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7 July 2021

Who is Eric Adams, New York City’s likely next mayor?

The former police officer’s victory in the Democratic primary sets the stage for a battle between progressive and moderate party factions.

By Emily Tamkin

Finally, after weeks of tabulating votes (with embarrassing Board of Elections hiccups along the way), New York City has a new projected Democratic nominee for mayor. Though the city has yet to certify the results, the Associated Press on Tuesday (6 July) declared Eric Adams to have won the Democratic primary. The most populous city in the US has had Republican mayors in the past, but given its overwhelmingly Democratic make-up and the eccentric Republican candidate, Adams will likely be the next mayor.

Eric Adams, age 60, the president of Brooklyn borough, is an interesting figure. He is a former police officer, but one who was known as a voice for police reform; as a member of the force, he co-founded 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, which pressed for changes in the criminal justice system and against police brutality. (Adams, who will be the second black mayor of New York, has said he was beaten by police officers at age 15.)

Formerly a registered Republican, Adams positioned himself as a more moderate candidate and his victory will likely be taken by some as a rebuke to progressives. The victory of a former police officer, albeit one who was a known champion of reform, has already been presented by some pundits as a counter to calls of “defund the police”.

This was also New York City’s first time using ranked-choice voting, where voters rank their candidates on the ballot. If no candidate gets a majority of votes on the first round, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated. People who picked that candidate as their first choice then have their second choice picked in the second round. If no candidate has a majority after the second round, the process is repeated until there is a winner. 

In the first round, Adams did especially well in the city’s outer boroughs – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island – with Black and Hispanic working-class voters. He also got many (though not all) of the traditionally Orthodox Jewish votes (this itself is somewhat ironic, since Adams once praised noted anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, who has since likened Jews to termites). In subsequent rounds, he was able to get enough second-choice votes to carry him across the finish line by roughly 1 percentage point.

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The ranked-choice voting system wasn’t popular with everyone. For example, two candidates – former presidential candidate and early front-runner Andrew Yang and former New York City sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia – campaigned together, with Yang calling on his voters to rank Garcia second. Adams then accused them of engaging in voter suppression, an irresponsible charge given that ranked-choice is a system of voting, not of suppressing votes, and given that there actually are laws intended to make it more difficult to vote being passed across the country. 

In the end, Adams was just able to edge out Garcia, who ran as a no-nonsense problem solver and performed especially well with wealthier college-educated voters in Manhattan. She was able to pick up a plurality of second-choice votes from Yang and Maya Wiley, who positioned herself as the race’s progressive – but not enough to make up the difference with Adams.

Is Adams’s victory a death knell for progressivism in New York City? Not exactly. It may serve as a reminder of the space between working-class voters of colour in the outer boroughs and the progressives aiming to put this group at the centre of their policies. But Adams wasn’t the only one to win an election in New York City. Progressive candidates for comptroller and district attorney – Brad Landler and Alvin Bragg, respectively – both appear to have won their races. And several of the more left-leaning candidates will be joining the city council. All of which means that the future of politics in New York City is neither moderate nor progressive, but to be contested between various political actors during the years of Adams’s administration. 

[See also: Which allies should Joe Biden cultivate to counter China?]