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What’s at Stake for the Mayoral Candidates in the Final Debate

As the candidates for mayor of New York City barrel into the final stretch of an unpredictable contest, time is running short for standout moments and efforts to redefine the race.

Indeed, one of the last chances to reorder the contest arrives on Wednesday night, as eight candidates gather for the final debate ahead of the June 22 Democratic mayoral primary that is almost certain to determine the city’s next mayor.

Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, is widely regarded as the front-runner and is expecting to be a focus of attacks again, allies say.

He has strong support among Black voters and is connecting across the city with New Yorkers who are motivated by fears of crime, polls show. Kathryn Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner; Maya Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate, are also considered among the top candidates, and one of them could still pull ahead in the final days of a turbulent and rancorous race.

Mr. Adams has come under growing scrutiny over issues from his fund-raising practices to questions of residency. The debate is one of the last opportunities for his rivals to offer a counternarrative about his candidacy.

The top four candidates are expected to share the debate stage with Raymond J. McGuire, a former Citi executive; Shaun Donovan, a former federal housing secretary; Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller; and Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive.

Each of the leading candidates has different mandates headed into the debate, which is co-sponsored by WNBC-TV.

Ms. Wiley’s allies say that she has a clear lane to herself: She has emerged as the favorite of left-wing Democrats with a message focused on combating social and racial inequities.

Her challenge in the race is to build a coalition that is broad enough to win in a vast city that is not uniformly progressive, even in a Democratic primary. She is seeking to win over voters of color across the ideological spectrum as well as white progressives.

Mr. Adams, Mr. Yang and Ms. Garcia, along with Mr. McGuire, have often taken a more expansive view of the role of police in promoting public safety than Ms. Wiley has, and issues around criminal justice and combating crime have been central flash points in previous debates.

In a recent Spectrum News NY1/Ipsos poll, Mr. Adams had a lead on the question of which mayoral candidate is most trusted to handle issues of crime and public safety, and some of his opponents hope to undercut his standing on that subject.

“We want to be contrasting with the other candidates, especially with Eric Adams, but also talking about a safe New York and a positive vision for New York,” said Chris Coffey, Mr. Yang’s co-campaign manager.

Mr. Yang also said Tuesday he intended to focus on public safety. He has slipped in public polling amid scrutiny of his knowledge of municipal government, as well as voters’ growing focus on the importance of combating crime. The debate is an important, if imperfect, chance to make another pitch.

Mr. Yang this week also began airing negative advertisements on television against Mr. Adams, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact — a move that could open the floodgates to a barrage of broader negative advertising.

Ms. Garcia on Monday suggested she intended to stay above the fray onstage, but she has also signaled she is increasingly willing to draw contrasts with Mr. Adams on questions of experience and ethics.

She is performing well in Manhattan, according to a new Marist poll and interviews with voters in neighborhoods like the vote-rich Upper West Side. But she must also diversify her coalition in the final stretch. And given her rise in the polls, she may find herself a target of criticism in the debate in a way that she has not previously experienced in the race, setting up an important test under public pressure.

Reflecting Ms. Garcia’s standing, Mr. Adams held an event this week focused on her record, in a possible preview of clashes to come.

Understand the N.Y.C. Mayoral Race

    • Who’s Running for Mayor? There are more than a dozen people in the race to become New York City’s next mayor, and the primary will be held on June 22. Here’s a rundown of the candidates.
    • Get to Know the Candidates: See how the leading candidates responded to a range of questions. And go deep on each’s background and experience: Eric Adams, Maya Wiley, Andrew Yang, Kathryn Garcia, Scott M. Stringer, Raymond J. McGuire, Dianne Morales and Shaun Donovan.
    • What is Ranked-Choice Voting? New York City began using ranked-choice voting for primary elections this year, and voters will be able to list up to five candidates in order of preference. Confused? We can help.

    But even the strongest — or weakest — debate performance may ultimately have limited impact: Early voting is already underway, and a crowded stage will make it more challenging for any one candidate to dominate.

    Still, the candidates who are trailing in polls see chances to stand out.

    Mr. Stringer once appeared poised to be the left-wing standard-bearer himself, but he has struggled amid two accusations this spring that he made unwanted sexual advances decades ago. He has denied wrongdoing. Mr. Stringer, a well-funded candidate and sharp debater, is “going to continue to make the case that he’s the best progressive candidate who can govern well and be ready on Day 1,” said Tyrone Stevens, a Stringer spokesman.

    Ms. Morales will be back in the spotlight after a campaign implosion where dozens of workers were fired amid a unionization attempt.

    And Mr. McGuire and Mr. Donovan, despite being aided by outside spending, have demonstrated little traction in polls. The debate is one last chance to stand out.

    The Marist poll found Mr. Adams at 24 percent among likely Democratic voters, when including voters who leaned toward him. Ms. Garcia followed at 17 percent; Ms. Wiley was at 15 percent and Mr. Yang, who had consistently led sparse polling for much of the race, landed 13 percent.

    Voters may rank up to five candidates in order of preference, and when several rounds of ranked-choice voting played out in the poll, Mr. Adams came out ahead of Ms. Garcia. But other surveys found different results, and polling is never predictive, much less in a relatively untested ranked-choice scenario.

    Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, said voters are still navigating how to order their ballots. She described New Yorkers sitting in Central Park for long conversations with neighbors, trying to reach conclusions.

    “They know who their first is, and then they have no clue after that,” she said. “A debate can help with that.”

    In theory, ranked-choice voting was supposed to mitigate attacks, because candidates are hoping to have broad appeal and would not want to alienate voters by trashing their first-choice candidates.

    Yet the race has seen its share of negative campaigning. Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, reached for an old saying — “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” — to explain how candidates make determinations about which candidates to attack and where to make overtures.

    “They have to sort of demonstrate, ‘If you’re with me, stay with me,’” he said. “‘If you’re not with me, here’s why you should join my campaign. If you’re not going to do that, at least put me into the running so I can get into a later round.’”

    Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Michael Gold contributed reporting.

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