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Why the New York mayoral race actually should matter to everyone else, too

But the election in America’s biggest city is particularly important this year for two reasons:

I went to CNN’s Greg Krieg, who covered the race, for his thoughts about what this race means for:

  • American democracy
  • Progressive Democrats
  • National Republicans

Our conversation, conducted via Slack, is below:

Why does this matter to everyone else?

What Matters: First, what’s your position on how important the New York mayor’s race is to the rest of the country?

Gregory Krieg: This has obviously been a subject of debate — do we care about who the mayor of NYC is because it matters … or because so many reporters live here?

The answer is: yes. Both! The case for why it matters is, for me, is that the city is the largest and most diverse in the country.

Queens, one of the five boroughs, is bigger than most major US cities. And what happens here, for better or worse, is in the bloodstream of the way the media reports and frames issues all around the country.

Politicians from both parties, for different reasons, look to the city — how it votes and the policies it implements — for evidence for and against their agendas.

This time out, the mayoral race turned on two issues: how to recover and rebuild after the worst of Covid and what to do about rising violent crime rates. So the results here are shaping debates that are already happening all over the country.

Who represents the “real” Democratic party?

What Matters: After New Yorkers in the Bronx and Queens gave Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive lawmaker who has pushed the party to the left, Democrats there have now selected a law-and-order former police officer to lead the city. Which one is the real Democratic party?

Krieg: I’m going to push back a little on the frame of this question — which is obviously a familiar one — and say: There is no such thing as the “real” Democratic Party.

The citywide races for mayor and comptroller and the down-ballot contest for the city council here are perfect examples. The Democratic Party, unlike the GOP, is very much a coalition party. That’s not an academic matter. The party includes — to your point — centrists and liberals and progressives and leftists. (Though not equally distributed; the centrists and moderate liberals still rule the roost.) The party — and I think AOC said this during the presidential primary — would not be a party in other countries. It would be 2 or 3 or even 4 parties.

In short, the real Democratic Party is what you see now in NYC: One that elects a centrist mayor, a progressive comptroller, and a varied but increasingly left-leaning city council.

But is Adams’ win a setback for the progressive wing of the party?

What Matters: That sounds a lot like White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who said this to The New York Times about Adams’ apparent victory:

I think that the coalition that Mr. Adams put together in New York is not dissimilar to the coalition that President Biden put together, a coalition of working-class voters, African-American voters overwhelmingly, and voters who want to see progress on core issues. And I think that is the coalition that got Joe Biden the Democratic nomination in 2020. It got him elected president in November of 2020. So I think it’s a familiar coalition. That’s the coalition we continue to see as kind of the center of American politics. And so that’s not a surprise to me.

What do you think Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren are taking away from these results?

Krieg: Oy. Standby.

What Matters: I think I know what you’re going to say and I have an even better one coming.

Krieg: There are no dummies in that group, so I would suspect that the results mostly confirmed what they previously knew — that there is, for now, a ceiling on what the progressive wing of the party can do in big elections. And when I say big, I mean it literally — elections with large numbers of voters. The NYC left is understandably pointing to downballot successes and noting that they didn’t really get involved in the mayoral campaign — in part because of resource management and also because none of the candidates really appealed to them.

I think it’s a fair, but narrow, point to make. The reality remains this: progressives need to do better, and more, to win working class and minority voters of all ages. They hate hearing it, but the Biden coalition — as Klain puts it (analysis with which I agree) — is still the winning ticket. So I’m sure Warren and Sanders and AOC and many, many more shrewd progressive tacticians are turning this over in their heads. I know for fact that many in NYC are. And the question they’re asking is how to better connect with the people their policies are written to benefit?

Why aren’t Republicans in the space occupied by Adams?

What Matters: OK, let’s flip the script.

