Running for mayor of New York City once involved, well, some running — from shaking hands on the Staten Island Ferry to schmoozing with donors at fund-raisers and awkwardly dancing in parades across the five boroughs. This year, the candidates have spent a lot of their time on Zoom. It’s been weird.
But the internet — in this case, Skype — is how I last talked with Kathryn Garcia, a wry, thoughtful former sanitation commissioner and candidate for mayor who deserves more attention than she has so far received in the race.
“Is it OK if I record this?” I asked. “I’ve never met a reporter who didn’t record me, so I’m fine with it,” she shot back with a smile. (It’s nice to see that at least some things remain unchanged.) What followed was a conversation that had me hoping more New Yorkers will come to know her name — and fearing that the limits of campaigning during a pandemic may be leaving voters ill-informed about the people who are vying to run their city.
Ms. Garcia isn’t the only candidate worthy of a closer look. With the pandemic still raging, public attention is focused on schools; masks; and, above all, the hope of a jab in the arm. For weary New Yorkers, the race for mayor can seem like an afterthought.
It isn’t only the pandemic that makes this year’s mayor’s race different. This year’s primaries are in June instead of September, as in years past. This will also be the first mayoral election in which New Yorkers use ranked choice voting to cast their ballots. Paying attention now is all the more important since Primary Day is just a few months away, on June 22. Because Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly seven to one in the city, the winner of the primary is almost certain to become the city’s next mayor. Time is ticking.
The wide open field has been called lackluster. That’s not quite right. What the field lacks in star power it makes up for in formidable résumés and deeply experienced public servants.
Some of the top candidates are women. That’s exciting, since New York has never had a female mayor.
There’s Maya Wiley, a civil rights lawyer who served as counsel under Mayor Bill de Blasio, then led the city’s police oversight agency. Ms. Wiley, who until recently was a political analyst at MSNBC, is a deep policy thinker.
There’s Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit leader and former teacher who is wary of development and speaks passionately about the experiences and needs of working-class New Yorkers.
And there’s Ms. Garcia, who earned a reputation as a deft manager at the Sanitation Department and a bringer of accountability to the city’s troubled public housing authority.
Another experienced public servant in the race is Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller, who has offered a series of clear, real plans for how to get New York back on its feet. In a city facing budget cuts and hard decisions, Mr. Stringer’s seasoned understanding of how to use government to help New Yorkers is an asset. He has a plan for nearly every problem and wouldn’t have to learn on the job.
Eric Adams, Brooklyn’s sometimes quirky borough president, has also served as a state senator and a captain in the Police Department. Mr. Adams, who is Black and has spoken openly about having experienced abuse at the hands of the police, would undoubtedly bring a potent mix of life experiences to City Hall. “The Police Department is not going to play games with me,” Mr. Adams told me.
Shaun Donovan, the housing secretary and then a budget director in the Obama White House who had also served as a housing commissioner in the Bloomberg administration. He has a rich understanding of budgeting and how to build affordable housing, something this city desperately needs.
Also in the mix of New Yorkers is Ray McGuire, a former head of investment banking at Citigroup. He has impressive management experience and has promised to use his Wall Street acumen to expand the city’s economy, create 500,000 jobs and build more housing. In candidate forums and interviews, Mr. McGuire displays a sober intensity, the kind it often takes to succeed at the highest levels if you are a Black man in America.
Then, of course, there is Andrew Yang, the enigmatic former presidential candidate and tech veteran who once served as chief executive of a test-prep company. Mr. Yang has sucked up an enormous amount of oxygen in the race so far. If he is elected, he would be the city’s first Asian-American mayor.
The lack of attention on the race might be one reason early polls have Mr. Yang, who came into the race with high name recognition after his presidential bid, far ahead of his rivals.
It isn’t always clear what this front-runner has in store for New York or how well he knows the city — including where the A train begins and ends. But all the candidates have solid ideas that would make the city a better place to live.
Ms. Garcia wants to create “green belts,” expanding tree canopies, getting waste-spewing trucks off the road and making sidewalks safer, healthier, more relaxing places to spend time. Mr. Donovan wants to create a city of “15-minute neighborhoods,” in which every resident is within a 15-minute walk of public transit and parks, good schools, fresh food and health care.
Ms. Wiley has proposed a $10 billion capital plan she calls “New Deal New York,” with the goal of creating 100,000 new jobs. Mr. Adams wants to overhaul the food the city serves in schools, homeless shelters and jails.
Mr. Stringer wants to make child care free for the lowest-income New Yorkers and subsidize it for thousands of others. Mr. Yang’s idea to give cash relief to low-income New Yorkers is attractive, though it isn’t likely the city could afford to give enough to make a significant difference.
Ms. Morales’s intense focus on the needs and aspirations of working-class and low-income New Yorkers makes her an important voice in the race. Mr. McGuire’s steady confidence that he can bring hundreds of thousands of jobs back to New York sooner than any of the other candidates is reason enough for voters to give him a close look.
For all their good ideas, there are bad ideas, too. A suggestion to build a casino on Governors Island is silly, for instance. An even worse idea floating around is to ease up on enforcement of a group of ultra-Orthodox yeshivas suspected of failing to give students a basic education as required by state law.
Serious candidates in this race are laser-focused on how to create good jobs and improve schools, build affordable housing and better transportation, and give New Yorkers cleaner air and safer streets. There’s a lot at stake and a lot to consider, if voters would only take a look.
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