Will Garcia Get It Done?
RCV, as predicted, was very good to the dark horse mayoral candidate
Last Tuesday, I headed to the Upper West Side as part of my sojourn around the city on Election Day. Andrew Yang and Eric Adams were nearby. And so was the neighborhood’s new favorite daughter, a candidate who was probably not known to them at all three or four months ago.
Kathryn Garcia stood on a street corner at West 110th street, passing out her campaign literature. It was a ritual the neophyte candidate had performed, at this point, many times over, though she never took to it with particular zeal. She had been Bill de Blasio’s Sanitation commissioner, not a person gladhanding at fundraisers, and she could not ever be described, like some of her rivals, as overly charismatic.
Yet the neighborhood loved her. One Upper West Side voter after another stopped once they noticed who she was, telling her they were going to vote for her. The volunteers, in their kelly green, were not ignored. It was the kind of reception reserved for a politician coming home.
A week later, news came that upended this mayoral race once again: Garcia, after the ranked-choice tabulation of votes, was now two points behind Adams. On Election Night, she had been down nearly 12. Historically, front-runners win RCV elections, but they don’t always do. As I noted over the weekend, there was a remote but plausible scenario where Garcia could make a comeback. She had calibrated her campaign around RCV while Adams clearly did not. She was poised to scoop up many votes from Maya Wiley supporters and she clearly did.
Now what? There are more than 124,000 absentee ballots that need to be counted. Adams holds a 15,908-vote lead over Garcia. In typical elections, absentee ballots mirror those that were cast in-person, but Adams can’t count on that here. The Covid era and the change in New York’s election laws has encouraged many more Democrats to vote by mail. The absentee count could very well favor Garcia heavily, particularly if older voters in the Wiley-Garcia strongholds—Manhattan, Brownstone Brooklyn, and gentrifying Brooklyn and Queens—make up a large number of those voting that way. Garcia will have to carry at least 57 percent of the absentee count to win. It is not hard to imagine she can do this.
Since this is New York and our election laws are foolish, we will not have more clarity until July 6th, when the Board of Elections will release an updated tally of absentee votes. On July 12th, the results will be certified. If the margin is close enough, the candidates could end up in court. In 2019, the Queens District Attorney’s race between Melinda Katz and Tiffany Cabán was so close that it had to be resolved in a protracted recount. Katz, the establishment choice, narrowly won.
Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, was an opponent of RCV, called the alliance Garcia formed with Yang an act of voter “suppression,” and empowered surrogates who intend to create the false impression the system was rigged against him. Adams himself is already laying the groundwork. In the next week, the dynamic between the two candidates could grow far uglier.
Shortly before the primary, I wrote about how Garcia, a dark horse for so long, could actually win. As a long-shot, she had avoided press scrutiny and attacks from rivals. She was disciplined, campaigning on a message of technocratic competence, and dodged controversy entirely. She openly broke with progressives, rejecting the defund the police movement and embracing charter schools, but never alienated them like Yang. Her campaign entered the sort of sweep spot venal operatives dream of: moderate enough to be the candidate of Marine Park and liberal-seeming enough to dominate the Upper West Side. Garcia ran, largely, without any institutional backing, benefiting from an initial surge she received when the New York Times surprisingly endorsed her. Few elected officials, labor unions, and Democratic clubs were in her corner. She was very fortunate Scott Stringer imploded, handing her liberal Manhattan.
She would be New York’s first female mayor, but she would also be one of the only to win who neither held an elected office nor found a way to get rich or get famous before entering City Hall. Michael Bloomberg had his billions and Rudy Giuliani, by the 1980s, was a celebrity in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Adams will not quietly accept an election Garcia has won. It is not in his nature to do that. He has weaponized his identity before and he will do it again. He could say, or strongly hint, RCV stole this election from Black New York and delivered it to a white woman. This won’t be true, but politics does not demand truth. If Adams sees a path to victory—or at least some validation—through chaos, he will take it.
It is worth reflecting, for a moment, upon how another candidate with Adams’ strengths and luck would have probably secured this race long ago. Adams has a natural base, a bevy of organized labor support, and a compelling history as a police officer who sought to genuinely reform the department. He was not merely a demagogue; he was always smarter than most of his colleague and understood that the NYPD is a machine worth countering from the inside. His actual political career—the tumult in the State Senate, the eight years as borough president—was unimpressive, but it was never the stuff his campaign was based on. It was merely a pretext to raise name recognition and cash.
Adams, until May, faced a media environment that was inordinately beneficial to him. Most of the newspapers, TV stations, and activists online were focused almost entirely on Yang. Yang was their fear and obsession. Few stories of any kind appeared about Adams. It is not a stretch to say that if Adams had encountered the early scrutiny Yang faced—for months, Yang was the polling leader—even more voters would have dropped him from their ballots. It was only in the final, furious weeks of the campaign that “don’t rank Yang” became “don’t rank Yang and Adams.” The primary is close enough now that if both men had been targeted by the Left in March or even April, Garcia would be in an even better position.
Conversely, all Adams really had to do, in the final two weeks, is close his mouth. He could have functioned like any ordinary front-runner, ignoring his rivals and focusing on his campaign message. He could have said nothing about voter suppression. He could have refrained from calling anyone a fraud or a liar. He could have not taken a bunch of reporters on the tour of the apartment he allegedly lives in.
He could have been quiet. But Eric Adams doesn’t do quiet.
Note: After the publication of this piece, it became clear the Board of Elections mistakenly included test ballots in their final tabulation.