New York City Mayoral Candidates 2021: A Guide

New York City Mayoral Candidates 2021: New Yorkers have been waiting to elect Bill de Blasio’s successor for years. But with the Democratic primary now less than a month away, the race to replace the beleaguered mayor as the city emerges from one of the most trying periods in its history … feels a little weird. At the very least, it’s been unconventional. It’s safe to say no one envisioned the front-runner would have no government experience and a platform calling for TikTok Hype Houses in New York City.

Andrew Yang commandeered the race after parachuting in from the national stage following a run for the White House, but there are more than a dozen other candidates jockeying for position heading into the homestretch. Despite the iniquities exacerbated by a crisis-filled 2020, Yang and co-favorite Eric Adams are both moderate Democrats. So is Kathryn Garcia, who has been gaining steam since landing marquee endorsements from The New York Times and New York Daily News. The progressive movement is struggling to generate momentum, but a large portion of likely voters are still undecided, and it’s difficult to tell how ranked-choice voting, which New York City is using for the first time this year, could affect the results. Add to all this how the pandemic has confined the bulk of the race to a series of Hollywood Squares-style Zoom forums, and you have a primary that’s been as inscrutable as it is crucial to the city’s future. “Campaigning for office is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Shaun Donovan, President Obama’s former housing secretary and a candidate for mayor, tells Rolling Stone. “Except in winter during a pandemic.”

The winter is over, people are getting vaccinated, and candidates have a little more freedom to interact with voters in person — but the state of the race remains in flux as the June 22nd primary date draws near. The candidate who does emerge from the pack will still need to defeat the Republican nominee on November 2nd, but the general election is largely a formality in heavily Democratic New York. Here’s a guide to the top eight Democrats vying to take a victory lap this summer:

ANDREW YANG

Who is he?

You already know about Andrew Yang, which might go a long way in explaining why he’s out in front of a crowded field of opponents whose names are nowhere as familiar as that of the 2020 presidential candidate.

Yang has commanded the bulk of the media’s attention since bursting into the race behind a sweeping, Darren Aronofsky-directed campaign trailer, and he has continued to cavort through the city trying to sell himself as a real New Yorker who has what it takes to liven up the city after one of the most depressing years in its history. He’s prone to bouts of Michael Scott-grade tone-deafness, like when he told the Stonewall Democratic Club that LGBTQ people are “so human and beautiful”, or when tweeted his support for Israeli airstrikes against Palestine and then acted confused as to why organizers of an event celebrating Eid no longer wanted him to appear.

Yang’s understanding of how New York City government functions is questionable, to say the least, and some have worried that if elected he would serve as a puppet for special interests — like, say, the lobbyist, venture capitalist, and former Bloomberg adviser backing his campaign.

Yang’s lack of experience, assorted gaffes, or dubious donors haven’t seemed to matter in the polls, though. His optimism is resonating.

What is he pushing?

Yang generated buzz as a presidential candidate by advocating for a universal basic income, and he’s promoting something similar for New York. Yang wants to create a $1 billion cash relief program for the 500,000 poorest New Yorkers, giving them what would average to $2,000 a year. He also wants to create a “People’s Bank” into which New Yorkers receiving the benefit would be automatically enrolled. Despite some bold ideas, Yang is a very much a moderate Democrat, and critics argue he’d be too soft on corporate New York, real estate developers, and police reform.

Who has endorsed him?

Yang launched his campaign with the help of newly minted U.S. Rep. Richie Torres. He’s also landed endorsements from Rep. Grace Meng; state Senators John Liu and Jeremy Cooney; and City Council Members Margaret Chin, Carlos Menchaca, Vanessa Gibson, and Kalman Yeger. Amy Schumer and John Leguizamo have joined the Yang Gang, as well. So have several key Jewish leaders.

What are his chances?

Yang has been the favorite for most of the race, but it’s getting tight. In fact, a poll released in mid-May found Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams with a slight edge, with 19 percent to Yang’s 18 percent. Another poll released a few weeks later put him in third place behind Kathryn Garcia and Adams.

KATHRYN GARCIA

Who is she?

