NYC's 2021 Mayor's Race Is a Big Apple Mess in Democratic Primary

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The 2021 New York City mayoral race is heating up as the primaries loom. With early voting scheduled to start on June 12 and Election Day on June 22, we’ll have a much stronger sense of who is poised to carry the Big Apple into the 2020s after the city’s primaries have been decided.

Like in many big cities, there are Republicans running, but all eyes are on the Democrats. It’s not quite as crowded a field as the 2020 presidential race, but the Democratic primary in New York is still jam-packed with candidates. As we’ve come to expect from nearly any Democratic primary, there are front-runners for both the moderate and progressive votes — notable in a city where progressive politics can succeed but moderates often call the shots. Policing and housing, two key issues centered during 2020, are the focus of much of the debate.

Here’s what you need to know about the state of NYC's mayoral race: who’s running, what each candidate stands for, which candidates are mired in scandal, and what it all means for the Big Apple moving forward.

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Andrew Yang

Yang made his name in national politics during the 2020 presidential primaries, possibly helping him become a front-runner in the NYC mayoral race. As in the Democratic primaries, Yang has fashioned himself as a technocratic bro with a sense of humor.

Some of Yang’s stated goals for the city, like his eagerness to bring TikTok hype houses to New York, have been lampooned, as has his failure to vote in any NYC mayoral election this century, and a cringe-inducing video he posted from inside an alleged bodega.

Yang's interest in making the city a cryptocurrency hub could just alter the way the financial industry controls much of New York politics. He’s also said he wants to bring back plainclothes cops, like the units disbanded last year. His website outlines an extensive summer safety plan and an affordable housing plan that says the city is, in many ways, the “most neglectful landlord in the five boroughs.”

Eric Adams

Currently the Brooklyn borough president, Adams has seemingly benefited from the way crime and public safety have become central to the mayoral debates. That may be little surprise for a candidate whose political career began after his service in the New York Police Department (NYPD), the largest police force in the United States. His campaign website compares “lawlessness” to disease and stresses the necessity of the NYPD.

Like Yang, Adams has been lampooned on the campaign trail, including for a 2011 informational video from his time as a state senator, demonstrating all the different places a teenager could be hiding drugs or guns from parents.

Kathryn Garcia

Garcia wasn’t getting much attention until the coveted New York Times endorsement went to her. A public servant by trade, her website touts her experience as an incident commander during Hurricane Sandy and in creating an emergency food program amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s also been sanitation commissioner and took on a lead crisis in public-housing drinking water.

Garcia is moderate on some key issues. NY1 reported that she doesn’t want to defund police and wants to expand funding of certain types of policing. According to Politico, Garcia, Yang, and Adams have all shared plans to support some form of expanding privately run charter schools in the city.

Maya Wiley

Wiley is the de facto progressive front-runner, largely due to major scandals that plague the other candidates in her lane. That status was recently solidified when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the superstar congresswoman who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens in the U.S. House of Representatives, endorsed her.

If Wiley pulls off a win, it would be historic. She’d be the first woman to run the city and only the second Black mayor in its history. 

On the campaign trail she’s been a strong advocate for defunding the NYPD by $1 billion. But, as the New York Daily News reported, her demonstrated background in police reform is less aggressive, as her time on the Civilian Complaint Review Board didn’t impress others working to change the NYPD.

If she wins, Wiley’s tenure as mayor could be a new case study in progressive governance for a new decade.

Dianne Morales

Morales, a former nonprofit executive, teacher, and Department of Education official, has perhaps been the most vocal lefty in the race, calling for defunding police and guaranteed housing for all. After building her campaign on left-leaning policy proposals, Morales’s lefty credibility took a major hit when her campaign imploded during a unionization drive. Staffers at a nonprofit Morales previously ran called the situation “déja vu” in interviews with The City.

