Well, now it’s a race.
Welcome to the fourth edition of this NYC election-focused newsletter! I’m independent journalist Felipe De La Hoz, and our goal is to bring you some coverage of the upcoming municipal primaries from the perspective of constituencies and communities.
But first: We can’t ignore this poll that finds Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough president, outperforming Andrew Yang for the first time. It signals a new chapter in this election.
And there’s another shift we delve into this week: in-person campaigning.
Over the past 14 months, we’ve all had to get used to a new social reality. We have had to experience monumental stages in life at a distance and often through screens: birthdays, weddings, book clubs, union meetings, and yes, even political campaigns have been experienced largely over Zoom. It was just one of the many shifts inherent in dealing with a deadly pandemic. Candidates deftly adapted with online forums and a bigger social media presence.
Yet, as vaccination rates keep up their steady pace — around 44 percent of New York City residents have received at least one shot, though big disparities remain — and political leaders rolling out reopening plans with ambitious goals like 24-hour subway service by May 17, the possibility of safe in-person campaigning is tantalizing to city candidates.
Voting in New York City can be confusing. Did you know you have to register with a party before you can vote in its primary, or that this year will feature the first round of ranked-choice voting, where you can select an order of candidates by preference? For more guidance and resources, see here:
Do you have any topics you want us to focus on or questions you want this newsletter to answer? We’d love to hear from you! Reach us at NYCelections@url-media.com
Contenders in the crowded mayoral field are particularly keen on showing up around the city, eager to differentiate themselves and raise their position on voters’ ranked-choice ballots. After months of seeing pixelated voters, all are eager to get back to glad-handing and the retail politics that have so long been all important in a city where each diverse community likes to feel heard and seen.
Mayoral candidate Dianne Morales, a former public school teacher and nonprofit executive, made headlines when she stated that she would stop participating in Zoom forums, emphasizing a need to engage communities directly.
In response to our questions, Morales’ campaign further elaborated that “there are so many New Yorkers who do not have the luxury of an internet connection, or frankly, the time to sit down and watch a Zoom forum.” Instead, the campaign is focusing on a “Politics for the People” tour that will take place across all five boroughs and include performances and food. A block party this Saturday in Sunset Park will feature a mariachi band and catering from Mexican restaurant Pablito’s. As for how they plan to keep things safe, all events “take place outdoors with social distancing, and mask enforcement upheld by our staff and supporters.”
While some folks may remain skeptical of the notion of gathering outside and attending political events as infections and hospitalizations continue, though at a greatly lower number, the science is increasingly clear about safety. The latest CDC guidance states that vaccinated people with masks can even safely gather at a “crowded, outdoor event, like a live performance, parade, or sports event.” Unvaccinated people should exercise more caution, but can still attend a “small, outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people.”
We sent questions about in-person outreach plans to the campaigns of eight of the city’s top mayoral candidates — Andrew Yang, Eric Adams, Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer, Ray McGuire, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn García, and Morales. In addition to Morales, the campaigns of Yang, Stringer, Donovan and García responded to us with their views, which are included below:
The former lawyer, entrepreneur, and political newcomer, whose first foray into running for office was an unexpectedly strong run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has been at the top of the polls so far this electoral season, in part due to the strength of his name recognition and online presence. The campaign said it plans to scale up public events, though did not give much in the way of specifics. Press secretary Jake Sporn wrote that “meeting as many voters as possible — not on Zoom, but where New Yorkers actually live, work and commute — has been our priority since day one and Andrew is just getting started.” The campaign’s protocols will continue to require that field personnel wear masks and undergo frequent Covid-19 testing.
The leader of the city’s emergency pandemic-response food program and former longtime commissioner of the sanitation department has a wealth of management experience and knowledge of the city’s bureaucracy. Her campaign said that “Kathryn has continued to meet with civic and community groups over Zoom at forums and meet-and-greets and will continue to do so throughout the remainder of the campaign,” but now that she is fully vaccinated, she has been “regularly meeting with New Yorkers face to face (in public, outdoor settings)” and such events would increase with proximity to election day. The campaign considers in-person campaigning a critical piece of its strategy, writing that the “mayor works for the people of the city and any candidate asking for their vote should reach them in every way possible under safe circumstances heading into election day.”
The New York City comptroller and former Manhattan borough president and member of the State Assembly seemed like the strongest candidate with significant progressive backing until recent sexual misconduct allegations caused many who had endorsed him to pull their support. Stringer has flatly denied the claims and stayed in the race, and in-person campaigning could be critical for him in the coming weeks. His campaign wrote that “Zoom fatigue is real and that’s why our campaign has been out on the streets from the start,” pointing to Stringer’s conversations “with voters at subway stations, on street corners, in parks, or even online.” Going forward, the campaign said it has “campaign stops and press conferences planned with supporters all across the city to continue to get out there. For everyone’s safety, mask wearing and social distancing is mandatory and we are limiting crowd sizes.”
After serving as commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development during mayor Bloomberg’s administration, Donovan went on to serve in President Barack Obama’s cabinet for all eight years, first as secretary of Housing and Urban Development and then as director of the Office of Management and Budget. His campaign said that “although zoom forums have been helpful as New Yorkers have navigated this pandemic, the truth of the matter is that not all voters have the same time and access to be able to tune into 5 different virtual forums every day.” It emphasized that Donovan is fully vaccinated and in-person events “adhere to masking and social distance guidelines.” There’s been a focus on visiting local institutions and community figures, including visits to “mosques, churches, synagogues, borough tours with local leaders, and meetings with local businesses to discuss the challenges this pandemic has presented.” The campaign expects to increase the number of such events in the run-up to the election.
It’s clear from this sampling that all of the candidates are eager to ramp up their in-person meetings with New Yorkers around the city. It might be a little daunting, but voters should take the next several weeks as an opportunity to get some face time with the people vying to lead the city out of one of the worst crises in modern history. Particularly, if you’re vaccinated, it’s safe to go to political events and participate in a little old-fashioned civic engagement.
What we’re reading
This newsletter was written by Felipe De La Hoz for URL Media, a network of Black and Brown news and information outlets. Our collaborative elections coverage is sponsored by a grant from the Center for Community Media.