NEW YORK — Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Tuesday received nearly a third of top-choice votes to lead New York City out of the pandemic doldrums as mayor under a new “ranked-choice” system that’s adding intrigue — and a long wait — to a race that hinges on the best person to revive the economy and take on rising crime.
The Election Night results won’t make Mr. Adams a winner, though it puts him in a solid position as the elections board cuts poor-performing candidates and reshuffles their votes under the new tiered system.
With nearly 90% of the vote reported, Mr. Adams had nearly 31% of the No. 1 vote. Progressive Maya Wiley was the top choice for over 21%, while former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia nearly matched that share and businessman Andrew Yang failed to reach 12%, prompting him to concede.
Though only a primary, the winning Democrat from a field of eight major candidates is all but assured to succeed term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio in the liberal city.
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, recently used pizza toppings to explain the byzantine system that allowed voters to rank their top five choices. Candidates who receive the fewest top-choice votes will be eliminated and their votes will be redistributed to their second-choice candidates.
The process could drag until mid-July, considering that absentee ballots also must be counted.
Some voters exiting the Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan needed a minute to remember how they ranked their top choices under the newfangled system.
“It was ridiculous,” said Mary Libassi, a retired lawyer.
She ended up bridging wings of the Democratic Party with her top picks, selecting Ms. Garcia at No. 1 and giving her second pick to Maya Wiley, who consolidated the left wing with endorsements from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts but could fall short of the coalition needed to win.
Ms. Garcia “has run a big organization,” Ms. Libassi said. “Wiley was kind of like, ‘Go with someone who’s got some real ideas.’”
Some voters said the problem wasn’t that the system is difficult to figure out — it’s that they want their No. 1 to be victorious and that’s all.
The most populous city in America is trying to regain its mojo after a devastating pandemic that killed over 30,000 city residents, shuttered museums and performing spaces, and reshuffled office work in a city known for its bridge-and-tunnel commuters.
Broadway is staging a fall comeback, while the new Moynihan Train Hall near Pennsylvania Station provides a showpiece of what’s possible with some investment in city renewal.
But the city faces a long recovery amid rising public safety concerns, with overall crime rising 22% in May compared to the same time last year due to a spike in robberies.
An Ipsos poll released Monday had shown Mr. Adams, a retired police captain and Brooklyn borough president, leading as the first choice of 28%, followed by Mr. Yang at 20%, Ms. Garcia with 15% and Ms. Wiley at 13%.
Obama administration housing secretary Shaun Donovan, city Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, former Wall Street executive Raymond J. McGuire and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales rounded out the Democratic ballot.
Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels street-patrol organization, easily defeated Fernando Mateo, a restaurateur, on the GOP side but faces an uphill battle against the Democratic nominee.
Mr. Adams vowed to “stop the betrayals” that afflicted his mother, who died at the height of the campaign.
“I never had the time to mourn,” Mr. Adams said, wiping his face in Brooklyn after casting his ballot with his son, Jordan.
He said his mother suffered from poor health care while working multiple jobs to support her six children.
“Now, all these years later her son walked into a polling place and he placed her grandson’s hand on his name to run to be the mayor of the city of New York and finally stop the betrayals,” Mr. Adams said. “That’s what this is about.”
Many voters cited crime as the biggest problem, a trend that in part explains Mr. Adams’ rise.
Mr. Adams said the issue hit especially close to him last weekend when he was visiting a family whose children had been shot at by gang members. At the same moment, one of his campaign staffers was stabbed in an unrelated incident.
Mr. Yang, who rose to national prominence with a 2020 Democratic presidential bid based on a push for a universal basic income, has said the city is in “crisis.”
He told The Washington Times that his first task will be working with the city police and fire departments to restore public safety.
He predicted a win Tuesday as he strolled down a street to greet voters on the Upper West Side, only to see results that suggest his run was overhyped.
“I feel great. People heading out to vote today is going to lead to a historic victory for us,” Mr. Yang said as he waved to onlookers and sped away to another polling place in a black SUV.
