Shootings and subway attacks have shifted the focus of the New York City Mayor’s race to crime.
Concerns about crime have prompted candidates to make strong public safety appeals less than a year after the city faced pressure to cut police funding.
A shooting in Times Square, an increase in gun violence, and a spate of high-profile attacks on subway riders have shifted the focus of the New York City mayor’s race to crime and public safety, altering the contest’s trajectory as the June 22 primary approaches.
A year after the “defund the police” movement erupted in response to outrage over racial injustice, the primary will provide one of the first indications of where Democratic voters stand as the country emerges from the pandemic but faces an increase in gun violence in major cities such as New York.
Three bystanders were injured in Saturday’s shooting in Times Square, New York City’s tourism and transit hub. They included a 4-year-old girl, a woman from New Jersey, and a Rhode Island tourist hoping to visit the Statue of Liberty.
Two of the front-runners for mayor rushed to the scene.
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang addressed a Sunday morning news conference, declaring that “nothing works in our city without public safety, and public safety requires the police.” Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, visited Times Square twice: on Saturday, immediately following the shooting, and again on Sunday afternoon.
On Monday, Raymond J. McGuire appeared there as well, treading a fine line between advocating for stronger policing and discussing how, “as a 6-foot-4, 200-pound Black man in America,” he understands how police can violate civil rights.
Concerns about crime have given those candidates a new opportunity to make compelling arguments for public safety and its role in New York’s recovery from the pandemic.
The moment is also a litmus test for whether the most left-wing candidates in the race, whose far-reaching proposals to rein in the New York Police Department reflected widespread protests against racial injustice last year, will resonate in the same way now that the city may be at a different kind of inflection point.
According to Police Department statistics, 132 people had been killed as of May 2, up from 113 at the same time last year, a 17% increase. There have been 416 shooting incidents, up from 227 at this time last year, an increase of 83%.
At least three different candidates plan to discuss public safety on Tuesday, indicating how important the issue has become in the race.
Maya D. Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, is expected to unveil her policing strategy; Shaun Donovan, the former federal housing secretary, is expected to visit Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood, which has been particularly hard hit by gun violence in the last year, to discuss “his plans to eliminate the out-of-state gun pipeline”; and Kathryn Garcia, the city’s former sanitation commissioner, is expected to discuss her policing strategy.
“We are in a precarious position,” said civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton. “People fear cops and robbers. We have to deal with both of them. And anyone who is incapable of developing a comprehensive plan that threads both needles should not run for mayor.”
Mr. Sharpton stated that he intends to question mayoral candidates in the coming weeks about issues of overpolicing and gun violence.
Mr. Adams, more than any other candidate, demonstrates the potency of a message centered on public safety, which he refers to as a “prerequisite” to prosperity. Mr. Adams, a former police officer who has advocated for systemic reforms and claims to have been a victim of police brutality, has been vocal about the rise in gun violence for weeks. On Monday, he was discussing those issues once more as he stood outside a Manhattan subway station where a woman had been assaulted recently.
“This city has gotten out of hand,” Mr. Adams stated. “That is the difference in this mayoral race: people are finally listening to me. We are not obligated to live in this manner.”
He and other Democratic candidates argue that there is no contradiction between advocating for a robust police response to crime and advocating for changes to police misconduct and violence regulation.
Even prior to the Times Square shooting, there were signs that public safety was becoming a greater priority in New York: a Spectrum News report Late last month, a NY1/Ipsos poll found that “crime or violence” was the second most pressing concern for New York Democrats, trailing only the coronavirus.
Jade Lundy, a child-care worker in the Bronx, said she has increased her precautions due to an apparent increase in crime, which she attributes to economic hardship brought on by the pandemic.
“I don’t take out my phone anymore,” she explained as she walked from Times Square to the Bronx subway station.
Ms. Lundy, who turned 18 this month, stated that she intends to vote in the mayoral election and has only recently begun learning about the candidates.
“I want someone who can instill a sense of security in us,” Ms. Lundy stated. “Extraordinarily for women. It’s more difficult out here.”
A spate of crimes directed at Asian-Americans has also alarmed many New Yorkers, some candidates claim.
“That makes them very concerned about the city, particularly for long-term residents,” Ms. Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, explained. According to her, some New Yorkers wonder, “Are we back in the ’70s and ’80s?”
Violent crime incidents are nowhere near the all-time highs seen in previous eras in New York, and while shootings and homicides have increased, other crimes have decreased this spring. Nonetheless, other elected officials drew comparisons to the city’s so-called “dark ages” while emphasizing that they do not believe the current era is comparable.
“In the 1980s and 1990s, residents here, including myself, witnessed some pretty heinous acts,” said Representative Adriano Espaillat, a Democrat from New York. “We do not wish to revert to that. As a result, I believe that will be a significant issue in this year’s mayoral race.” Mr. Espaillat is currently neutral following the withdrawal of his endorsement by city comptroller Scott M. Stringer in the wake of a sexual misconduct allegation, which Mr. Stringer denies.
Diana Ayala, a councilwoman representing East Harlem and the Bronx who also rescinded her support for Mr. Stringer, said she will decide whether to endorse another mayoral candidate based on their response to crime.
“While residents across the city are concerned about the number of shootings, those numbers have remained fairly consistent in my district for the last three and a half years,” Ms. Ayala explained. “Every summer, and even now, we are planning for the future.”
Ms. Wiley, who addressed a news conference on Sunday to condemn gun violence, has already unveiled a strategy to address the problem. According to her campaign, her policing strategy will include proposals such as appointing a civilian police commissioner and ensuring that “final disciplinary authority for police misconduct” will be placed in the hands of a new all-civilian neutral body.
Additionally, she supports “slashing at least $1 billion from the New York Police Department budget to fund investments in alternatives to policing,” according to her campaign.
Mr. Stringer has stated that he supports reallocating $1.1 billion in police funding over a four-year period — despite frequently stating that he does not want a return to the 1970s’ chaos. Mr. Donovan has pledged to slash $3 billion from the police and corrections budgets by the end of his first term and reinvest the savings in underserved neighborhoods; Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, also wants to slash $3 billion and reinvest the savings in underserved neighborhoods.
Ms. Morales, the race’s most left-wing candidate, was unavailable for an interview Monday, but a spokeswoman, Lauren Liles, said she “stands by her emphasis on the need to move away from the false equivalence between policing and public safety.”
Numerous Democrats have also noted that Times Square already has a sizable police presence, which was insufficient to avert a shooting.
Mr. McGuire urged a re-examination of bail reform laws to ensure that they do not violate individuals’ civil rights.
“There is a distinction between someone who is arrested for stealing a bag of potato chips and someone who has been arrested multiple times for gun possession,” Mr. McGuire explained. “A person arrested for being in possession of a loaded, illegal firearm cannot be detained before breakfast, walk out of the courthouse, and return home before dinner.”