couldn’t break through like Adams.
Adams now argues that his moderate message is one more Democrats across the country that they should adopt before 2022.
“Look at me and you will see the future of the Democratic Party,” he said on Wednesday. “If the Democratic Party doesn’t see what we’ve done here in New York, they’ll have a problem in the midterm elections and a problem in the presidential election.”
The shrill message, however, can be a little premature.
Wiley, former de Blasio attorney, and Garcia, the former sanitary officer, argue publicly that they could prevail after Tuesday’s ranking picks were conducted and the July absentee ballots were counted.
Wiley, who is Black, ran as a progressive who would be the first woman to become mayor. She promised the police some funding cuts and more investment in mental health and supportive housing to avoid the same aggressive messages of a crime wave that needs to be stopped. Wiley, currently in second place, is about 75,000 votes behind Adams and is sure to pick up even more after Tuesday’s ranking votes are counted. So did Adams and Garcia.
“We have every reason to believe that we can win this race,” said Wiley on Wednesday. “It’s not over.”
The Garcia team released a memo Thursday setting out why ex-city officials will actually be ahead of Adams in the first-place elections and ultimately prevail in the leaderboards when all is said and done.
“In many districts where [absentee] Ballot papers were returned – these are voting areas; These are areas where Kathryn practically wins, ”said Rosenblatt in an interview. “There are certainly Manhattan boroughs. There are also the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn in the mix. “
The municipal electoral board does not count those absent until July. But nearly 200,000 postal ballot papers were requested and by Sunday up to 12,000 had been returned.
Garcia ran like Adams, and promised to strengthen the police presence and have a friendlier relationship with the business world than de Blasio, her former boss. Garcia, who is white, could also be the first woman to be elected mayor in New York.
She is the only candidate still in the competition who has pursued a ranking election strategy in the last days of her campaign and thus competes for second and third place, which will be counted on Tuesday. Her collaboration with Yang drew Adams and his supporters allegations that the two were trying to incapacitate black and Latin American voters, even though their collaborative approach is one of the intended goals of the ranking poll.
Adams has since dropped that rhetoric, saying several times that he will support any Democratic candidate who shows up when the numbers are added up. But should Wiley or Garcia get ahead by a combination of ballot lists and absentee votes, there will almost certainly be a fight.
“I don’t see him walking quietly into the night,” said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University, who is hosting a podcast on New York. “Not after the winning laps he has driven in the last few days.”
Adams voters represented a somewhat unusual coalition in city electoral politics, Greer added. He dominated the outskirts of the working class and lower incomes, while the more upscale parts of Brooklyn and Queens went to Wiley and Garcia cleaned up Manhattan, where more white, affluent voters live.
“There is a certain type of New Yorker who has a permanent place at the table. This New Yorker didn’t vote for Eric Adams, ”Greer said. “If you look at his map, it is mostly people who are being ignored in these larger political discussions.”
Adams’ message was aimed at addressing people who are disproportionately high in the police force and disproportionately in victims of gun violence and other crimes.
“Eric Adams has been here since I’ve been here,” said Ken Carlton, 64, who voted for Adams on election day in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. The former correctional officer who now works for the U.S. Postal Service classified crime as his number one problem.
“He seems real,” Carlton said of Adams. “He can identify” with some of the things the neighborhood is going through. “
Carlton also said he didn’t care about the new ranking selection system: “You should pick one, that’s it.”
Greer reiterated the concerns raised in political talks across town since last week if Garcia prevails and the communities in which Adams prevailed will stand in the rain.
“It looks really bad, Eric Adams gets 100,000 more votes than Garcia,” she said on election night, “and this white woman is rolling into Gracie Mansion.”
Janaki Chadha and Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.