Crime surge hurts progressives' chances in NYC Democratic mayoral primary

Two moderate Democrats and one progressive front runners in battle for nomination ahead of primary

With the COVID crisis in the nation’s most populous city easing and crime and gun violence soaring, new polling suggests public safety has become the top issue in the New York City mayoral primary.

And that might be favoring some of the more moderate candidates in the Democratic primary at the expense of the party’s progressive contenders, with early voting underway and less than a week to go until primary day on June 22 in a contest that some see as a battle between the party’s moderate and left wings.


Ahead of Wednesday night's final debate before primary day, a slew of new polls released this week in the Democratic showdown show a surge in support for now-front runner Eric Adams, a former New York Police Department captain who serves as Brooklyn borough president. 

Adams and two of the other candidates in the top four in the latest surveys – former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia and tech entrepreneur and former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang – all oppose cuts to the NYPD.

Brooklyn Borough President and Mayoral candidate Eric Adams calls on the city and other candidates to adopt the anti-crime proposals he has been calling on Times Square. 

Brooklyn Borough President and Mayoral candidate Eric Adams calls on the city and other candidates to adopt the anti-crime proposals he has been calling on Times Square.  (GettyImages)

That appears to resonate with many voters in the city, as a poll released this week suggested that nearly half of those questioned said crime and public safety should be the top priority for whomever succeeds two-term Mayor Bill de Blasio in City Hall.

Adams emphasized that curbing the surge in shootings would be his top priority if elected, pledging in a radio interview on Tuesday "to zero in on gangs and guns." 

Pointing to the shooting death of a 10-year old boy in the borough of Queens earlier this month and last month’s triple shooting in Manhattan’s word renowned Times Square – a mecca for tourists – that left a young girl injured, Adams lamented that "those shootings are going to impact our economic recovery if we don’t get them under control."


Yang, the one-time front runner in the Democratic race who’s seen his support slip in the latest polls and now stands in fourth place in an average of the surveys, is touting a new endorsement to showcase his crime fighting credentials.

"I'm the mayor whose going to deliver real public safety for us and our families," he told subway and bus riders Tuesday at a busy station in Queens. "I was endorsed by the police captains just yesterday, Eric Adams' old union, I might add. The officers who know Eric best have decided I'm the best choice to help make New Yorkers safe." 

Responding, Adams said he isn’t seeking the endorsements of any unions and said that instead "I’m going to continue to focus on the rank and file, and everyday New Yorkers."


With Garcia a close second behind Adams in the latest polls, he’s increased his criticism of his rival as he takes aim at her record steering the city’s sanitation department.

"One of things I've learned over the past few months is that when politicians start to feel threatened, they start throwing mud," Garcia told reporters on Tuesday as she campaigned in the voter rich Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. "That's not who I am. I'm about showing up, rolling up my sleeves, and getting the work done."

Garcia, who along with Adams has the campaign fundraising edge over the rest of their rivals in the stretch run to the primary, is also showcasing her endorsements by the New York Daily News and New York Times, two of the city’s influential newspapers.

The most progressive among the top contenders is Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney who previously served in the de Blasio administration, has seen her poll numbers jump in recent weeks and is neck and neck with Garcia, just a few points behind Adams. Wiley’s calling for moving $1 billion from the NYPD’s roughly $6 bill budget and reinvesting those funds in city neighborhoods hardest it by gun violence. 


Wiley won the endorsement last week of progressive rockstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who’s congressional district includes parts of The Bronx and Queens.

"At the end of the day we're going to have to pull up that ballot and fill it out and I'm going to put Maya as number 1," Ocasio-Cortez said.

Wiley’s rise in the polls comes amid a drop in support for city comptroller and former Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer - another progressive leader in the field of more than a dozen Democratic candidates who’s been politically wounded following sexual harassment allegations that he’s denied.

Early voting in the primary began on Saturday and Wednesday evening the eight major candidates in the Democratic field face off for one final debate.

The primary is the first in New York City to use ranked-choice voting, which allows those casting ballots to rank as many as five candidates in order of preference. If no candidate tops 50% – which is an extremely likely scenario considering the crowded field – the ranked-choice voting kicks in, with ensuing rounds eliminating those with the least amount of votes.


While preliminary results are expected from the first ballot next Tuesday on primary night, the final outcome of the ranked choices, and thus the winner of the contest, may not be know for a couple of weeks.

The winner of the Democratic primary will be considered the front runner in November's election, as the city is a Democratic stronghold.