Eric Adams' Other Political Nightmare
A Kathryn Garcia redux could doom him
Kathryn Garcia may have been the most unlikely top tier mayoral candidate in New York City history. In almost every race of the last century, the candidate who won or came very close to winning held an elected office or was well-known in the years leading up to the campaign. Or they were, like Michael Bloomberg, so wealthy that they could purchase name recognition in the nick of time. There was almost no one, in 2020, who believed Garcia, Bill de Blasio’s former sanitation commissioner, could come within 10,000 votes of winning the Democratic nomination for mayor. Had she beaten Eric Adams two years ago, she would be mayor today. Her margin against Curtis Sliwa, the long-shot Republican, would not have been any different than Adams’. In fact, it may have been larger.
Garcia was so unlikely because she wasn’t famous, terribly charismatic, or a political veteran. She called to mind the protagonist of Cynthia Ozick’s novel The Puttermesser Papers, an anonymous bureaucrat who, via special alchemy, gets elected mayor. De Blasio had been a city councilman and the public advocate before his rise to City Hall. Rudy Giuliani was a famed federal prosecutor. David Dinkins was the Manhattan borough president. Ed Koch was a congressman. So was John Lindsay.
Garcia was not a progressive or particularly left-leaning Democrat, but she won a fair number of progressive voters anyway. She ran very strong in Park Slope and the Upper West Side, and campaigned neck-and-neck with Maya Wiley, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-backed Democrat, in Gowanus and parts of Prospect Heights. Garcia had worked for de Blasio, but pitched herself as a Bloomberg-style technocrat who wanted to expand charter schools and grow the police department. Unlike Andrew Yang, who believed the same things, she stirred little outrage on the left. She was considered acceptable. This was, in part, because the New York Times endorsed her. The left-leaning editorial board offered a critical sign-off. Garcia, though, didn’t have much labor union support. The Working Families Party and its attendant NGOs backed Wiley. Her roster of political club endorsements was rather shallow. So how did she come so close to winning?
Well, there was luck. Scott Stringer, who was supposed to consolidate labor unions and left-leaning validators behind him, imploded, and Wiley was a first-time candidate who couldn’t knit together the same sort of coalition. Garcia is not winning the West Side of Manhattan (and the borough overall) if Stringer doesn’t fall first.
But Garcia was good enough to capitalize on Stringer’s downfall. This was because she appeared liberal enough to parts of the city, unlike Yang or Adams, and projected a great deal of competence, as someone who had worked in high levels of government for decades. De Blasio’s outright liberalism had fallen out of fashion in 2021, the pandemic’s second year; crime was rising, the city’s economic future was threatened, and a certain unease, which hasn’t quite abated, seemed to permeate life here. Garcia promised sound management and a pragmatist’s attention to detail. In the final days of the campaign, she formed an alliance with Yang, and ended up appearing on enough ballots throughout the city to nearly derail Adams. (It should be noted Garcia is not a Latina and never made any sort of aggressive appeal to Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. Garcia is the surname she took from her ex-husband.)
These days, Garcia is back to the life she prefers: quasi-anonymously toiling in the public sector. She is the director of state operations for Gov. Kathy Hochul. Her role is rather nebulous, if powerful—she oversees as many as 96 agencies, and seems to dabble everywhere—and she sits in Hochul’s inner ring. Hochul herself is not an overly popular governor, but Garcia’s service to de Blasio didn’t hurt her electoral prospects at all. She was very good at distancing herself from her old boss.
Yesterday, I wrote about how Jamaal Bowman, the Westchester and Bronx congressman, could be a strong candidate for mayor against Adams in 2025. A Bowman bid remains unlikely because he lives in Yonkers, just outside the city. This is not a problem for Garcia, who remains a city resident and lives in Park Slope. If Garcia has any mayoral ambitions still—and at 53, having come so close two years ago, she must—she should think hard about 2025.
If she is pitted against Adams, perhaps one-on-one, she could very well win.