RANK ME
New York magazine|June 7 - 20, 2021
Fifteen candidates for mayor, each selling a different vision of the city. Choose your top five.
BRUCE GILDEN and DAVID FREEDLANDER

ERIC ADAMS, 60, DEMOCRAT

Brooklyn’s first Black borough president (elected in 2013), a state senator (2006–13), and a 22-year veteran of the NYPD. Endorsed by: Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the New York Post. On policing: Bring back the so-called Anti-Crime Unit; has defended a modified stop and frisk. “I’m a big believer in police reform, but I also believe in public safety.” On the economic recovery: Launch a “People’s Plan” to provide around $3,000 in tax credits to poor New Yorkers and free child care for children 3 and under. And reduce crime: “No one is going to open a business in this city when you have a tourist shot at Grand Central station.” What makes him a New Yorker: “The fullness of my life: being a dishwasher as a child, being arrested and beat by police officers, understanding what it’s like to be on the verge of homelessness, and understanding what it’s like to see a city that basically was not there for you.” What the press has missed: “Just how much of a sweetheart I am. I’m a little teddy bear.”

ON JUNE 22, 1665, Thomas Willett was named the first mayor of New York. Like all good mayors, he was something of a coalitional candidate, one of the few men of rank acceptable to both the Dutch residents and the English invaders. One imagines that questions about authenticity and what it means to be a “real New Yorker” didn’t much exist then (since New York didn’t really either), but Willett had a good pedigree (he came over on the Mayflower) and, as all New York City mayors must do, kept up a good relationship with the governor, who in this case appointed him. Willett is a name lost to time now. The few mayors of New York who remain in our collective memory do so because they came to symbolize an era— the decadence of Jimmy Walker in the 1920s, the scrappiness of Depression-era Fiorello La Guardia, the benign neglect of the John Lindsay years, the punitive harshness of Giuliani Time, and the booming Bloomberg years.

On June 22, New Yorkers will vote in the primary that is all but certain to determine the next mayor, one who will immediately personify—and, to a large extent, shape— the city’s next era. For the first time, they will vote for not just one candidate but five, listed in order of preference. Ranked-choice voting was a longtime priority of good-government types who thought it would enable more candidates to enter the race, force them to campaign all over the city, and provide for a more congenial contest, since candidates would aim to be the second or third choice of their rival’s supporters.

On the first couple of counts, the reformers had it mostly right: 13 Democrats and two Republicans will appear on the ballot, only two of whom have ever held elective office before. As masks came off in May, the candidates have been everywhere, stumping at subway stations, shaking hands at farmers’ markets, and popping into small businesses and community meetings. But the comity never arrived. The candidates have called each other liars, shills for real estate and finance, ward heelers, and arrivistes.

Ranked-choice is supposed to boost fringier candidates like Paperboy Love Prince, a rapper and performance artist who has challenged rivals to basketball games and pie-throwing contests. On the new ballot, a New Yorker could rank Prince first and not fear “wasting” their vote, since voting will continue for several rounds.

And so ranked choice has introduced even more uncertainty into what was already a fluid race. Voters appear to be tiring of Andrew Yang, who for much of this year appeared to be coasting to unlikely victory, only to now find himself in essentially a tie with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia. Adams, an unapologetic former police officer, has consolidated the city’s Establishment behind him but has scarcely moved up in polls; Garcia was buoyed by the endorsement of the New York Times and the Daily News but lacks the resources of others in the field. The city’s liberal activist class, meanwhile, has watched as its candidates imploded—first Scott Stringer under the weight of sexual-misconduct allegations, then Dianne Morales under the accusation that she wasn’t as progressive as her charges demanded and faced picketing outside her own campaign office. Maya Wiley, a civil-rights lawyer and MSNBC commentator, has made a play for this bloc but so far hasn’t been able to assume a dominant position.

According to the rules of ranked-choice, anyone who receives over 50 percent of first-place votes wins. Given the current landscape, it is exceedingly unlikely anyone will, and so the candidates with the least amount of votes are eliminated, and the second choice on those ballots will be distributed upward until someone is declared the winner. So being second, or third, or fourth on the ballot of someone who chose a now eliminated candidate first is functionally equivalent of being chosen first by a voter. If you are baffled by this arrangement, you aren’t alone: Most of the campaigns can’t predict how it will shake out, and experts doubt that most voters will even bother filling out all the slots on their ballot.

That said, every New Yorker registered with a political party has multiple votes. Have you ranked yours? On the following pages, meet all 15 candidates on the ballot, interviewed by Nicolas Heller (@newyorknico) and photographed by Bruce Gilden. On nymag.com and the @nymag Instagram, watch the full interviews. And then sneak a peek at how 20 New Yorkers have stacked the candidates (p.44)—a decision that mixes absolute preference with a little bit of game theory, each of us feeling out how best to play a game we’ve never played before.

ART CHANG, 58, DEMOCRAT

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