When Eric Adams gave a triumphant speech on Tuesday night, he chronicled his rise from poverty into politics and celebrated his lead in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City. He also had a long list of people to thank.
His strong showing reflected a broad, old-school political coalition that united Black and Latino voters, unions and a broad swath of the city outside Manhattan.
Mr. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, won handily in the Bronx and led in his home borough of Brooklyn and in Queens. In some parts of the city like Jamaica in Southeast Queens, Mr. Adams won more than 60 percent of votes, compared with 15 percent for his closest rival, Maya Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The race is not over, but Mr. Adams has a strong lead among the first-choice votes of nearly 800,000 Democrats. In cities with ranked-choice elections, the candidate who is leading in the first round of voting usually prevails.
If Mr. Adams wins in the coming weeks after absentee ballots and ranked choices are tabulated, his victory could stall the progressive movement’s momentum in New York and reinforce the idea that rising crime and public safety drove voters to the polls.
“Adams used his approach on policing of saying we need justice and safety simultaneously to fuse together that traditional coalition,” said Bruce Gyory, a veteran Democratic strategist.
Still, progressive candidates had a strong showing in several key races: Alvin Bragg was ahead in the Democratic primary for Manhattan district attorney; Brad Lander was leading the city comptroller race; left-leaning candidates won mayoral primaries in Buffalo and Rochester.
The results so far support the argument that the movement has not weakened, but it might not have been strong enough — or coordinated enough — to capture the mayoralty in New York City.
The night featured other small surprises: In the Republican primary for Staten Island borough president, Vito J. Fossella, a former congressman, had a slight lead over Steven Matteo, a prominent city councilman. Mr. Fossella decided not to run for re-election in 2008 after he was charged with drunken driving and admitted to fathering a child in an extramarital affair.
If Mr. Adams does win the primary — and the general election in November — he would be the city’s second Black mayor after David N. Dinkins, who was elected in 1989. Mr. Adams’s closest competitor, Ms. Wiley, is also Black; she and Kathryn Garcia, the city’s former sanitation commissioner, who was in third, are both seeking to become the first woman elected mayor of New York.
Ms. Wiley performed well in some largely Black neighborhoods in Brooklyn and in Astoria and Long Island City in Queens. Ms. Garcia had strong support in Manhattan and parts of Brownstone Brooklyn.
Ms. Wiley told her supporters on Tuesday night that the race was not over.
“Fifty percent of the votes are about to be recalculated,” she said to cheers.
Indeed, many voters said they ranked Ms. Wiley and Ms. Garcia in the first two spots on their ballots, and it is possible that one of them could capture a majority of the other’s supporters under ranked-choice voting.
The race’s outcome will now depend on which of the top three candidates did the best in getting voters to rank them second or third. Ms. Garcia struck a late alliance with Andrew Yang, the 2020 presidential candidate who finished fourth, in a bid to win over his supporters, and there were efforts by progressive groups to encourage voters to leave Mr. Adams off their ballots completely.
This was the first year that the city offered early voting in a mayoral election, and overall turnout was better than expected. Nearly 800,000 votes have been counted so far in the Democratic mayoral primary — higher than turnout in the last competitive mayoral primary in 2013. That number will grow as counting continues and tens of thousands of absentee ballots are processed.
Whoever ultimately wins the race will face the Republican nominee, Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, in November. Mr. Sliwa received nearly 69 percent of votes among the roughly 58,000 Republicans who voted in the primary.
Absentee ballots are not due for another week, and election officials will not run the ranked-choice voting count for the first time until June 29. An official winner is not expected to be named until the week of July 12.
Under ranked-choice voting, where voters can rank up to five candidates in their order of preference, the person who is winning in the first round usually prevails. But there have been exceptions, including the 2010 mayoral election in Oakland, Calif., in which Jean Quan won despite placing second in the first round.
Ms. Wiley, for instance, could collect second or third choice votes from two other left-leaning candidates, Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, and Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, who together received more than 7 percent of votes. Mr. Stringer stumbled after facing two allegations of sexual misconduct, and Ms. Morales’ campaign weathered a staff uprising.
Still, Mr. Adams’s lead reflected a successful outer-borough strategy. He did not campaign much in Manhattan, and it was the only borough where he was behind. His institutional support from the Brooklyn machine and veteran Democrats in Queens and the Bronx likely helped him turn out key constituencies.
Mr. Adams also appeared to do well in neighborhoods with many Latino residents — a key demographic that he pushed hard to secure with key leaders like Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president. In the heavily Latino neighborhood of Mott Haven in the Bronx, for instance, Mr. Adams won more than 45 percent of first-choice votes, compared to less than 20 percent for Ms. Wiley.
Mr. Adams ran a disciplined campaign — his motto was “stay focused, don’t get distracted, grind” — and hammered away at the message that he was the only candidate who could tackle both crime and police reform. Mr. Adams also secured a series of critical endorsements and raised a campaign war chest of more than $10 million — the most among candidates participating in the public matching funds program.
Mr. Adams ran as a working-class underdog and focused on communities that were hit hard by the pandemic — a message he touched on during his primary night speech, said Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University.
“There are so many communities feeling left out and Adams, as his authentic self, seemed just as angry and hurt and inspired as those communities,” Professor Greer said.
Mr. Adams was one of the moderate candidates in the Democratic field and would be a significant departure from Mr. de Blasio in style and substance, though Mr. de Blasio was believed to privately support Mr. Adams in the race.
The fact that three of the candidates who finished in the top four were moderate — Mr. Adams, Ms. Garcia and Mr. Yang — seemed to signal the mood of the city as New Yorkers emerge from the pandemic. A recent rise in gun violence has led to widespread concerns over safety.
But Ms. Wiley received nearly a quarter of first-choice votes, proving that a share of the electorate liked her message of cutting the police budget and focusing on inequality.
It is possible that Ms. Wiley, who became the standard-bearer for the left, peaked too late in the race. Leaders like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, waited to endorse Ms. Wiley until the last month of the race after other left-leaning candidates faltered.
Ms. Garcia, for her part, was boosted by endorsements from The New York Times and The Daily News editorial boards, but did not appear to expand her base far beyond wealthy white neighborhoods.
Mr. Yang had a disappointing finish in fourth place, but captured Asian American neighborhoods in Chinatown in Manhattan and in Flushing, Queens.
At his primary night party on Tuesday, Mr. Adams smiled broadly as he celebrated his lead. Then he took aim at the city’s news media and elites and said he had focused on voters who reliably show up at the polls.
“Social media does not pick a candidate,” he said. “People on Social Security pick a candidate.”
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