Scott Stringer

Stringer, city comptroller, had been garnering an impressive array of endorsements from progressive New York politicians until accusations of sexual misconduct began to surface. First, Jean Kim alleged misconduct by Stringer in the early 2000s, originally reported by Gothamist. Stringer has denied any wrongdoing, telling the Times they had a consensual relationship. The Intercept reported that Kim’s claims had unraveled.

Then a second woman came forward: Teresa Logan told the New York Times she had been 18 years old when she was working her first job in the city, at Uptown Local, a bar Stringer co-owned with several other influential city Democrats. During her time on staff, she said, he made multiple sexual advances toward her, at times touching and kissing her without consent.

Stringer, who would’ve been 32 at the time of the behavior in Logan’s allegations, said he has no memory of meeting her, telling the Times, “If, in fact, I met Ms. Logan and ever did anything to make her uncomfortable, I am sorry.… Uptown Local was a long-ago chapter in my life from the early 1990s and it was all a bit of a mess.”

The Rest of the Dems

Yang, Adams, and Garcia have been the moderate front-runners, while Wiley, Morales, and Stringer have received the most attention on the progressive side. But there are at least another seven Democrats in the race worth mentioning, though none have yet built the kind of momentum that would make them a bona fide front-runner.

On her website, Joycelyn Taylor says she’s a “working-class Democrat” who wants to “realign government and private investment,” asking voters to “invest in a mayor that will invest in you.” Her bio highlights her childhood growing up in public housing in Brooklyn, the daughter of a city bus driver. Her campaign has prioritized housing and decriminalizing poverty.

Raymond McGuire’s website tells the story of his ascension from humble Ohio beginnings to Wall Street, where, according to a February Times article, he’s a favored candidate among some of the city’s financial elite, even as he rejects comparisons to former-mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Aaron Foldenauer is an attorney with a resumé listing stints at several NYC-based law firms. His website touts his work as an “environmental advocate” for the city and his pro bono legal work. He will be listed at the top of the ballot due to a random drawing.

Art Chang’s website says he’s a “pro-business progressive” who’s prioritizing affordable housing, universal childcare, and redirecting police funding, among other issues. He was the second man to graduate from Yale University with a degree in women’s studies, his bio says.

A former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Barack Obama during the foreclosure crisis, Shaun Donovan pledges on his website to be an advocate for the city in Joe Biden’s White House. Donovan was the chair of the Obama administration’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

According to a 2020 article from the American Bar Association Journal, Isaac Wright Jr. was sentenced to life in prison after he was wrongfully convicted on drug charges by a prosecutor who framed him — a story rapper 50 Cent helped turn into the TV drama, For Life. Wright studied law in prison, eventually working a case that set a state Supreme Court precedent that got his own conviction overturned.

Finally, à la Vermin Supreme and other meme candidates, Paperboy Love Prince has staked their campaign on some farcical and, depending on how you’re feeling, maybe much-needed levity. They recently participated in a mayoral candidate “smoke sesh” at City Hall, where they ripped into Adams with a song they wrote about the front-running moderate. They've also written a track about Yang.

What about the GOP?

It’s not impossible for the GOP to win in NYC. Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, the two mayors before current mayor Bill de Blasio, were both elected as Republicans — though Bloomberg switched teams to run, and then dropped his party affiliation altogether while in office. This year’s GOP contenders are a businessman and a vigilante organizer.

Curtis Sliwa is a founder of the Guardian Angels, a vigilante safety patrol formed in New York during the 1970s. Among his key priorities is a plan to “refund the police.” On the campaign trail, he’s pledged to run “squeegee men” out of town, directly confronting them on the streets.

Fernando Mateo’s website says he is a “serial entrepreneur” whose business ventures include a job training program for Rikers Island inmates. Honored by both president Bushes, he’s also been an advocate for the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers and the Bodega Association of America. He’s vowed to protect landlords the same way tenants are protected, according to NY1.

You can check your registration status in New York on the city’s board of elections website.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story used incorrect pronouns for Paperboy Love Prince. We regret and apologize for the error.

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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue