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New York’s progressive, moderate Dems face off in uncertain mayoral race

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Four of the candidates for New York's Democratic mayoral primaries: (left to right) Maya Wiley, Eric Adams, Andrew Yang and Kathryn Garcia./AFP
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Jun 15, 2021 - 06:26 AM

NEW YORK — Thirteen candidates, and no clear favorite: one week before the Democratic primary to select the mayor of post-pandemic New York City, progressives and moderates face off in a race made all the more uncertain by a new system of voting that has muddied all predictions.

Will it be Eric Adams, the moderate, Black ex-policeman and president of the borough of Brooklyn? Or Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur with Taiwanese parents, also a moderate who infamously promised to pay $1,000 to each American when he ran for president?

Or a woman, which would be a first? Perhaps Kathryn Garcia, another moderate who has proven her mettle in several municipal leadership positions and received the New York Times’ blessing. Or Maya Wiley, a Black lawyer specializing in civil rights, who was recently endorsed by the party’s progressive rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

The diverse group of candidates dominate the latest polls for the job often called “the second most difficult” in the United States, after that of president — though traditionally low turnout in the primaries makes predictions unreliable.

Since New York is a Democratic stronghold the winner is likely to also succeed in the November election and take over from the outgoing, unpopular far-left Democrat Bill de Blasio, who is winding up eight years at the helm of the US’ largest city.


The main challenges will be “getting the city back on its feet” after the pandemic and racial tensions, said Penny Arnold, 51, a school fundraiser, after she voted early this weekend.

Covid-19 still casts a long shadow over New York, which became the epicenter of the disease early on and lost 33,000 of its residents to the virus.

Thousands of stores have closed, and tens of thousands of wealthier residents have fled, appalled by mortuary trucks parked outside overwhelmed hospitals.

Unemployment and homelessness, shootings and homicides have all surged.

The health crisis, then demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd in May 2020, highlighted the extent of racial inequalities in a metropolis that some saw as an island of wealth.

But now the city is coming back to life — 65 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine — and voters face a choice between the progressives and the moderates.

The race is “an indicator of the kind of divisions that have been emerging in the Democratic Party nationally, the left progressives, and old school liberals, and the moderates,” said Ester Fuchs, a professor of political science at Columbia.

“People think because AOC (Ocasio-Cortez) won, that New York will give a victory to progressives, but there are still a sizable group of ‘old school liberals’ who are influential in this town,” she said.

‘Manipulated’ crime stats

If public debate has focused on the issue of crime, voters questioned at random this weekend refused to make it a top priority.

Crime “is a problem” said Robert Ambaras, 64,

a lawyer with progressive leanings. “But there is a lot of hysteria around it which is being manipulated for political purposes and I don’t want to buy into that.”

Bose George, a more centrist financial services worker, said he wanted someone “fairly moderate, but who’s capable of doing things.” He thinks Kathryn Garcia best fits that bill, and besides, “it’s good to have a woman as the mayor.”

One thing is certain: the new voting system, which asks voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference, makes predictions almost impossible.

Unless a candidate immediately garners more than 50 percent of the votes — an unlikely scenario — the candidate who came in last is eliminated, and the ballots cast by their voters are redistributed to their second choice, and so on, until a candidate finally exceeds the 50 percent threshold.

And this game by elimination may not produce a clear winner until mid-July.

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