As they jostle to get ahead of each other in a crowded and anarchic primary, the Democratic candidates for New York mayor resemble a cluster of bumper cars.
As at any amusement park, getting ahead of the competition has been a matter of an inch here, a foot there: If it’s Brooklyn Borough President
one day, it’s the entrepreneur-cum-politico
the next. On other days, the lead has been with
former head of the city’s Sanitation Department, and even
who bounced close to the top of the heap this week after receiving an endorsement from
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Viewed another way, no candidate in this perverse mayoral election has consistently led in the opinion polls—which this year have been desultory, even a little derelict. To be fair, the pollsters have struggled not only with canvassing opinion amid a pandemic, but also with the novel form of ranked-choice voting introduced for this election.
How do you conduct a call in which you ask an already impatient stranger—finger ready to disconnect—who his second, third and fourth choices are?
In the absence of reliable empirical evidence, the city and its pundits have resorted to anecdotes. They demonstrate (we’re told) that Ms. Garcia is everyone’s second choice—except, of course, for her own voters. A senior official from the administration of former Mayor
tells me that Ms. Garcia has “the management chops to run the city better than
Bill de Blasio,
” the current mayor. She has “a good chance of winning,” he said, “but not on the first ballot. This is one of those times where being everyone’s second choice could be the deciding factor.”
Ms. Garcia is canny enough to endorse that narrative. It’s her hope, no doubt, that voters will come to believe it if they hear it often enough. “I want to be everybody’s first choice, but I’ll take those No. 2s,” Ms. Garcia tells me in a Zoom call from her home in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope. “I believe we have strong support across the board with many people. They may have other No. 1s, but I’m their No. 2.”
You’d be wrong to think Ms. Garcia is some bland crowd-pleaser with wishy-washy views designed to offend as few people as possible. She’s staked out clear positions and comes across as no less moderate and pragmatic than Mr. Adams, who’s been the notional frontrunner for a good part of the race. A former police officer, Mr. Adams’s fortunes dipped this week after Politico stung him with a story alleging that he lives—gasp!—in New Jersey. Mr. Adams has since spent much of his rapidly dwindling campaign time persuading people that he lives in a basement in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Ms. Garcia deflects my request for comment on Mr. Adams’s fixed address. No one can doubt where she lives: Her vowels and speech are all Brooklyn, as is her attitude. She scoffs at the idea of defunding the police—“I don’t believe in hashtag politics”—even as she makes plain her unhappiness with the New York City Police Department: “Their discipline system is just dysfunctional.”
She’d remove the cap on charter schools, noting that they educate more than 10% of children in the city. She points to a charter school that “serves autistic kids” in East Harlem and asks why she should get in the way of its expansion. “They want to open new schools, one in every borough. And I’m sorry, I’m just not going to say no to those kids.”
Ms. Garcia won’t tamper with the city’s specialized high schools—one of which she attended herself—and scoffs at Mr. de Blasio’s attempt to do away with their current exacting admissions process in the name of racial equity. She suggests it’s pure grandstanding: “It’s not even a mayoral decision. It’s the state Legislature’s decision.” She served under Mr. de Blasio as sanitation commissioner, as well as interim chairman of New York City Housing Authority and “food czar” during the pandemic. But any respect she may once have had for her old boss appears to have evaporated. She’s quick to point out that she’d “come to work on time” if elected, “and not at 11 a.m.” as she alleges Mr. de Blasio does. “He goes to the gym in the morning. I’d go at 5.30 a.m.”
It’s no surprise that Ms. Garcia believes it’s time for New York to have a woman as mayor. “It’s been 400 years of 50% of us not holding that chair,” she says. “We design teams differently. We have a different lived experience. A woman does not design ‘hybrid school’ ”—where kids attend class in person for part of the week and Zoom-school for the rest.
In office, she says, she’d emulate her two favorite mayors—
and Mr. Bloomberg. “I’d combine some of the enthusiasm of Koch with the nuts-and-bolts metrics of a Bloomberg. That’s really the marriage I see for myself.”
Mr. Varadarajan, a Journal contributor, is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and at New York University Law School’s Classical Liberal Institute.
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