New York City mayoral race increasingly dominated by crime concerns

·Chief National Correspondent
·6-min read

The New York City mayoral election is still unsettled as it enters the final stretch before the crucial Democratic primary, with new polls and a big endorsement over the weekend roiling a contest in which rising crime is increasingly the top issue.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., shook up the race on Saturday with an endorsement of Maya Wiley, a progressive activist and former chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which conducts oversight of the New York Police Department, the largest police force in the country.

It will be a few days until any polling bounce for Wiley can be measured. But it’s not clear how much of an impact the AOC endorsement will make. It may be blunted by the fact that polling continues to show that violent crime is the top issue for most Democratic voters, who can begin early voting Saturday, June 12, ahead of the June 22 primary date.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Given New York City’s heavily Democratic tilt, the winner of the June primary will be the overwhelming favorite to become the next mayor.

Wiley has proposed cutting $1 billion from the NYPD budget a year after current Mayor Bill de Blasio reduced the police budget by that very same amount. She also recently released an ad that accused police of reacting too violently during last summer’s racial justice protests.

“They [police] ran into peaceful protesters, beat others to the ground, and New York’s leaders defended it. As mayor, I’ll be in charge, and I’ll get it done. Because it is time the NYPD sees us as people who deserve to breathe,” Wiley says in the ad.

Yet a new poll from NY1 and Ipsos showed that crime and public safety are now the No. 1 concern for voters, at 46 percent. Crime has now replaced COVID-19 as their highest priority over the last month.

The NY1/Ipsos poll also showed that 72 percent of voters believe that the NYPD should put more officers on the street to deal with concerns about crime, compared with just 20 percent who disagree. Shootings and robberies were up in May this year compared with a year ago, after a sharp uptick last summer in which shootings more than doubled.

According to NYPD statistics, homicides were up 23 percent from last year through May 23. There has also been a trend of violent attacks this year on members of the Asian American and Jewish communities.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — a former captain in the NYPD — is the clear beneficiary of New Yorkers’ renewed concerns about crime. Adams has said he would increase the NYPD presence in the city and increase its budget, and has forcefully rejected the “defund the police” slogan pushed by progressive activists. Adams, who is Black, blamed “young, white, affluent people” for pushing the anti-police slogan, and said the Black community did not support it. 

Eric Adams
New York City mayoral candidate Eric Adams. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Adams has also said he supports police reform and that he does not want to be endorsed by the city’s police union. At the same time, he has touted his support from the police union in previous races, and earlier this year said he would carry a gun as mayor in lieu of a protective detail — statements he has since sought to walk back.

In the NY1/Ipsos survey, 33 percent of likely voters view Adams as the best candidate to handle the crime issue. No other candidate even comes close, with Adams leading every other candidate in the field by at least 20 points when it comes to public safety.

On Saturday, after AOC endorsed Wiley, Adams released a blistering statement criticizing both women.

“Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Maya Wiley want to slash the police department budget and shrink the police force at a time when Black and brown babies are being shot in our streets, hate crimes are terrorizing Asian and Jewish communities and innocent New Yorkers are being stabbed and shot on their way to work,” Adams said. “They are putting slogans and politics in front of public safety and would endanger the lives of New Yorkers.”

Wiley shot back on Sunday: “It sounded like the kind of talking points that is actually going to send us backward into the discrimination, humiliation and trauma that was not smart policing — it was unconstitutional policing,” she said of Adams’s remarks. “A smart policing is a policing focused on the job of policing, but that includes recognizing the balance that is the investment in our community-based organizations.

“When I am mayor, we will not follow a law that tells us that we have to choose between safety and having our rights,” Wiley said.

Maya Wiley
New York City mayoral candidate Maya Wiley. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Sumathy Kumar, co-chair of the Democratic Socialists of New York City, told Yahoo News that while DSA-NYC is not endorsing a candidate in the mayor’s race, “I understand the impulse to unite behind a progressive candidate.”

“It’s definitely scary to see so much right-wing rhetoric take over the debate, especially in regard to policing and public safety,” Kumar said. “It’s really concerning that people like Eric Adams are using scare tactics to try to win an election and pour more resources into a violent institution such as the NYPD.”

However, polling in the mayor’s race has consistently shown the three most progressive candidates — Wiley, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Dianne Morales, an Afro-Latina former nonprofit executive — with only about 30 percent of the vote combined. The leading moderate candidates — Adams, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia — tend to attract between 40 and 50 percent combined.

The NY1 poll had Adams leading the rest of the Democratic field with 22 percent of the vote overall, followed by Yang with 16 percent and Garcia with 15 percent. Stringer came in fourth with 10 percent, followed by Wiley with 9 percent and Morales at 5 percent. Former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire and former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan rounded out the pack with 4 and 3 percent, respectively.

The poll of 906 likely Democratic voters was conducted from May 17 to May 31, before AOC’s endorsement. The survey also took place before news broke that Stringer had been accused by a second woman of sexual misconduct.

Andrew Yang and Evelyn Yang
New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang with his wife, Evelyn. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

But the final outcome could still be a surprise, in large part because New York is using ranked-choice voting for the first time, which requires that the winning candidate get to 50 percent. Voters will be given the option to list their top five choices by order of preference, and whoever gets the most second- and third-place votes will likely end up winning, as the candidates with the least first-place votes are eliminated and their second-choice votes get distributed.

So even if Wiley is able to consolidate the progressive voting lane and push Stringer aside, she will likely still have to win over supporters of Adams, Yang and Garcia so that they list her in their top two or three if she wants to win citywide.

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