New York is a big city. It contains multitudes, and, yes, sometimes it contradicts itself. Its dominant Democratic Party can nominate both centrists and progressives for the city’s top jobs. Indeed, it has done just that.
This is something pundits should remember when they try to make broad pronouncements about the narrow win by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in the Democratic primary for mayor. The final round of ranked-choice voting results have Adams defeating former New York sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia by about 8,426 votes—for a margin of 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent, according to Tuesday evening’s report from the city’s troubled Board of Elections.
There are still around 4,000 absentee ballots to be reviewed, but the Associated Press declared it for the borough president Tuesday night, Garcia conceded Wednesday morning, and Adams says, “While there are still some very small amounts of votes to be counted, the results are clear: an historic, diverse, five-borough coalition led by working-class New Yorkers has led us to victory in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York.”
Adams ran a savvy campaign that attracted key union endorsements, focused on often-neglected sections of Brooklyn and Queens, and identified a centrist lane early on—beating former front-runner Andrew Yang in the fight for voters who were worried by media reports of mounting gun violence in the city. Adams kept circling back to the promise of “a safe, fair, affordable future for all New Yorkers.” That message resonated with enough voters to give the advantage to the former police officer and state legislator who is now very likely to become the city’s second Black mayor.
Adams also benefited from the failure of progressives to fully recognize the power and the potential of the ranked-choice voting system that brought civil rights attorney Maya Wiley to the verge of a second-place finish—and that might, with a somewhat more strategic approach, have gotten her into first place.
But the mayoral race was not the only contest on the ballot in the June 22 election and the ensuing rounds of ranked-choice redistributions. Two other citywide contests were decided, as well.
In one, for the position of public advocate, a bold progressive incumbent, Jumaane Williams won a landslide victory with a campaign that focused on criminal justice reform, legalizing marijuana, protecting immigrants, and a promise “to stand up for low income renters across New York City for real, scalable policies that preserve affordability, and protect families from predatory landlords right now.” Running with endorsements from the Working Families Party and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Williams secured over 70 percent on June 22 and did not have to wait for the redistribution of votes from the other contenders.
The contest for city comptroller was a tighter race, but it also was won by a progressive champion. City Council member Brad Lander got 51.9 percent of the vote in the final redistribution of ranked votes—a slightly higher percentage than Adams had in the mayoral count. Lander, a cofounder of the council’s Progressive Caucus and a national leader in the Local Progress network progressive officials, was thought for much of the race to be trailing City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. But Lander’s focus on a bold economic, social, and racial justice agenda, and his innovative ideas for using the comptroller’s office to advance that agenda, won endorsements from the Working Families Party and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman. On Wednesday evening, as Johnson conceded, Lander declared victory and promised that as the city’s chief financial officer he would “work hard every single day to help our city recover from the pandemic more just, more equal, and better prepared for future crises than we were for this one.”
Adams’s narrow win will get a lot of attention. Fair enough; it’s significant. But so, too, are the Williams and Lander wins. So, too, is the victory of reformer Alvin Bragg in the crowded contest for Manhattan district attorney. So, too, are the many wins for progressive City Council candidates in primary voting that the New York Immigration Coalition notes have produced “the most diverse slate of Council Members in the city’s history.” Presuming that the Democratic council nominees win in November, as is likely, the coalition predicts, “In 2022, 35 of the 51-member legislative body will be people of color. Additionally, 29 of the incoming Council Members are women, which marks the first time that the City Council achieved true gender parity.”
“They are women, New Americans, second-generation immigrants, people of color, activists, and more,” Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the coalition, says of the Democratic primary winners. “In one of the most diverse cities in the nation, this historic moment will ensure that our immigrant communities will not only see themselves reflected, but they will also have a voice on the City Council with real lived experiences, similar to their own, in some cases for the very first time.”
The winning progressive council candidates ran in many cases with Working Families Party support. Several of the winners were also backed by the city’s Democratic Socialists of America organization. One of the DSA-backed candidates, Tiffany Cabán, won 62.5 percent of the ranked-choice vote and claimed “a mandate” for movement politics. “We have made it clear that the political will is there and we are ready to fight unapologetically and urgently for the communities we deserve,” Cabán announced on election night.
Adams, Williams, Lander, Bragg, Cabán, and the other Democratic nominees still must win November races against the nominees of the city’s bedraggled Republican Party and various and sundry minor parties. If and when they prevail, these Democrats from many places on the party’s ideological spectrum will all face the challenge of governing the nation’s largest city. They will bring to that work not one but many mandates—including some very progressive ones.