On the final day before New York’s mayoral election, Kathryn Garcia wasn’t just campaigning for herself — she was engaging in civic education. She insisted to reporters accompanying her as she walked up and down Ninth Avenue in Sunset Park that she was “promoting ranked-choice voting” in her Election Eve visit to the Chinese American enclave in western Brooklyn.
This didn’t of course stop her from telling voters to rank her No. 1 on the ballot in the election on Tuesday as she greeted passersby and walked in and out of businesses on the commercial strip, but Garcia wasn’t just promoting herself. In addition to the leaflet for her own campaign, she passed out another featuring pictures of both herself and rival Andrew Yang — one side in English, the other in Chinese.
In the final stretch of the campaign, the two formed an impromptu alliance as New Yorkers prepared to vote in the city’s first ranked-choice election. Yang, who had effusively praised Garcia the entire campaign, urged fellow New Yorkers to rank the former Sanitation commissioner second on their ballots. Garcia has not returned the favor, simply saying she will rank the maximum of five candidates.
A clear sign of how she approached the pact was in evidence on the trail Monday. The brochures handed out in Sunset Park were pointedly no longer in evidence at a campaign stop in Union Square. It seemed that Garcia had also neglected to hand them out the few non–Asian American–owned businesses in Sunset Park, including one called Dominick’s Pizza. Polling has consistently shown Yang winning voters identifying as Asian American by significant margins. Afterward, Garcia insisted that there was no master plan with the literature she distributed. “Sometimes I can’t move fast enough,” she said. “There’s no real strategy there.”
Although somewhat one-sided, the alliance has been mutually beneficial. Lis Smith, an adviser for a pro-Yang super-PAC, thought it gave a “jolt” to both campaigns. Yang and Garcia have contrasting styles and backgrounds — something that prompted Yang in the early spring days when he was the front-runner to suggest that Garcia might serve as his deputy in City Hall. She bristled at the remark, telling The New Yorker: “I would like Andrew Yang to stop saying that. I’m not running for No. 2. It’s totally sexist. Totally sexist.”
While Yang has the touch of celebrity and unapologetic civic boosterism that New Yorkers have long valued in their mayor, he lacks management and government experience. In contrast, Garcia, a pack-a-day smoker who was widely lauded for running the city’s initial pandemic response, seems better suited to a grinding negotiation with a union boss than a tourism video.
In the waning days of the race, the electoral pact set off a war of words between the two allies and front-runner Eric Adams, who baselessly compared their arrangement to voter suppression and suggested it was particularly problematic that it was unveiled on Juneteenth. “While we were celebrating liberation and freedom from enslavement, they sent a message, and I thought it was the wrong message to send,” he said on Sunday. Outgoing mayor de Blasio, who criticized the alliance as “opportunistic” on Monday, reinforced this. When asked if she thought de Blasio’s criticism was an attempt to support Adams, Garcia brusquely said, “I have no comment on that.”
It also has had the effect of diminishing the attention on Maya Wiley, the former de Blasio aide who has become the progressive standard-bearer in recent days. While her campaign has touted her “Mayamentum,” it has been hard for her to break through the war of words between her three-top rivals.
But while the back and forth over ranked-choice voting was dominating the headlines, Garcia in Sunset Park was simply trying to make clear her place in the pecking order. As she waited for her shredded pork bánh mì sandwich to be prepared at a Vietnamese restaurant, she approached Kimmy Nguyen, an undecided voter. When Nguyen suggested she was third in the polls, Garcia disagreed: “I’m No. 2 now.” And, in this election, being No. 2 may be just enough to win.