On the Left, a Sense of Disappointment as the New York City Mayoral Race Unfolds
Though New York has shifted leftward, two more moderate candidates, Andrew Yang and Eric Adams, currently lead the mayoral race.
Over the last year, it seems as if New York politics has shifted ever leftward. After primary wins in a number of House and state legislature elections last year, recreational marijuana was legalized, and just this week, a state budget deal was reached that would increase taxes on the rich and establish a $2.1 billion fund to assist undocumented employees.
However, in the race for New York City mayor, the two candidates who have consistently shown power are among the most moderate candidates in the field.
Andrew Yang’s persistent polling leads, often followed by Eric Adams, have worried some left-wing activists and leaders about the race’s course, leaving them divided over how to use their considerable leverage to influence the race’s outcome before the June 22 primary.
“From my vantage point on the left in New York, there is undeniable dissatisfaction with the way the race is shaping up right now,” said Matthew Miles Goodrich, a member of the Sunrise Movement, a group of young climate activists. “There seems to be a disconnect between the frontrunners in the New York City mayoral race and the tenor of the times in which we are meant to live.”
The mayoral field continues to represent the city’s leftward change, with many voters just now becoming aware of the race. Scott M. Stringer and Maya Wiley, two of the most progressive candidates in the race, are widely regarded as members of the field’s top tier, with the resources necessary to remain competitive until the end and possibly to make a significant impact. Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, has unmistakably tapped into genuine grass-roots capacity.
However, no one doubts for the time being that Mr. Yang, the former presidential nominee, and Mr. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, are in particularly powerful positions, with Mr. Yang regularly leading polls.
That became a major point of contention during a private meeting on Wednesday attended by members from many influential left-wing organizations, including Our City, Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise, and others, according to two people familiar with the meeting. According to one of those individuals, a consensus formed that the left needed to organize urgently around the city elections.
Mr. Adams and Mr. Yang take progressive stances on a broad spectrum of topics, and their supporters contend that they are well within the Democratic Party’s mainstream — much more so, they argue, than other left-wing radicals. And on Friday afternoon, while campaigning in Coney Island, Mr. Yang lauded both the state’s new budget and marijuana legalization.
However, it is also true that they are reasonably receptive to business and real estate interests. Additionally, they are more moderate on police issues than most mayoral candidates, even though they advocate for criminal justice reform. (Indeed, Mr. Adams, a Black retired police officer who claims to have personally witnessed police brutality, has spent the majority of his career advocating for systemic reform, but he is also a former Republican who often talks about the positive role policing can play in improving public safety.)
These positions run counter to the anti-real estate, anti-corporate, and “defund the police” rhetoric that has dominated the left-wing New York scene in recent years — most notably following the assassination of George Floyd last May — but has remained largely untested in a citywide election.
If more voters participate, the contest will provide the clearest picture yet of the political mood in a big, racially diverse city on topics such as economic recovery, an increase in violent crime, and deep inequality exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Throughout the area, younger left-wing activists have been instrumental in shaping legislative and House races. However, this contingent has not been decisive in statewide governor’s races or, at the national level, in the presidential campaign, where moderate Black voters and other older, more centrist voters played a decisive role in electing President Biden.
Although some activists express concern about the state of the mayor’s race, many are unable to unite behind one of the three candidates who have regularly been mentioned as progressive candidates: Mr. Stringer, the well-funded city comptroller who has garnered a slew of left-wing endorsements; Ms. Morales, the race’s most left-wing candidate; and Ms. Wiley, a former MSNBC analyst and counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio who was endorsed Friday by Brooklyn Democrat Representative Yvette Clarke.
Mr. Goodrich, who supports Mr. Stringer, said that “the progressive culture in New York is divided.” “There has been no consistent, viable progressive hero or progressive champion emerging. This has made it very difficult for us to escape.”
The city comptroller race is a study of contrasts: Some of the country’s most influential progressives, including New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, have backed City Councilman Brad Lander. They have not yet entered the race for mayor, and it is unclear if they will.
To those on the left wing of New York’s political spectrum, a victory for either Mr. Yang or Mr. Adams will be a setback for a movement that has grown in popularity after Ms. Ocasio-Cortez defeated Queens County Democratic leader Representative Joseph Crowley in the 2018 primary.
There is certainly still time for New York’s most liberal voters to coalesce behind a candidate or slate of candidates; under the city’s new ranked-choice voting system, voters rate up to five candidates in order of preference. A nominee wins if he or she receives more than 50% of the vote. If not, the last-place candidate is eliminated from the election, and voters who made that candidate their first preference have their second-choice votes counted in lieu of their first-choice votes. The runoff will proceed until a winner is determined.
Numerous legislators and other Democrats have made ranked-choice endorsements — especially of Mr. Stringer and Ms. Morales — and organizations that are currently considering endorsements could make the same call or support a slate of candidates.
The Working Families Party is currently deciding on its endorsement, which may come as early as next week. According to those familiar with the conversations, Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams are among the candidates taking part in that process, along with other more left-wing contestants.
Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams also assert that they are the most in line with New Yorkers’ worries about the economy, reopening the city, and striking a balance between public safety and police reform.
Mr. Adams has also positioned himself as a pro-business candidate who believes there is no need to demonize real estate. Mr. Adams, who owns a multifamily property in Brooklyn, has said, “I am real estate.” Additionally, Mr. Adams previously served as the executive director of an agency that called for criminal justice improvements within the New York Police Department.
“It seems as if he is content to tinker around the edges and continue playing the inside game with the New York Police Department, which I believe has been ineffective,” said Charles Khan, organizing director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition.
Mr. Adams’s team maintains that he has many of the same substantive priorities as the most committed political advocates on topics ranging from housing to taxation. The team asserts that the distinction is one of sound. Additionally, advisers say that he has personally pushed for police reform more than any other candidate.
“Eric is not new to this; he has been fighting for police reform for over 30 years and possesses the expertise necessary to reform the New York Police Department the right way to keep New York City safe,” said Madia Coleman, Mr. Adams’ spokeswoman. “No one has struggled harder or accomplished more for people of color in this race than Eric Adams.”
Mr. Yang, for his part, has proposed tax benefits for companies and individuals that report to work five days a week, implying that he feels the needs of businesses in his “bones.” He has also advocated for more police presence on subways and, like Mr. Adams, is comfortable stressing the role police play in public safety.
“We’re honored to be leading among progressive voters,” campaign manager Sasha Neha Ahuja said, referring to internal polling. “Clearly, Andrew’s message of cash relief, job growth, and reestablishing a healthy and vibrant community resonates strongly across the base and throughout the region.”
Tusk Strategies is also advising Mr. Yang, which has been a point of contention for some progressives. The firm has collaborated extensively with Uber and the Police Benevolent Association, the union that supported President Donald J. Trump’s re-election bid.
Tusk, according to a spokeswoman, has not collaborated with either agency in more than a year.
“As an organizer and as a Black man, why in the world would I want to trust Andrew Yang after that?” said Stanley Fritz, Citizen Action of New York’s state political director.
It is uncertain how progressives’ talk of mounting a fight to stymie the rise of two well-funded candidates would play out. So far, it has remained purely verbal.
“I believe there is a growing movement to oppose not only Yang but also Eric Adams,” said Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, which supports Mr. Stringer. “Both of them are not truly progressive.”