CM – Why New York’s chaotic, depressing elections matter to America


When President Joe Biden meets America’s allies in Europe this week to convince them that our democracy is fit and in order, he may want to take their eyes off New York City.

The largest city in Landes starts early voting in their mayoral elections this week. (It’s actually the Democratic primary, but since Dems outperform Republicans 6-1 here and since the two GOP candidates are both wild cards, the primary is the choice.) But these competitions aren’t strong selling points for Democracy in general, and it’s more chaotic than usual this year.

If the New York City political establishment tried to obscure and dissuade its mayoral elections, it could hardly do a better job. First, it’s not just an off-year choice, it’s an off-year choice as well. There are no contests on the ballot other than city contests – no high profile candidates (e.g. for President or US Congress) that could attract less than eager citizens to the voting booths.

And citizens have responded accordingly . In the city’s last mayor’s race, only 18 percent of those eligible to vote started. In the national midterms 2018, on the other hand, more than twice as many New Yorkers (39 percent) and almost three times as many (53 percent) voted for the 2020 presidential election.

In this race in 2017, Bill de Blasio won with 66 percent of the vote Re-election. Since this only made up 8.5 percent of the eligible population, many wondered even then whether it was a mandate.

This is frightening in every respect, but especially for New York City, the (a) national one Sets trends in social policy, culture and law enforcement practices; (b) generates and spends approximately $ 90 billion a year in revenue (more than all but a few states – California, New York, Texas and Washington); and most importantly (c) investing almost all of his political power in the office of mayor.

Given the size of New York City, the problems it is currently facing, and the implications that size and problems will have Having on the country (and to some extent the world) this election is a very big deal.

There are eight main candidates running for office. None of them aroused much enthusiasm. In the most recent survey, Undecided came in second with 16 percent. (First place winner, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, is just ahead of « Don’t Know » at 22 percent.)

Until recently, Andrew Yang led the field with double-digit margins, largely due to his brand recognition as a livelier – albeit unsuccessful – candidate in the 2020 presidential primary election. Then came the investigation reports and negative advertisements that showed that Yang knows little about the city, has a funky attitude towards mayor, never voted in a New York mayor race while the city was left at the height of the pandemic and as a nonprofit is drained millions of dollars to create 100,000 jobs but only 150 in reality).

Yang was dwarfed by Adams, the president of Brooklyn County, of his Background as a former police captain has polished up his references in the face of increasing fears of crime. The number of murders has increased by 17 percent compared to the previous year. In a way, this isn’t as bad as it might seem. The number of murders is still low – 173, only 26 more than at this time last year and far fewer than in 2001 when Rudy Giuliani’s tenure ended when crime fell dramatically. (If the current crime rate persists, there will be fewer than 500 murders in all of 2021. There were 649 murders in 2001. 1,927 when Giuliani took office in 1993; 2,262 in 1990, the city’s high point.) Still Every surge in serious crime shakes New Yorkers, especially after so many years of downturn, all the more since the most widely published of these crimes – knife cuts on the subway – are accidental.

A year ago, « the Defuse Police « a popular political rally. Well not so much. Adams, Yang and third-placed candidate Kathryn Garcia (with 15 percent) reject budget cuts by the police. Adams, who is Black, has managed to retain at least some support from police critics for spearheading reform efforts during his time as a police officer. Garcia – who is white despite her ex-husband and children being of Puerto Rican descent – served successfully as de Blasio’s sanitary officer. * At the beginning of the campaign, Yang, the Asian-American, said he would hire Garcia as deputy mayor; Garcia shot back that people should turn off the middleman and vote for her right away if she’s so badly needed in town hall. The New York Times endorsed her, quoting her response and praising her unparalleled experience in the city administration. (Yang began to criticize her as she rose in the polls and he fidgeted.) Ray McGuire, a vice president of Citibank, had a good chance at the start of the competition: a black guy with progressive inclinations and financial experience deep pockets and TV commercials directed by Spike Lee. But he washed himself out as an activist; his political ideas are vague; Polls show him at the bottom of the pile.

Something else is at stake in this contest, even for those who don’t live in New York or don’t care: it may be the power of MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and generally of the left wing of the National Democratic Party. Just last weekend, AOC confirmed black civil rights attorney Maya Wiley as mayor and praised her as the city’s flag bearer for the progressive movement that works on behalf of the « working people » instead of « billionaires ».

Confirmation came late in the competition and without notice to the candidate. But a Wiley victory would cement AOC’s standing as king (or queen) in the Democratic Party, a force whose move cannot be turned down. If Wiley loses, more centrist Democrats, especially those in Congress, will cite defeat as a reason to stand up to pressure from the AOC.