An hour later, Ms. Garcia insisted the math was on her side as she greeted voters outside the same voting site.
“We know that we’re winning a tremendous amount of No. 1 votes and we know that we’re winning a tremendous amount of No. 2s,” she told The Washington Times.
Like other candidates, she said it would be difficult to revive the economy unless the crime issue was addressed.
“The things that resonate here resonate everywhere — public safety, are you getting my kids back in school, are you keeping the streets clean, and what are you doing about the economy?” she said.
A moderate advantage
Given the contours of the race, the ultimate winner is likely to be a moderate Democrat who can help the city navigate an uncertain future instead of a progressive pushing policies such as defunding the police.
“It is entirely possible that in the nation’s most progressive city, the most conservative candidate will prevail,” said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University. “If so, there is a cautionary tale for Democrats nationally that progressivism is a niche presence among Democratic voters. If the election of Joe Biden didn’t make that point, chances are tomorrow’s winner will underscore it.”
Despite the stakes, the mayoral contest lacks the sizzle and pop of past elections, contests that featured colorful personalities such as Ed Koch or headline-name reformers like Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Early voting began June 12 and ended Sunday, with 191,000 people casting votes during that span.
“The NYC election is like watching semi-pro baseball: The game is recognizable and competently played but you can’t tell the players without a scorecard,” Mr. Baker said. “These are people whose names are recognizable only after prompting.”
Warren Kishner, a broadcast engineer, said he picked Mr. Donovan as his No. 1 but gave Mr. Yang his No. 2 slot because he’s got chutzpah.
“He’s got character. You have to have a certain amount of pizzazz to talk to people in this city,” he said. “This is a tough town. You got to stand up for [stuff].”
The final days of the race were marked by New York-style tussles among the top-tier candidates.
Mr. Yang and Ms. Garcia campaigned together in the final days of the campaign, hoping to cut into support for Mr. Adams.
Mr. Adams, who is Black, accused them of trying to suppress votes and bar a person of color from getting in office, prompting a rebuke from Ms. Wiley, who said Mr. Adams’ charges were misplaced and that ranked-choice empowered voters.
Mr. Yang said the last thing New York needs is a leader who will play the race card in the face of challenges.
Voter William Van Diepen, a financial consultant, said Mr. Adams is an “old-time politician” with “baggage” and criticized Mr. Yang’s performance as a nonprofit executive. He selected Ms. Garcia with his No. 1 pick.
“I think women are, at the end of the day, smarter than men and yeah, it’s time for one to be mayor,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, Ms. Garcia received a bouquet of roses from sanitation workers during roll call at the Manhattan 12 District Garage. She has surged in the latter stages of the race and appeals to voters who want a mayor who knows the basics of running a city, like picking up the trash.
Linda Wolff, on the Upper West Side, picked Ms. Garcia as No. 1 because she’s handled a tough job and should understand people from different walks of life.
Ms. Garcia was adopted as a baby and grew up with multiracial siblings, giving her a unique perspective as Ms. Wolff cited “equality for brown and Black people.”
“For me, it is the biggest issue to do — for education and housing,” said Ms. Wolff, who owns a women’s clothing store and is disgusted by the entitled attitude of richer New Yorkers.
New date, new system
The city’s primary used to be held in September, so voters had to adjust to the new time frame in addition to the ranked-choice system.
The elections board will run a ranked-choice analysis on June 29, using only votes that were cast in person. On July 6, the board will conduct another round of ranked-choice analysis that includes all absentee ballots counted as of that date.
The rankings analysis will be run every subsequent Tuesday until a winner is declared.
Voters were not required to vote for more than one candidate, but ranking up to five candidates theoretically allows them to extend their influence and give them a better shot at getting a mayor closer to their own views in a crowded field.
Mr. Van Diepen said it’s unclear how long the process will take. The city is venturing into the great unknown, after all.
“It’s like the dark hole of the cosmic universe,” he said.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.