Garcia is a Brooklyn native who has spent pretty much her entire adult life working in New York City government, most recently as de Blasio’s sanitation commissioner and the interim head of the New York City Housing Authority and the Covid-19 “food czar,” a role in which she orchestrated a massive meal-delivery effort. So yeah, she knows her way around City Hall, and is arguably more qualified to pull the levers that need to be pulled to keep the city humming than anyone in the race.

What is she pushing?

Garcia has placed an emphasis on climate resiliency, and wants to begin moving the city to a “fully renewable energy economy” as soon as she gets into office. She also wants to expand bike lanes, public transportation, and access to public green spaces; electrify over 10,000 school buses and turn every school roof into a green energy source; create a Green New Deal for the city’s housing authority; and double the number of green jobs over the course of the next decade.

Who has endorsed her?

In early May, Politico called de Blasio’s longtime sanitation commissioner “everyone’s second-favorite candidate.” Sure enough, two of her biggest endorsements — State Sen. Diane Savino and former City Council member Costa Constantinides — were only willing to go so far as to say she’ll be their second selection in ranked-choice voting. But Garcia has since scored first-choice nods from State Sen. Liz Krueger, Queens Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, and, most notably, The New York Times. “It is Kathryn Garcia who best understands how to get New York back on its feet and has the temperament and the experience to do so,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “Ms. Garcia has our endorsement in perhaps the most consequential mayoral contest in a generation.”

She later landed a nod from the New York Daily News, which called her the “candidate best equipped to guide us through this difficult moment.”

What are her chances?

She’s in the hunt. A poll conducted in mid-April put her in eighth place with just six percent of the vote, but her chances have taken off since landing endorsements from the Times and Daily News. A poll released in mid-May put in her third place behind Yang and Adams with 11 percent of first-place votes. Another released in late May by PIX11 and Emerson College put Garcia ahead with 21 percent support. Adams was second with 20, and Yang third with 16.

Who is he?

Stringer knows his way around city government better than just about anyone in the race. He was a six-term state assemblyman representing the Upper West side before being elected Manhattan borough president in 2005, and then in 2013, comptroller. Moving up to the big office in City Hall seems a logical next step for the progressive. He was in pretty good position to make it happen when in late April one of his former campaign workers, Jean Kim, accused him of sexual assault. Kim says Stringer groped her in 2001, when she was helping him campaign for public advocate. Stringer says the two were in a months-long casual relationship. Several of Stringer’s marquee backers have rescinded their endorsements, although one of the biggest, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) has since said he’s second-guessed the decision. “Quite frankly, I sometimes regret it because I wasn’t more patient, didn’t ask more questions, didn’t call for other things because I do like Scott,” he told a local progressive group in May.

What is he pushing?

Stringer may the progressive movement’s best shot at City Hall. He hasn’t put forth any single, marquee policy proposal, instead opting to lay out an array of initiatives relating to affordable housing (including strengthening tenant rights and investing “billions” to rebuild the New York City Housing Authority); affordable childhood education (including investing $500 million over five years to address child care “deserts”); the economy (including creating a $1 billion recovery program that provides grants to small businesses); and more.

Who has endorsed him?

Stringer landed an impressive slate of progressive endorsements, including Rep. Jamaal Bowman; state Sens. Alessandra Biaggi, Jessica Ramos, and Julia Salazar; and Mark Levine, the chairman of the City Council’s health committee. He also got nods from the Working Families Party and the Sunrise Movement. Unfortunately for Stringer, they’ve all rescinded their endorsements since Kim’s allegation.

Several of Stringer’s backers have stuck with him, though, including Rep. Jerry Nadler, climate activist Bill McKibben, and several prominent labor unions, most notably the teachers union, which released a statement saying it “has always found him both supportive of educators and an advocate for women,” while noting the allegations need to be “carefully weighed.”

What are his chances?

Well, the sexual assault thing wasn’t good. Stringer had been within closing distance of Andrew Yang in the polls, but his support is now in question following the allegation from Kim. A poll conducted around the time Kim went public put him at 15 percent, trailing Yang (18 pecent) and Eric Adams (21 percent). A poll released in mid May put him in fifth place with only 8 percent.

Who is she?

