On June 22, 1665, Thomas Willett was named the first mayor of New York. Like all good mayors, he was something of a coalitional candidate, one of the few men of rank acceptable to both the Dutch residents and the English invaders. One imagines that questions about authenticity and what it means to be a “real New Yorker” didn’t much exist then (since New York didn’t really either), but Willett had a good pedigree (he came over on the Mayflower) and, as all New York City mayors must do, kept up a good relationship with the governor, who in this case appointed him. Willett is a name lost to time now. The few mayors of New York who remain in our collective memory do so because they came to symbolize an era — the decadence of Jimmy Walker in the 1920s, the scrappiness of Depression-era Fiorello La Guardia, the benign neglect of the John Lindsay years, the punitive harshness of Giuliani Time, and the booming Bloomberg years.
On June 22, New Yorkers will vote in the primary that is all but certain to determine the next mayor, one who will immediately personify — and, to a large extent, shape — the city’s next era. For the first time, they will vote for not just one candidate but five, listed in order of preference. Ranked-choice voting was a longtime priority of good-government types who thought it would enable more candidates to enter the race, force them to campaign all over the city, and provide for a more congenial contest, since candidates would aim to be the second or third choice of their rival’s supporters.
On the first couple of counts, the reformers had it mostly right: 13 Democrats and two Republicans will appear on the ballot, only two of whom have ever held elective office before. As masks came off in May, the candidates have been everywhere, stumping at subway stations, shaking hands at farmers’ markets, and popping into small businesses and community meetings. But the comity never arrived. The candidates have called each other liars, shills for real estate and finance, ward heelers, and arrivistes.
Ranked choice is supposed to boost fringier candidates like Paperboy Love Prince, a rapper and performance artist who has challenged rivals to basketball games and pie-throwing contests. On the new ballot, a New Yorker could rank Prince first and not fear “wasting” their vote, since voting will continue for several rounds.
And so ranked choice has introduced even more uncertainty into what was already a fluid race. Voters appear to be tiring of Andrew Yang, who for much of this year appeared to be coasting to unlikely victory, only to now find himself in essentially a tie with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia. Adams, an unapologetic former police officer, has consolidated the city’s Establishment behind him but has scarcely moved up in polls; Garcia was buoyed by the endorsement of the New York Times and the Daily News but lacks the resources of others in the field. The city’s liberal activist class, meanwhile, has watched as its candidates imploded — first Scott Stringer under the weight of sexual-misconduct allegations, then Dianne Morales under the accusation that she wasn’t as progressive as her charges demanded and faced picketing outside her own campaign office. Maya Wiley, a civil-rights lawyer and MSNBC commentator, has made a play for this bloc but so far hasn’t been able to assume a dominant position.
According to the rules of ranked choice, anyone who receives over 50 percent of first-place votes wins. Given the current landscape, it is exceedingly unlikely anyone will, and so the candidates with the least amount of votes are eliminated, and the second choice on those ballots will be distributed upward until someone is declared the winner. So being second, or third, or fourth on the ballot of someone who chose a now-eliminated candidate first is functionally equivalent of being chosen first by a voter. If you are baffled by this arrangement, you aren’t alone: Most of the campaigns can’t predict how it will shake out, and experts doubt that most voters will even bother filling out all the slots on their ballot. That said, every New Yorker registered with a political party has multiple votes. Have you ranked yours?
Eric Adams, 60, Democrat
Brooklyn borough president (elected in 2013), state senator (2006–13), and 22-year NYPD veteran.
On the economic recovery: Provide around $3,000 a year in tax credits to poor New Yorkers and free child care for children 3 and under.
On policing: Bring back anti-crime unit as an “anti-gun” unit. “No one is going to open a business in this city when you have a tourist shot at Grand Central station.”
What the press has missed: “How much of a sweetheart I am. I’m a little teddy bear.”
Say one nice thing about Mayor de Blasio: “He’s tall.”
Art Chang, 58, Democrat
Tech entrepreneur, NYC Campaign Finance Board member (2009–18), and self-described “Cool. Smart. Dad.”
What the press has missed: “Well, No. 1, I would have liked to have seen some press. But the second thing is that they focus on my most recent experience, working at JPMorgan as a managing director, which represents two years out of a life of 30 years of working in the public sector.”
On the economic recovery: Roll out free child-care centers and end the eviction crisis. “It costs a city much more money if people end up homeless.”
Shaun Donovan, 55, Democrat
HUD secretary under President Obama (2009–14), U.S. Office of Management and Budget director (2014–17).
On education: Get cops out of schools and address racial disparities in screens.
On the economic recovery: Provide $1,000 “equity bonds” to children, create 500,000 new jobs, and increase affordable-housing stock.
Favorite New York movie: Serpico. “Love Al Pacino and the 1970s.”
Mets or Yankees: Yankees. “At the ’77 World Series, I saw Reggie Jackson hit three home runs from the upper deck, and I’ve been a fan ever since.”
Aaron Foldenauer, 45, Democrat
Favorite New Yorker: Mayor La Guardia. “One of the great mayors of the city. He brought the city back from a lot of problems.”
On policing: Cut 10 percent of every city agency’s budget, including the NYPD’s. “That would result in approximately a $600 million cut to the police.”
On education: Raise the cap on charter schools and extend the school year.
Why should we trust him: “One of my practices of law is to help victims of employment discrimination, women and minorities who’ve been unlawfully terminated.”
Kathryn Garcia, 51, Democrat
Sanitation commissioner and emergency-response food czar under Mayor de Blasio. Oversaw the city’s water-and-sewer system under Mayor Bloomberg.
Endorsed by: the New York Times, the New York Daily News.
On education: Increase the cap on charter schools. “We should have gifted and talented but not a test for 4-year-olds.”
On the economic recovery: Issue zero-interest microloans to small businesses and provide free child care to families making less than $70,000 a year.
Favorite New Yorker: Eleanor Roosevelt.
Fernando Mateo, 63, Republican
Restaurant owner, founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, and advocate for the United Bodegas of America.
Endorsed by: the Manhattan, Bronx, and Queens GOP.
On policing: Hire 20,000 more officers. “We need more cops on our streets, especially now, coming out of years of Bill de Blasio.”
On education: Make sure every 14-to-18-year-old has an after-school job by giving payroll taxes to the businesses that employ them. “Most kids don’t see anything outside of their community. That’s why they have no direction.”
Ray McGuire, 64, Democrat
Citigroup executive, chairman of Harlem’s Studio Museum.
Endorsed by: Rep. Gregory Meeks, activist Gwen Carr, Spike Lee.
On the economic recovery: Bring back 50,000 jobs at small businesses by subsidizing 50 percent of a worker’s salary for one year and waiving city permit fees for one year. “Plus, a million and a half New Yorkers don’t have broadband, so we need to expand access.”
Favorite New York movie: “I can give you a play. I’d say Fences on Broadway would be the play, but the favorite New York movie, I got to think about that one.”
Dianne Morales, 53, Democrat
Executive director and CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, the social-services arm of developer Phipps Houses.
On policing: Defund. “Public safety is not policing.”
On education: Desegregate schools by eliminating screens.
On the economic recovery: Create a “solidarity economy” that cuts tax breaks to big-box stores and expands small-business-recovery funding.
What makes her a New Yorker: “I’m a first-generation Puerto Rican, born and raised here. I raised my children here as a single mom.”
Favorite New York movie: Do the Right Thing.
Paperboy Love Prince, 28, Democrat
Rapper, community activist, and gallery owner.
Endorsed by: Azealia Banks, the Red Hook Star-Revue.
On policing: Abolish. “There is no reforming the NYPD. We tried it once. We tried it twice.”
On the economic recovery: Cancel rent and provide direct cash assistance. Plus: “Create a cryptocurrency system where the money can only be spent at local businesses to help curtail sales going straight to Amazon.”
Top priority as mayor: “To spread love.”
Prospect Park or Central Park: “Prospect Park for a date, Central Park for a party.”
Curtis Sliwa, 67, Republican
Founder of the Guardian Angels, radio host.
Endorsed by: Staten Island, Brooklyn GOP.
What makes him a New Yorker: “I’ve been shot. I’ve been stabbed. I finished third in the hot-dog-eating contest at Nathan’s Famous. I was Mr. King Neptune at the annual Mermaid Parade. I was the commissioner of stickball. Is there anything more New York than that?”
On policing: “Without a doubt, my No. 1 priority is law and order. Refund the police. Hire more police.”
Why should we trust him: “You should not trust me. You should not trust any politician.”
Scott Stringer, 61, Democrat
New York City comptroller, former New York State assemblymember, Manhattan borough president.
On policing: Increase CCRB disciplinary power and stop treating the police as a mental-health force. “Forty percent of calls to 911 are not for crimes; they’re mental-health episodic issues, wellness issues, quality-of-life issues.”
On the economic recovery: Distribute $1 billion of stimulus money to small businesses and “transition our young people to the green economy.”
Why should we trust him: “I’ve been in every battle over the last 30 years.”
Joycelyn Taylor, 55, Democrat
Top priority as mayor: Housing. “We’ve built more and more housing, and we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in homelessness. And that’s just not something that should be acceptable. My plan is to take money from capital projects and actually build permanent housing for homeless individuals.”
On policing: “You know who’s not out committing a crime? Someone who has a job that they need to go to tomorrow morning.”
If she could move Gracie Mansion from East End Avenue, she’d move it: “To Brooklyn, of course. I’m from East New York.”
Maya Wiley, 57, Democrat
Lawyer, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, and CCRB chair.
On policing: Demilitarize and downsize. “We have a police department that Mayor Bloomberg bragged would be seventh in the world if it were an army.”
On education: Eliminate the gifted-and-talented program. “It’s discriminatory.” Decrease class size and diversify curricula.
On the economic recovery: “I’ve got a plan to spend $30 million in grants to help our businesses pay off back debt.”
Go-to take out order? Cornmeal fried catfish from Peaches.
Favorite New Yorker: Shirley Chisholm.
Isaac Wright Jr., 59, Democrat
Lawyer, legal-reform advocate, and inspired the ABC legal drama For Life.
Why should we trust him: “I was in prison for life, and I set my own fight aside to get 20 others out before I picked up the torch and began to fight for myself. I have a history of sacrificing for the good of others, and I intend to do the same thing for New York City.”
On policing: Retrain officers to focus on de-escalation, empower the CCRB, and reduce police presence in schools.
Say one nice thing about Mayor de Blasio: “He’s the mayor of New York City.”
Andrew Yang, 46, Democrat
Lawyer, Venture for America founder, and 2020 presidential candidate.
Top priority as mayor: “We are down about 600,000 jobs. We need to get commuters back, tourists back, our schools open.”
On the economic recovery: Direct payment of $2,000 per year to the city’s lowest-income residents.
On policing: Require new officers to reside in the city and appoint a civilian police commissioner.
Hidden talent: “The ability to do mediocre impressions. During the presidential, it was other presidential candidates; now, it’s other mayoral candidates.”
Portfolio by Bruce Gilden for New York Magazine