I’m old enough to remember New York electing successive Republican governors, and Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg (you don’t have to be THAT old to remember it!). Note: Those two went in very different directions. Giuliani is still in the news because of his connection to former President Donald Trump. He recently lost his New York law license. Bloomberg is now a Democrat and tried to use his billions (unsuccessfully) to run for President.

And yet Adams’ victory in the Democratic primary is perceived to put him on a glide path to victory. The law and order space Adams occupies, I think, should actually be the sweet spot for a moderate Republican. His victory in the Democratic primary says as much about where Republicans are as it does about Democrats.

Krieg: Good one.

What Matters: When you don’t say “good one,” you start your answer by completely rejecting my question, so I’ll take it.

Krieg: Not this time.

The GOP in New York is a shambles. And to your point, that’s not because the electorate is so overwhelmingly Democratic. The city and state have elected plenty of Republicans.

So yes, large portions of Adams’ message could have easily come from the mouth of a certain kind of GOP candidate. But that candidate does not exist.

Why? Because Adams did two things at once in this primary: He talked about stepped-up policing and, though he didn’t use the term, law and order more generally. But that message was always — always! — part of a broader pitch that promised justice and fair treatment by the police. Can a Republican candidate these days, in a GOP primary, say the second part and still win?

No one knows exactly what Adams will do. He is a bit of a wild card, but the fact is that his message was more nuanced than he got credit for — and certainly better-rounded than a Republican, these days, could afford to make.

Will ranked choice voting survive this primary?

What Matters: While Adams’ victory does something to confound the national GOP message about cities and Democratic politicians and crime, the primary itself feeds into another, insidious message, about the security of American elections. Ranked choice voting is supposed to insure the majority of voters are comfortable with the winning candidate, but it was glitchy and confusing to New Yorkers. What’s next for ranked choice voting?

Krieg: I think ranked-choice voting is here to stay. In part because it would take a lot to undo it and I’m not sure there’s much appetite or organization behind tossing it.

But at least in NYC, there is an understanding that ranked-choice — however one feels about it — was not the cause of the fiasco a few weeks ago. That mess was the sole propriety of the city’s bumbling Board of Elections, which included test ballots in their initial tabulation. Ranked-choice might have given the BOE more chances to mess up — which they seized on — but it wasn’t the cause.

The main point here, as you said, is that NYC’s inept elections bureaucracy is no longer just a local issue. As Republicans try to make it harder to vote, using these bogus threats to “election security” as a pretext, Democrats here are finally feeling at least some pressure to move forward with reform — to professionalize a board that is basically a jobs program from friends, family and allies of Democratic and Republican local leaders.

So to be clear — there is NO evidence this election was unfair, insecure, etc. But hoo boy, did the BOE here give those acting in bad faith a story to highlight.

What else?

What Matters: OK, I’ve gotten my New York fix. What should I have asked but didn’t?

Krieg: I’m surprised you didn’t ask me about Eric Adams getting his ears pierced on Wednesday! He apparently told some voters he would do it if he won the primary. So that’s one promise kept.

The only (serious) point I’ll ask and answer: what does this mean for the relationship between incoming mayor (assuming he wins the general, which he will) and our three-term Gov. Andrew Cuomo. As everyone knows, Cuomo and the term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio despise each other. That’s not hyperbole, to be clear. So can the new mayor and Cuomo get on in a functional way? My guess is that things will be better, at least at the start. If Cuomo runs again in 2022, he will want Adams on his side and city voters thinking about all the resources he’s delivered for them!

But on the other side of that … who knows? The push-and-pull between the city and Albany predated Cuomo vs. de Blasio and it will outlive them, too.

What Matters: Could de Blasio have won a third term?

Krieg: Approval ratings suggest no and I think he would have definitely gotten a primary challenge, but my bet is yes — he certainly COULD have.

What Matters: I also didn’t ask about questions that came up during the campaign about whether Adams lives in his office in Brooklyn or with his partner in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa will probably look at that. Thanks, Greg!

Krieg: LOL, he surely will. Thanks, Zach!

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