“This is going to be about not only the ones, but also about the two and threes,” Kathryn Garcia said in her flat Brooklynese when she took the stage at 99 Scott, the hip Bushwick event space her sister runs. She was referring to the city’s new ranked-choice-voting law, which allows voters to pick not one candidate but five, placed in order of preference. “We are not going to know a hell of a lot more tonight than we know now.”
A scene from Braveheart it wasn’t, but given the state of the 2021 mayoral race less than 24 hours after polls closed, it was also exactly the right message.
As of now, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams leads with 32 percent of the vote, ahead of civil-rights attorney Maya Wiley, who has 22 percent, and Garcia, who has 19 percent. Roughly 100,000 absentee votes have yet to be counted, which will be more than 10 percent of the total votes cast.
But this election is very much Adams’s race to lose. Wiley’s support came largely from gentrifying areas of Queens and Brooklyn, her best precincts running in nearly a straight line down the waterfront from Astoria to Red Hook, but she also did well in northern Manhattan, places where Adams also ran strong. Many voters in those areas who picked Wiley as their No. 1 choice very likely chose Adams as their No. 2.
The Garcia vote is more distinct. She dominated in Manhattan below 96th Street and picked up support in conservative white ethnic areas in outer Queens and outer Brooklyn and on parts of Staten Island. Her alliance with Andrew Yang over the last several days of the race, in which they campaigned across the city and passed out literature with both of them on it, will surely help her. Yang got just under 12 percent of the vote. With his fervent base of support following his cues, she is expected to pick up more than two-thirds of his vote, which would close the gap with Adams significantly.
A ten-point margin is a very difficult one for either Wiley or Garcia to close, but their supporters remained hopeful that Adams’s actions over the final days of the race — in which he blasted ranked-choice voting, accused his rivals of racism for ganging up against him, and said that announcing an early result would cast a pall of suspicion around the vote count — would lead many voters to leave him off their ballots altogether.
At this point, game theory suggests that Wiley has the best odds — still very slim — of catching Adams. The logic for that is as follows:
The race will eventually come down two candidates, almost certainly Adams and either Wiley or Garcia. If Garcia edges above Wiley and Wiley drops out of contention, Wiley’s share of the vote will likely be split between Garcia and Adams — meaning Adams’s current lead would probably hold. If Wiley maintains her current lead over Garcia, Garcia will be forced to drop out, and Garcia’s vote is expected to tilt more heavily toward Wiley, giving her a stronger chance to catch Adams.
Regardless of who wins, the result revealed a city cleaved into four distinct parts. There are Asian voters who make up roughly 10 percent of the electorate. With defined and idiosyncratic politics — and now large enough numbers to emerge as a major force in city politics — this group supported Yang. A large swath of voters of color in central Brooklyn, southeast Queens, and the Bronx, who make up roughly a third of the electorate, tend to favor a moderate candidate like Adams. There are the affluent residents of typically liberal neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn (think Park Slope, the West Village, and the Upper West Side) who voted for Garcia, a candidate who promised nothing so much as managerial competence for the next four years. (The candidate who promised radical change, Maya Wiley, scarcely won a single precinct in the West Village, a neighborhood that was Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders territory in the 2020 Democratic primaries.) And finally, there are avowed progressives in upper Manhattan and in parts of Queens and Brooklyn. These voters are younger, upwardly mobile, and well educated, but without the income of their compatriots across the river in Manhattan. These are the Maya Wiley voters.
Although much of the conversation throughout the election was about whether the progressive vote in New York City is overstated, it is hard not to see this progressive bloc as a distinct one that operates much in the same way that ethnic blocs operated in the city of the past. They have community groups (Democratic Socialists of America), leaders who they take cues from (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jumaane Williams), and they tend to vote as a monolith. Witness, in the end, how progressives rallied to Wiley after their first two options, Scott Stringer and Dianne Morales, imploded.
Adams is a throwback too, a politician who assembles a coalition of groups — African American homeowners, Latin voters in the Bronx, Orthodox Jews, unions — one at a time, cobbling them together until they make up a plurality. Adams was able to accomplish that feat in part because turnout is so low in New York City compared to other major American cities. And although the total number of votes cast in this election will surpass 2013’s figure, the race failed to galvanize much of the city. Media coverage was lacking, as many New Yorkers were still shaking off the hangover of the Trump years and emerging from more than a year of lockdown. Yang had a theory that he could use the forces of social media and fame to rewrite the rules of city politics. But despite all the media attention he sucked up, he only did 4 percent better than John Liu in 2013, then the city comptroller and the first major Asian candidate to run for the office. That year, Bill de Blasio ran well by campaigning on two big ideas: universal prekindergarten and ending the police practices of the Mike Bloomberg years. Neither Wiley nor Garcia put forward a proposal or a vision to match that, and that is why, when the vote is finally certified next month and the next mayor sworn in next year, it is almost certainly going to be Eric Adams.