(Bloomberg) — Eric Adams was pronounced the winner of New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary Tuesday, holding off a crowded field of challengers with a campaign focused on reducing crime and restoring the quality of life in a city that was pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Associated Press called the race for Adams, who won 50.5% of the vote, edging out former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia , who received 49.5% after eight rounds of voting. It was a difference of 8,426 votes.
The election of Adams, 60, the Brooklyn borough president, puts the world’s most important finance capital under the governance of a former New York City Police Department captain who appealed to working-class voters with promises of tax increases on the rich.
Adams, who served in the NYPD for 22 years, helped turn the race into a referendum on public safety just one year after nationwide Black Lives Matter protests spurred calls by more progressive Democrats to defund the police. His win shows the strength of a diverse coalition he built that included unions, conservative voters and Black and Latino leaders.
“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 City,” Adams said in a statement on Tuesday. “Now we must focus on winning in November so that we can deliver on the promise of this great city for those who are struggling, who are underserved, and who are committed to a safe, fair, affordable future for all New Yorkers.”
The June 22 primary marked the first time the city has used a ranked-choice voting system for a race of this size, allowing voters to select up to five candidates in order of preference. But the process did not go smoothly, as an error by the city’s Board of Elections partway through the tally threw ballot counting into disarray and led to pre-emptive lawsuits by many of the candidates.
Given that Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7-to-1 in New York City, the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to win the general election in November against Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa. A general election victory would make Adams the city’s second Black mayor, after David Dinkins held the post in the early 1990s.
The next mayor of New York will have to lead the city out of an economic crisis that stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic. Although 52% of residents are fully vaccinated, only a fifth of office workers have returned. Tourism is depressed and many small businesses remain closed. The city’s unemployment rate stood at 10.9% in May, compared with 5.8% nationally.
Adams made policing and crime the centerpiece of his campaign and the race. He also came out against progressives’ calls to cut spending on police departments that arose last summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Shootings in New York were up 73% in May from a year ago. Hate crimes were up 93% year to date through May 30, though overall crime remains lower than in previous decades. Early to pounce on residents’ concerns over crime, Adams often spoke of his opponent’s public safety plans in apocalyptic terms.
“Black and brown babies are being shot in our streets, hate crimes are terrorizing Asian and Jewish communities and innocent New Yorkers are being stabbed and shot on their way to work,” Adams said after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed rial Maya Wiley, who supported cutting the NYPD’s budget. “They are putting slogans and politics in front of public safety and would endanger the lives of New Yorkers.”
During his campaign, Adams pledged support for a modified version of stop-and-frisk — which has disproportionately affected Black men — and said he would restore a plainclothes police unit tasked with confiscating illegal weapons that was disbanded after complaints it used excessive force. Police reform, he said, would come through his leadership of the department and better training rather than taking away money from the police force.
The public safety-focused messaging appeared to resonate with voters in the majority Black and Latino districts that pushed Adams to victory. He built up sizable majorities in assembly districts that included neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn. Adams also carried districts in the outer areas of Queens, much of Central and Eastern Brooklyn, Northern Manhattan, the Bronx and parts of Staten Island.
His campaign leaned on the support of labor organizations like District Council 37, which has 150,000 members, making it the city’s largest public employee union, and 32BJ — the local building-services affiliate of the Service Employees International Union — which mobilized 6,500 volunteers on behalf of the borough president.
Adams was knocked back in the last weeks of the campaign after a Politico story raised questions about whether he actually lived in the Brooklyn brownstone listed on campaign paperwork. Adams took reporters on a tour of his home and showed his electronic toll records in an effort to prove he didn’t actually live in New Jersey. Adams also drew scrutiny over multiple ethics investigations, his ties to the real estate industry, and for accepting donations from developers.
Early polls saw him trailing only tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who capitalized on the name recognition from his failed 2020 Democratic presidential bid. Yang conceded on election night after the first-choice balloting was tabulated.
Partway through the weeks-long count, New York City election officials erroneously tabulated 135,000 test ballots, skewing the results and creating confusion. Once the error was corrected, and ahead of the absentee count, Adams’s lead narrowed to just over 14,000 votes after nine rounds of ranked-choice voting.
Those results spoke to the benefits Garcia reaped from the ranked-choice system and from her decision to form an alliance with Yang in the final days of the campaign. In joint appearances, Yang encouraged his supporters to rank Garcia as their second choice.
Voters like Christopher Ashley, a 38-year-old Queens resident, were indicative of the strong feelings Adams’s campaign elicited. Ashley ranked Wiley, former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, first and Garcia second. He did not rank Adams, and called the borough president’s rhetoric “deliberately divisive.”
From Arrest to Public Service
Despite the closeness of the race, Adams used the days immediately after the election to position himself as the mayor-in-waiting and cast his win as a the first sign of change in the national Democratic Party. As votes were counted he suggested an early transition and said he’d be meeting with his candidates for police commissioner in July. He’s pledged to appoint a woman to run the police force.
Adams’s rise is the culmination of a decades-long career in public service. Adams joined the New York City Police Department after he was arrested and beaten by officers when he was 15.
During more than two decades in the NYPD, he helped co-found a reform group called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. After leaving the force in 2006, Adams was elected to the state Senate, holding on to his seat for seven years until he became the first Black Brooklyn borough president in 2013.
That public service experience is what made Adams appealing to union members, said Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ, the building service workers’ union, which endorsed the borough president in March.
“Our members wanted someone who represented their experience in the halls of power, who will be a champion for working people,” Bragg said. “Eric understands the lives and the livelihoods of our members because he has lived them.”