Morales was the CEO of a Bronx-based social services nonprofit before leaving her post to focus on her mayoral run, which she announced back in 2019. She is widely considered to be the most progressive candidate in the race, although her bona fides have been questioned since her campaign imploded in late May following allegations of a toxic work environment. The turmoil forced Morales to miss an event hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton on the anniversary of George Floyd’s death (Morales claimed she was absent due to a “family emergency”), and spurred a unionization drive among her staff. Morales responded by firing several workers involved in the organizing effort while arguing publicly that her ability to handle the scandal showed that she’d be a good “multi-tasker” if elected mayor. Multiple people affiliated with her campaign have since called for her to suspend her bid for City Hall, although few details have been offered about the allegations of harm perpetrated on staffers of color.

What is she pushing?

Morales has built her campaign around lifting up marginalized communities by rebuilding the New York City Housing Authority, providing guaranteed income to the poor, desegregating schools, and other progressive initiatives. She’s also proposed cutting the NYPD’s massive $6 billion budget in half, funneling the leftover funds to social services, including the creation of a “Community First Responders Department.”

Who has endorsed her? 

Morales has the support of the Sunrise Movement, which co-endorsed her and Stringer before ditching him, and the Working Families Party, which ordered Stringer and Morales 1-2 before rescinding their endorsement for Stringer. Morales is also the first choice of state Sen. Jabari Brisport, as well as former gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout. “She’s got that something extra — that hope, that joy, that absolute love of the city and the people in it,” Teachout said in announcing her endorsement. “That love and that integrity can bring us to the most joyful, community-based, ground-up New York city we have ever seen.”

What are her chances?

Morales has cultivated a lot of grassroots support, but it hasn’t translated into much upward momentum in the polls. A survey released in mid-May put her at only 6 percent, tied for sixth place with Ray Maguire. The controversy within her campaign is likely to hurt her already-slim chances, if it doesn’t force her out of the race entirely.

ERIC ADAMS

Who is he?

Brownsville, Brooklyn, native Eric Adams was a police captain, state senator, and, from 1995-2002, registered Republican, before becoming Brooklyn borough president in 2014. He made clear almost immediately after taking office that he planned to use the position as a springboard to City Hall. Seven years later, here we are.

Adams can tend to be … outspoken. He’s been criticized for ranting about his inability to “celebrate” a building to house LGBTQ seniors during a ribbon-cutting for that very building; telling people moving to New York they should “go back to Iowa, go back to Ohio”; and claiming after the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that he would carry a gun whenever he enters a place of worship. He also said last year that if elected mayor he’d forgo a security detail and instead just carry a gun himself, comments he later walked back.

Adams has also come under fire for some potential campaign finance issues. In May, The New York Times reported his questionable fundraising history, including how he endorsed a controversial land zoning change that benefitted a developer who threw him a fundraiser.

Regardless, Adams has curried plenty of favor during his tenure as president of the city’s most populous borough (he won election in 2013 with more than 80 percent of the vote and re-election in 2017 with more than 80 percent), giving him a solid base of support for his mayoral run.

What is he pushing?

Adams is a moderate Democrat and was even registered as a Republican until 2001. He’s advocated for small businesses and real-estate development, and stressed the overarching importance of public safety, calling it a “prerequisite to prosperity.” He often touts his ability to take on crime, citing his two decades of experience in law enforcement. He supports police reform, although he’s stopped short of endorsing anything resembling the “defunding” of the NYPD.

Adams has proposed what he calls a “People’s Plan.” The plan includes a tax credit of $3,000 per year for the poor, universal child care for every family that cannot afford it, housing assistance for those on the verge of homelessness, and the creation of a new “MyCity” online portal that would allow New Yorkers to figure out which benefits they qualify for.

Who has endorsed him?

Adams has received an array of endorsements from current and former U.S. representatives, New York state politicians, New York City politicians, and New York Mets great Doc Gooden.

What are his chances?

Adams has caught to Yang in the polls, and it appears that with a month to go the race is neck-and-neck. A poll released in mid-May put Adams out in front with 19 percent of first-place votes, but just barely. Yang is right on his heels with 18 percent.

Who is she?

Wiley is an attorney, professor, and activist who served as a counsel to de Blasio before becoming an MSNBC commentator in 2018. She jumped into the mayoral race in the wake of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that swept the city last summer, and she has centered her campaign around racial justice and police reform.

What is she pushing?

Wiley’s signature proposal is a $10 billion plan she dubs the “New York New Deal.” The plan aims to create 100,000 new jobs to rebuild the city’s infrastructure while lifting up the communities of color hit hardest by the pandemic.

Wiley has also proposed a plan for “universal community care” that would allow 100,000 families to receive $5,000 in annual assistance to care for children and the elderly. The plan would cost $500 million and would be partially paid by freezing the hiring of police and corrections officers for two years, according to The New York Times.

Who has endorsed her?

Several city, state, and national politicians have lined up behind Wiley, including Reps. Yvette Clarke, Nydia Velázquez, and Hakeem Jeffries, as well as Katie Porter out in California. “Not only does she have a vision for change, she has plans to get things done, to deliver real change for people,” Porter said in an ad for Wiley.

Wiley has also landed a slew of celebrity endorsements, including Chris Evans, Alyssa Milano, Gloria Steinem, and Gabrielle Union.

What are her chances?

Wiley has some work to do, but she appears to be trending in the right direction. An NY1/Spectrum poll conducted in early April put her in fourth place at seven percent. She did a little better in another poll conducted in the middle of the month, coming in at 10 percent. A poll released in mid-May put in her fourth place with 10 percent.

SHAUN DONOVAN

Who is he?

Donovan is a Manhattan native with experience in both city and federal government. He was the commissioner of housing preservation and development under Mayor Michael Bloomberg before jumping to the Obama administration to serve as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He then moved to the Office of Management and Budget, which he directed from 2014 until President Trump took office.

What is he pushing?

Donovan wants to close the racial wealth gap by establishing “Equity Bonds” for all New York City children. The city would deposit up to $2,000 annually in those of low-income families, money he believes could be worth $50,000 by the time the child is 18. Donovan believes such long-term investment will be more effective at tackling inequality than simply handing out a few checks. “Proposing 200 bucks a month to a few New Yorkers is not going to change people’s lives,” he tells Rolling Stone. “But if you really look at what drives inequality in this city, what drives gentrification, it is wealth, and white families have 10 times the wealth of black families, and eight times the wealth of Latino families.”

Donovan has also been promoting the idea of “15-minute neighborhoods,” in which every New York City community would have easy access to essential food, health care, public transportation, and other services. “[These things] need to be part of how we plan and build our city if we’re going to get rid of the persistent, persistent inequality we have across racial and other lines,” he says.

Who has endorsed him?

Donovan has touted his experience working with city mayors, and a few of them have given him the nod to lead the nation’s largest city. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and the former mayor of Fresno, California, Ashley Swearengin have all lent their support. Other notables include Sen. John Hickenlooper, former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and Brooklyn pastor Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood, with whom Donovan worked to create 5,000 low-income homes in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Also: Ed Norton.

What are his chances?

It’s not looking great right now. A poll conducted in mid-April put him in seventh place, garnering only eight percent of the vote. He’s been moving in the wrong direction since receiving negative press for guessing that the median price of a home in Brooklyn is only $100,000 (it’s actually $900,000) in an interview with The New York Times, as well as for his father’s role in financing his campaign. A poll released in mid-May found him at only 4 percent, good for dead last of the eight notable candidates.

RAY MAGUIRE

Who is he?

Maguire is trying to enter New York City politics fresh from the financial sector. Prior to running for mayor he served as the vice chairman of Citigroup for 15 years, and he was recruited to run for mayor by city business leaders who want to make sure their interests are taken care of coming off of the pandemic.

What is he pushing?

Maguire’s campaign is built around revitalizing the city’s economy following the pandemic. He plans to bring back 500,000 jobs by implementing a variety of measures, including offering salary subsidies to employees of small businesses that were hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Who has endorsed him?

Hoo boy. Maguire might not be lighting the polls on fire, but he’s leading the field in celebrity support: Spike Lee. Samuel L. Jackson. Jay-Z. Nas. Diddy. LL Cool J. Patrick Ewing. Tiki Barber. Steve Martin. Run from Run D.M.C. Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner. Naomi Campbell. U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks. The list goes on.

What are his chances?

Maguire may have a lot of star power backing him, but he’s not yet a serious contender. A poll conducted in mid-April found at nine percent, good for fifth place. Another conducted toward the end of the month put him at six percent, which is also where he stood in a poll released in mid-May.

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