NYC Democratic Mayoral Candidates Prepare for First Debate Amid Tight Race

nyc mayoral race
Mayoral candidate Eric Adams receiving the endorsement from the Amalgamated Transit Union last week in the Bronx. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

With less than six weeks to go, the Democratic primary that likely will decide the next mayor of New York City has reached a new stage of unpredictability, as candidates gear up for the first official mayoral debate.

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang is clinging to frontrunner status along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police officer and founder of a law-enforcement-reform group who has seen his standing rise amid concern over a spike in shootings during the coronavirus pandemic — including gunfire that injured three bystanders in Times Square.


City Comptroller Scott Stringer, an expected frontrunner, continues to struggle to gain traction amid a scandal, and Kathryn Garcia, a former city Sanitation commissioner and veteran of several other city departments who had been polling in the mid-single digits, got an unexpected boost with the coveted endorsement The New York Times.

The race to succeed the term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, chugged along for months with many New Yorkers too consumed by the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 presidential election to notice.

But it is grabbing more attention now, with the June 22 Democratic primary looming, broadcast media advertisements starting to air and candidates increasingly meeting voters in person after a year of campaigning online because of the pandemic.

Eight top-tier candidates, of the more than two dozen who entered the race, were set to participate in their first broadcast debate Thursday.

In addition to Yang, Adams, Stringer and Garcia, they are civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former Obama housing secretary Shaun Donovan and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales.

Yang has narrowly led in most polls, lifted by supporters who like his proposal for a universal basic income, but has has been criticized by the left.

Adams, edged Yang for the first time last week in a GQR poll of 500 likely Democratic voters, reported on by Politico.

A poll released Wednesday by Schoen Cooperman Research, reported by the Daily News, shows Yang leading Adams 21% to 17%, with Stringer and Wiley each having 10%.

nyc mayoral race
Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang speaks at a press conference in Manhattan on Tuesday, where he called for full-time, in-person learning by the start of next school year. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

This was the first poll fully conducted after Stringer was accused of harassment by a volunteer on a campaign 20 years ago. Stringer denied the allegations.

Another poll, released Thursday by Change Research, shows Adams leading Yang 19% to 16%, with Stringer at 9%. The poll shows Garcia with a big bump from The Times’ endorsement: Only 4% of respondents who took the survey through Monday ranked Garcia first; but after the Times endorsed her Monday night, she received 11% of first-place support from subsequent respondents.

Adams is campaigning as both a tough-talking former police detective and a black man who was himself victimized by police brutality as a youth and later founded the reform group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.

“We’re not going to recover as a city if we turn back time and see an increase in violence, particularly gun violence,” Adams said at a Times Square campaign event after Saturday’s shooting.

It remains to be seen whether Adams’ message resonates in a city that was convulsed by Black Lives Matter protests following last year’s murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police but is fearful of crime and disorder amid a rise in shootings and murders.

Stringer appears committed to staying in the race, despite the allegations that resulted in elected officials rescinding their endorsements. Some think he still has a chance.

“We know who Scott is, we’ve seen him for, you know, 30 years as an Assembly member, a borough president, a comptroller. He’s established who he is, and now he’s gotta go back and defend himself,” said Sid Davidoff, a lawyer and former aide to New York City Mayor John Lindsay.

Candidates have held numerous Zoom forums with various organizations during the past few months, but Thursday night is the first officially broadcast debate, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. The candidates will appear at the debate virtually.

The winner of the primary will be strongly favored to win the November general election in the overwhelmingly Democratic city, but there will also be a Republican primary featuring Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa and businessman Fernando Mateo.

Voter turnout tends to be low in New York City primaries, so a relatively small number of people could pick the leader who will guide the city out of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

About 700,000 New Yorkers voted in the 2013 primaries, or 20% of registered Democrats and Republicans.

With reporting by AP

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