Into every New York City mayoral race, at least one bombshell must fall.
And with just 55 days remaining until primary day, a massive one landed on Wednesday when Jean Kim, a lobbyist who worked for Scott Stringer in an unpaid capacity in 2001 when he was running for public advocate, accused him of sexual harassment and assault.
According to Kim, Stringer, the city comptroller and top-tier candidate for mayor, kissed her without consent, put his hands down her pants, asked her repeatedly “Why won’t you fuck me?”, warned her not to tell anyone, and promised that he could make her a district leader — an unpaid political post within the local Democratic Party — if she would “prove yourself to me.”
At a hastily arranged news conference in lower Manhattan, Stringer, standing alongside his wife, Elyse Buxbaum, denied that such incidents had occurred. Buxbaum described herself as a sexual-assault survivor and said, “Even if a fraction of what Scott is accused of is true, I would not stand by him.” Stringer said that he had a consensual “on-and-off” relationship with Kim while he carried on another relationship, that she was a volunteer, not an intern, and that she tried to get a job with his 2013 comptroller campaign and was denied one.
“This isn’t me,” Stringer said at the press conference. “I didn’t do this. I am going to fight for the truth — because these allegations are false. The behavior described is inaccurate and completely antithetical to the way I have conducted my entire life.”
The allegations come as Stringer has been on a winning streak in a campaign that has been defined so far by the sudden rise of Andrew Yang. Over the last several weeks, Stringer has grabbed the endorsements of both the Working Families Party and the United Federation of Teachers, and on Tuesday his campaign released its first ad of the season, making Stringer the first among top-tier candidates to go on the air. Stringer’s path to City Hall had always depended on him consolidating the progressive vote in the field, and he seemed close to doing so.
But as Kim spoke near Stringer’s comptroller office, mayoral rival Kathryn Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner, called on Stringer to drop out of the race, as did former Obama administration Cabinet official Shaun Donovan, who added that Stringer should immediately resign from the office of comptroller.
Political observers, and even Stringer’s rivals, were uncertain of how exactly the news would play out, although nearly all were in agreement that it hurt Stringer at a critical time, just as private polls showed him gaining on his two chief rivals, Yang and Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams.
Stringer’s campaign has been counting, in part, on his support from a number of left-wing, mostly female lawmakers who ran against the political Establishment in 2018 and won.
“His greatest asset is that he has these progressive endorsements from people who have supporters who will mirror their voting preferences,” said Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a political strategist. “In a race where turnout will likely be low, having this base of supporters is good, but it hinges on what their response is.”
After Kim’s allegations were made public, one of them, State Senator Jessica Ramos — whom Stringer endorsed in 2018 against a sitting incumbent, and who endorsed Stringer for mayor in 2019, before he was even a declared candidate — announced that she was rescinding her support of him. “We need a leader who can rise to meet the moment and will not be distracted by scandals as our city continues to make its way toward recovery,” Ramos said.
Three more women, State Senators Alessandra Biaggi and Julia Salazar, and Assemblymember Yuh-line Niou, issued a carefully worded joint statement in which they said they had a “zero tolerance standard regarding sexual assault” especially for “our friends” and pledged to “demand accountability accordingly.”
Stringer’s allies, while echoing the comptroller’s comments — that “all women have the right, and should be encouraged, to come forward, and they must be heard” — were wary of a dirty trick coming from one of his rivals as the two-decade-old allegations surfaced just weeks before voters head to the polls. Kim, they pointed out, continued to donate to Stringer’s campaigns in the years after the alleged assault, and in 2013, after getting rebuffed for a job at the Stringer campaign, went to work for a rival in the race for comptroller, former governor Eliot Spitzer.
Should further parts of Stringer’s coalition start to fall away, however, the news on Wednesday could shake up a race that has been remarkably stable. Polls today are essentially unchanged from last November, with Yang out front, followed by Adams, Stringer, and civil-rights attorney Maya Wiley.
Wiley has been competing for Stringer with progressive voters, and as an African American woman, has always been more likely to build a multiracial coalition than Stringer could. Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, has been running as the most left-wing candidate in the field, and many activists have said they were holding their noses to vote for Stringer over her, as she has lacked resources.
There was a sense among the candidates and their campaigns on Wednesday that a real New York City mayor’s race, with all of its meteoric rises and catastrophic falls, had at last arrived, and that the remaining eight weeks would be filled with uncertainty — and probably more surprises.
Stringer has struggled to get news coverage for most of this race, but now he is at last in the spotlight’s glare. His campaign is pledging to go full-bore out of this moment, with a full slate of campaign events, hoping that the dynamic which shifted so suddenly against him yesterday will soon shift again.