Eric Adams is on track to be the next mayor of New York, despite a series of obstacles that sometimes seemed formidable. A colorful figure, last year he told a crowd gathered for Martin Luther King Day that newcomers to the city should “go back to Ohio” because the city “belongs to the people that were here.” A relative moderate endorsed by the New York Post, he ran during a time when the city was thought to be coursing with progressive energy. He campaigned on his record as a NYPD captain at a time when “defund the police” was on every progressive’s lips. Then came late-breaking questions as to whether or not the Brooklyn borough president actually lives in New York City or if he resides in Fort Lee, New Jersey, with his partner.
None of that ultimately mattered thanks to an election that played out in a city recovering from a pandemic and grappling with a sharp uptick in crime and chaos. Adams won by constructing an old-school political coalition of labor unions, political clubs, religious leaders, and homeowners in the majority Black precincts of Brooklyn and Queens. He warded off a late surge in the Democratic primary by Kathryn Garcia, who swamped him in most of Manhattan, winning in famously liberal neighborhoods like Park Slope and the West Village while also winning in famously conservative white neighborhoods in the outer reaches of Brooklyn and Queens.
For Garcia’s part, coming within one point of victory is one of the more unlikely political stories in years. The former sanitation commissioner was a relative unknown to all but the most insider-y of government insiders, a lifelong manager of several city agencies and departments, and had a barebones campaign staff that lacked experience in city elections. She received almost no labor support save for the unions she helped oversee as sanitation commissioner, and had few endorsements from elected officials, civic organizations, or community leaders. But she was endorsed by both the New York Times and the New York Daily News. Despite being an uneven campaigner who never seemed to warm to the spotlight, she tapped into a need among mostly affluent, college-educated voters for competent management in City Hall.
The final result revealed a city sharply divided among racial lines, as Adams, who would be only the city’s second Black mayor, won easily in most Black and Hispanic neighborhoods and Garcia split the white vote with Maya Wiley, a civil-rights lawyer who was eliminated under the city’s new ranked-choice system in the penultimate round despite finishing higher in the initial tally than Garcia. Wiley surged late as well after being endorsed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but her third-place showing reveals that the city’s left is not yet a potent political force, but also that it can be mobilized quickly around one candidate once leaders like AOC get involved. (The results won’t be certified until next week, and both the Wiley and Garcia campaigns are exploring their legal options. Neither conceded.)
Tuesday’s tally came after another debacle of a day from the Board of Elections, which never said when results would be made available, but wrote in a tweet reply that the results would be “more brunch special vs. club hours.” After brunch hours ended with no result, the BOE sent another tweet saying that results would come by 7:30 p.m. In the end, they came around 6:40 p.m., just as a thunderstorm with hail, torrential rain, and strong winds descended on the city.
Adams still has to get past Republican talk-show host and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa in the general election. In a statement after the Board of Elections released preliminary vote tallies, Adams took dead aim at his general-election rival without mentioning Sliwa by name: “Now we must focus on winning in November so that we can deliver on the promise of this great city for those who are struggling, who are underserved, and who are committed to a safe, fair, affordable future for all New Yorkers.” But in a city in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7-1, at this moment Adams’s ascension to City Hall is all but assured.