Discover more from Political Currents by Ross Barkan
The Two Paths of Political Strife
Eric Adams is going to win or Eric Adams is going to lose
Tuesday night delivered a mixed verdict for the broad Left of New York. Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, held a commanding lead in the Democratic primary for mayor. Kathryn Garcia, the former de Blasio Sanitation commissioner who did not embrace progressive messaging, finished a strong third. Together, they easily outpolled Maya Wiley, the lone, viable progressive standard bearer in the race.
Elsewhere, there wasn’t so much gloom and doom for progressives. Brad Lander, a longtime Working Families Party ally, appeared to breeze into the office of city comptroller. Lander, in some ways, is a classic left-liberal, a Hillary/Warren acolyte who twice rejected the class-based, democratic socialist politics of Bernie Sanders. But in a New York context, Lander has been a reliable vote for important progressive issues, particularly tenants’ rights. Like many Democrats, he was quiet for years about Andrew Cuomo and Joe Crowley, but became an AOC Democrat when she won in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez proudly endorsed him for comptroller. Out of all the candidates who campaigned citywide this year, it can be argued Lander ran the best race—the best TV ads, the best messaging, the best volunteer operation. He won without any large labor unions. Where others were muddled or just plain lazy, Lander was not. He campaigned in technicolor. His old friend, Jumaane Williams, is the public advocate and they will be set to make quite the team, especially if Adams is mayor.
The City Council could very well be a tumult next year. At least two Democratic Socialists of America members won their races outright and two others have a chance of winning in RCV. Even if DSA is limited to two Democrats, there will be many DSA adjacent members entering the body, with unapologetically left politics. The eventual winners of the races for seats held by Margaret Chin, Robert Cornegy, Jimmy Van Bramer, Darma Diaz, Karen Koslowitz, Brad Lander, Fernando Cabrera, and Eric Ulrich could all have successors with politics to the left of them. Progressive seats are being replaced by members with similar views. This bloc will be very potent in the next Council, especially since outer borough Democratic machines will likely lack the power to pick another speaker.
At the same time, the moderate wing is bound to get louder—if not bigger, too. Tony Avella, duke of the outer borough NIMBY’S, is coming back to the City Council. Jim Gennaro, lavishly backed by Stephen Ross’ millions, is already there. Bob Holden, who won his 2017 election on the Republican line, will return after winning a Democratic primary. This Archie Bunker bloc—all are from Queens, all represent Queens as it once was, and still might be—will team up with other pro-NYPD, pro-homeowner legislators, like the Republicans on Staten Island, to fight back as hard as they can against this ascendant left. The new City Council may have fewer lawmakers in between these two large groups. The defund caucus, if they still feel so emboldened, will run up against the refund caucus. Every City Council speaker, thanks to term-limits, seems to have a little less power than the last one, and this speaker could be the weakest yet, trying to wrangle votes in an ideologically-riven body.
Imagine all of this—new leftists holding citywide posts and chairing Council committees—with someone as incendiary as Eric Adams in City Hall. If Adams is there, he will have won with his own formidable coalition, and be ready to do the bidding of the powerful real estate developers and financiers who will want a return on their investment. Adams will be unafraid to carry out vendettas and spar with rivals in the press. He called Andrew Yang a “fraud” and a “liar” and accused the Democrat of engaging in “voter suppression” for entering into a run-of-the-mill alliance with Garcia. All his life, Adams has never shied away from a fight. For decades, he was the outside agitator. Now he might be on the inside, with a borough-sized chip on his shoulder.
Allow me to offer one more scenario for you, one that is very remote but plausible: Adams does not win at all. In ranked-choice voting elections, the top vote-getter almost always wins. Since 2004, there have been 15 RCV races in the United States that have been won by a candidate other than the first-round leader. That amounts to 3.8 percent of all single-winner RCV races in the U.S. and 12 percent of all races which used multiple rounds of counting, according to FairVote. Right now, Adams holds close to a 10-point leader over his nearest rival, Wiley. He leads Garcia, who may have the most to gain through RCV, by nearly 12 points. It is going to be very difficult for either woman to make up ground.
Still, within that margin, there is opportunity for both candidates. Wiley is ahead of Garcia, but Garcia’s growth potential might be greater. She was the candidate of upscale liberals in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but she also probably showed up on many of Wiley’s ballots in the young, more left areas of Brooklyn and Queens. Her surname may have given her purchase in some Spanish-speaking areas. She was, largely, an inoffensive candidate, relative to Adams at least. Non-polarizing contenders end up on more ballots. That’s how RCV works.
I am not enough of an expert, or good at math, to tell you if Garcia can make up the difference. It’s possible she just finished too far behind on Tuesday to play catch up. But a scenario where she does—where the tabulation shows her rising, rising, rising, and then overtaking Adams—is one that will bring with it its own level of strife, thanks to Adams. Adams has already signaled he is not going to accept a result that shows him behind. His surrogates have been even more blunt. The racial politics of this could be ugly; in a totally valid election, a white woman defeats a Black man. It will feed the impression, entirely mistaken, RCV disadvantages nonwhite candidates.
What RCV does do is disadvantage polarizing, divisive campaigns that bring in as many people as they alienate. A different candidate of color could have won this election far more handily. Imagine, for a moment, Hakeem Jeffries or Jumaane Williams in Adams’ place. These men are ideologically different—Jeffries is more corporate-aligned, and very supportive of charter schools—but would be able to coalition-build in a more effective way throughout New York City. Someone of Adams’ CV and pedigree—a former cop who is also a voice for reform—should have done, arguably, a lot better in this race, especially against a rather weak field of contenders who had never, with a few exceptions, run countywide or citywide before.
If Adams does not win, there could very well be raucous marches and protests. There will be neighborhoods that feel the election was robbed from them. Their leaders, if they are Adams-aligned, will be cementing that narrative. It could be a hot, furious summer, with the national politics of election denial brought home to a deeply Democratic city. Let’s see what happens.