Progressives Make Their Mark in Mayoral Election

Mayoral Candidate Maya Wiley (D-NY) greeting rallygoers at the Barclays Center following the Derek Chauvin verdict.

Article by Rachel Dalloo and Jahlil Rush | June 3, 2021

Photos by Jahlil Rush 

As New York City continues its slow path to recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, residents are also preparing for the upcoming primaries for the mayoral race, which will be held later this month.

After a year during which New York City was rocked by a pandemic that exposed deep inequalities and protests of unprecedented scale over racial injustices in policing, many activists and younger voters had pinned their hopes on seeing one of the more progressive candidates, like Dianne Morales, Maya Wiley or Scott Stringer, emerge as a real contender for mayor. But according to most polls, including one that was conducted by PIX11 News & Emerson College late last month, the more moderate candidates have been leading in the race so far, and both Stringer’s campaign and Morales’s campaign have been plagued by controversy.

According to the poll, former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia is on top with 21 percent of respondents, with current Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at 20 percent and former Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang at 16 percent.

“They are left-leaning enough that they pull moderate Democrats but conservative enough that they can garner some Republican voters,” said Ariana Baldwin, a 20-year-old political activist.

This election coincides with the introduction of a new voting system in New York. The ranked-choice system allows voters to choose up to five candidates for the nomination. This will be the first time that NYC will be using ranked-voting for a mayoral primary election.

Of the more progressive candidates, Stringer came in at 10 percent in the poll, and Wiley at 9 percent. Morales was last, polling at 7 percent. Recently, Morales came under fire for complaints of a toxic workplace. Morales’ campaign’s Senior Queens Borough Organizer, Farudh Emeil, has called for the suspension of her campaign.

Baldwin was unenthused to hear of Garcia, who scored the coveted New York Times endorsement, taking the lead in the polls. The Times stated in their endorsement that Garcia “comprehends what New York City needs” in its quest to restore its quality of life, following the aftermath of the pandemic.

“I would say that Garcia would merely be maintaining the status quo of the current state of the city,” Baldwin said. “She would not be bringing anything new to the table and is not in line with the views of the new generation of voters.”

In a time of mass uncertainty, many voters have been trying to scope out a contender who aims to make New York better than it was prior to the coronavirus pandemic. And in such a crowded field, some voters have found it hard to know where to begin to decide.

To encourage more residents in NYC to vote, Gav Meiri, a history and secondary education major at Queens College, created a public resource to help people stay informed. For Meiri, finding the right candidate who can deliver on the positive changes that they have promised during their campaign trail, is vital for bringing progress to the city.

According to Meiri, the one candidate that has best aligned with his beliefs as a voter is Dianne Morales. He has also worked as a volunteer for her campaign.

“Ms. Morales has demonstrated, in my observation, an understanding of the systemic failings that existed prior to COVID-19,” Meiri said. “She incorporates her own intersectional identity into fleshed out policy proposals that would uplift people of color, women, and the working class. She has experience as a leader, having led several non-profits which directly serve those groups I have already mentioned.”

Mayoral Candidate Dianne Morales (D-NY) at a Barclays Center event after the verdict of Derek Chauvin.

Despite her low polling numbers, Morales has managed to foster enthusiasm among younger voters with her vision of tackling systematic barriers regarding both socially and economically. It remains to be seen if that fervor will remain after in the wake of the recent turmoil in her campaign.

“I believe that the things that I want to do are actually going to benefit all New Yorkers because we’re going to focus on those that are most marginalized and most vulnerable and I believe that way when our most vulnerable do better, we all benefit and we all do better progressing by that,” Morales said during an event at the Barclays Center in April.

Jada Shannon, a 19-year-old student at Hunter College, keeps up to date with the mayoral race on a daily basis. In an effort to inform the public, she has created a spreadsheet that showcases where the candidates stand on high-profile issues for those who are not able to follow the race as closely as others.

Public safety is a highly important issue for Shannon. This is one of the many reasons she chose to support Morales’ bid for mayor. For Shannon, Morales is the only candidate that has a clear comprehension of the history and the social impact behind law enforcement.

“She is the only one advocating for defunding the police and has proposed creating a community first responders department to handle mental health crises, homelessness and substance abuse – which police are not trained to resolve.” Shannon said.

Many young voters are skeptical about the direction the city’s leadership could be heading.

Dani Heba, a journalism major at Baruch College, politically identifies himself as an Independent, but philosophically, he calls himself a “left-leaning Libertarian.”

Heba cannot vote in the primaries because he is not registered to a specific political party. Heba is waiting for Election day, where he hopes to check off either Andrew Yang, Eric Adams, or Ray McGuire on his ballot.

“All emphasize public safety while rebuilding our city,” Heba said. “They all respect the social values I care about, while at the same time understanding that far left economic policies won’t revive our city and that promoting business and economic recovery is how we come back from the pandemic devastation.”

During his campaign, Andrew Yang has presented potentially revolutionary ideas, one of them being, A Basic Income for New York City.” This would provide a basic income for New Yorkers who find themselves living in extreme poverty. Eligible residents who qualify would be given $2,000 per year.

As for current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is serving his last year as mayor, Heba is happy to see him on his way out.

“Crime is a big stain on de Blasio’s tenure as mayor because it shows a city out of control, without proper leadership to handle it. Crime rates had been consistently decreasing, under the governments of both Giuliani and Bloomberg, until several years ago, where the trend reversed. During the pandemic, it increased even more, especially in the past few months. It demonstrates a lack of authority under the mayor’s government, with no effort to incentivize a change in such behavior,” Heba said.

The NYPD standing outside the Barclays Center.

A statistics report that was released in April, by the New York Police Department (NYPD), showed that crime rates in the city rose to 30.4 percent during that month, as opposed to the rates that were recorded in the previous year.

This election cycle not only coincides with a serious public health crisis, it also coincides with the boiling over of several social justice issues. Though the candidates each present different approaches to tackling issues, many of them have demonstrated that public safety is a top priority for their administrations.

Some of the candidates have pledged to defund the New York City Police Department by billions of dollars. Morales wants to cut the budget by $3 billion, while Maya Wiley is vowing to cut the budget by $1 billion within her first year if elected to office as mayor.

Scott Stringer received the top endorsement from the PSC-CUNY union. Throughout his campaign, Stringer has proposed a plan on his website that includes free tuition at CUNY community colleges.

“New York mayors have aimed too low on CUNY. If there is to be an economic recovery that does more than reinscribe systemic racism and inequality, a transformed and transformative CUNY must be at its center,” the union said in a statement.

But Stringer has also lost endorsements over allegations of sexual assault and harassment, which he has denied. U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), who had originally endorsed Stringer, back in October rescinded his endorsement, following the publicly known sexual assault accusations, that were made against the candidate. In March, Espaillat moved on, flipping his endorsement over to Eric Adams.

With less than three weeks remaining before the June 22 primary, many eyes are on the surging Garcia. The debate on Wednesday night featured heated exchanges among the eight candidates about education, economic recovery, and the NYPD.

With the June primaries quickly approaching, New Yorkers are keeping their eyes open and will be looking for a leader who is prepared to lead the city through its recovery.