IIt’s hard to pick a favorite moment in New York City’s mayoral race, entering its final leg of the primaries this week. This could be the episode in which two contestants – Shaun Donovan and Ray McGuire – were asked to guess the average house price in Brooklyn and answered $ 100,000, which would have been correct in 1985. (For those operating in 2021, the correct answer is $ 900,000).
It could have been the campaign implosion of Dianne Morales, by far the most progressive candidate, predictably destroyed from within when staff members complained that she had created a ‘hostile’ environment and that work, presumably the jam of envelopes, has been “repetitive and unstructuredâ. In the meantime, it is hard not to like the scenario that is still playing out around Eric Adams, president of the borough of Brooklyn and current favorite of the primary and therefore of the election: that he lives secretly in the New Jersey.
The mayoral race in America’s largest city has always been a bizarre combination of national and parochial politics, a magnet for cranks and con artists, as well as Bloomberg-style billionaires. Four of New York’s last six mayors have been Democrats – Republican voters outnumber one in the city – and the lion’s share of media coverage goes to the Democratic field; this year, even the right-wing New York Post didn’t bother to support a Republican primary candidate.
Yet even among Democrats, it can be difficult to get New Yorkers to pay attention to the race long before the final election. A few months ago, the only recognized candidate and the first favorite was Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate and CEO of an assortment of failing startups, running on the “visionary” ticket, and about which it remains a mystery that he ever sought to be elected for anything.
Yang’s advance took a hit during the pandemic, when it turned out he had left town for his second home in the upstate. For a hot second Scott Stringer, the 61-year-old New York comptroller and most seasoned politician in the field, slipped into first place, until two charges of sexual misconduct resurfaced (he denies them) and that was the end of him.
And so we come to the portion of the campaign represented by Eric Adams’ fridge. New Yorkers will tolerate, even celebrate, a certain dose of eccentricity in their mayor; look at the lingering affection for Ed Koch, the Democratic mayor of the late ’70s and’ 80s whose theater endeared him even as the city slipped into bankruptcy. Anthony Weiner, the disgraced candidate in the 2013 race, got a second chance after his sexting shenanigans largely based on the strength of his personality.
Adams, 60 and a police officer before entering politics, is not a showman in this style. The fact that the biggest scandal of his candidacy was so entertaining, however, probably helped his campaign more than it hampered him. Two weeks ago, in a move befitting Matt Hancock, Adams invited the press to his apartment in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, in an effort to silence rumors that he lived in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Reporters scanned the scene, noting, despite Adams’ dietary preferences, the number of non-vegan items in his fridge (salmon, dairy) and the presence of sneakers that seemed to belong to Adams’ adult son Jordan. If his judgment is wrong – the main takeaway from the episode was the folly of inviting a reporter over to your house – Adams came out looking relatively chaotic.
There has never been a female mayor of New York. By far the most sane candidate, backed by the New York Times and running just behind Adams in the polls, is Catherine garcia, the former head of the city’s sanitation service and popular left and right of the party. She has not been involved in any scandals other than her brilliantly amateur campaign video in which, after saying a few lines in a monotonous tone Ã la Ingmar Bergman, she smashed a sheet of glass stamped In Case of Emergency Break Glass and walked away in a leather jacket straight out of a Heart video from the 80s.
Garcia’s weakness is that which often lies in wait for competent women overwhelmed in politics by flamboyant and incompetent men: his public personality is not “funny”. It is serious and impressive. In a way, someone who knows New York’s sewers – and the 10,000 public service workers who maintain them – would seem to know the city on an unprecedented level. And yet a quick glance at Bill de Blasio, the current mayor and man whom the city unites in contempt, reminds us that seriousness and awe don’t always win the day. By Blasio arose last week to illustrate how ranked choice voting works, holding up an array of her favorite pizza toppings. (Number one: green peppers. Man is a disaster.)