I mentioned the candidates’ ethnic identity for a reason. In his 1993 book To Be Mayor of New York, Chris McNickle shows that mayoral winners for most of the 20th century often reflected the emerging ethnic group of their time. For most of the time, candidates ran for mayors, accountants, and councilors, and party leaders selected them to attract dominant groups of voters, usually immigrants. For many years Irish Catholics were the dominant group; Jews later joined or were expelled, then Dominicans and black New Yorkers. The winning ticket was often the ticket that combined candidates from each group. (The subtitle of the book is Ethnic Politics in the City.)

When the party leaders disappeared in the face of mass politics and the ticket candidates were abolished through democratic reforms, this whole phenomenon disappeared. If Yang wins the primaries, it will primarily be due to its widespread notoriety, but also to its appeal to the large – and increasingly politically self-confident – Asian-American population in Queens and Brooklyn, as well as to its calculated wooing of the ultra-Orthodox Jews of the city, many of whom vote as a bloc.

In recent times, social trends or even random events have shaped the mayoral elections at least as much as demographic developments. Rudolph Giuliani won in 1993 – the first Republican since John Lindsay in 1966 (and Lindsay switched parties when he ran for a second term) – mainly over complaints about David Dinkin’s passivity in the face of rising crime and taxes. But there was another factor: the votes in Staten Island, the smallest and most conservative of New York’s five boroughs, included a referendum on secession from the city; it was not binding, but drove many angry islanders to the polls, almost all of whom voted for Giuliani. Without these additional votes, Giuliani – who won citywide by just 3 percentage points – might have missed out.

Even stranger was Mike Bloomberg’s victory in 2001. As a longtime Democrat, he ran for an overcrowded Republican primary to avoid the Democrats. (He even said so.) The billionaire candidate spent nearly $ 69 million in the general election campaign against his smug Democratic opponent, Mark Green. But the bottom line was that the campaign coincided with the World Series. The Yankees played. Millions of New Yorkers whose loyalty was beating to the city immediately after September 11th watched all seven games. And Bloomberg placed multiple ads in all six. They were all brilliantly produced, and some of them featured Giuliani assisting him. (As hard as it is to remember today, America’s Mayor was widely lauded as a hero at the time.) Bloomberg won by 3 percentage points. In order to lessen Giuliani’s influence on him, he attributed 2 of these points to his predecessor. (I remember those two elections and reported them back then as the New York bureau chief of the Boston Globe from 1995 to 2002.) Finally, there is the curious case of incumbent Bill de Blasio. In most of the overcrowded 2013 primaries, de Blasio followed City Council President Christine Quinn – up to two crucial events. Initially, Quinn was attacked for voting to extend Bloomberg’s term to a third term, which turned out to be pretty disastrous. (Few recalled that most people in that city council vote backed the extension; the 2008 financial crisis hit the city hard, and Bloomberg was seen as uniquely equipped to deal with it.) Then de Blasio’s campaign brought out a television Advertisement featuring a handsome 15 year old black American who praised de Blasio and then casually said he would say all of this « even if he wasn’t my father ». It was a bomb. Racial relations deteriorated as a result of the enormously excessive use of stop-and-frisk police by Bloomberg. Until this ad, few knew that de Blasio was married to a black woman and had multiracial children. Maybe he could solve the crisis. He beat Quinn and seven other candidates with double-digit margins.

There is one last special feature of this year’s primaries that may make the current polls less informative than usual. For the first time in New York City, there will be orderly elections – not just for the mayoral election, but also for others (controller, councilors, even judges). Voters can choose up to five candidates and rank them according to their preference. If a candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, he or she is the winner. If no one wins a majority, there will be a second count in which the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated and those who listed that candidate as their first choice will redistribute their votes to their second choice. If there is still no majority winner, the bottom election is eliminated, another round begins and continues until someone hits 50 percent.

Robert Dahl, the Yale political scientist, who ran a ranked vote in the 1970s suggested, saw in it a way to reflect the true preferences of voters in ways that ballot papers couldn’t and to increase the chances of marginal candidates. But letting voters put up their top 5 candidates seems like a bit much. (Dahl envisioned a second-round race between the top two or three.) Since most voters know very little about a candidate or two, it might be a coincidence rather than a preference for them to vote for more. None of the main candidates are out at this point because they know the ranking will give them all a chance. Even if they don’t come out on top in the first round, they could win the primary because they win more votes as the second or even third favorite candidate than anyone else wins as the number one favorite.

It’s with others In words, it is possible that a minority of voters will be satisfied with the outcome of this election – and remember, that would be a small minority of a minority of the voting age population.

New York City is facing the most serious problems for decades: growing social needs, a falling tax base, an emigration of residents, and now an increase in crime. Its political system does not seem to be able to attract candidates who are qualified to solve them – or voters strong enough to hold them accountable.

To learn more about why Former cop Eric Adams leads the Democrats, check out this episode of What Next.

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