NEW YORK — The Democratic primary for mayor of New York City was billed as a race that would define the city’s future, shaping its emergence from the pandemic and its response to demands for social justice.
For months, progressive groups had hoped that a left-leaning candidate might emerge victorious. Instead, voters chose a centrist: Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who ran on a platform that was part law-and-order, part police reform.
On Wednesday, Adams’ two closest rivals, Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley, conceded defeat, while Adams dashed through a series of television interviews talking about his plans for the city if, as seems likely, he is elected in November.
“I call it Esther 4:14: God made me for such a time like this,” Adams said on CBS.
Arguably, the narrowness of Adams’ victory over the second-place Garcia — he won by 8,400 votes, or 1 percentage point — underscored the centrist mood of the electorate.
Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner who ran on her reputation for bureaucratic acumen, and Adams, a former police captain, were regarded as relative moderates in the left-leaning universe of New York City Democratic politics. They opposed defunding the police; they expressed support for expanding charter schools and encouraging real estate development.
They finished ahead of three progressive candidates who fought to become the left-wing standard-bearer, with Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, eventually laying claim to that flag.
But that designation came in the final weeks of the race, and only after the other two candidates had self-destructed. It was not until June 5, 17 days before primary day, that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Wiley, as did another progressive, House colleague, Rep. Jamaal Bowman.
For much of the campaign, progressives did not coalesce; the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, for example, made no endorsement in the race.
“The progressive candidates for mayor weren’t strong,” said Susan Kang, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Queens branch representative for the DSA.
The primary results prompted progressives to defend their performance, noting their success in races for the New York City Council, and the victory of their candidates in the other two citywide primaries — for comptroller, which was won by Councilman Brad Lander, and for public advocate, which was won by the incumbent, Jumaane Williams.
“The incoming mayor is going to be surrounded from all sides by progressives,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, state director of the New York Working Families Party, which had initially endorsed Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller, as its first choice.
The party then rescinded its endorsement after Stringer imploded amid decades-old sexual misconduct allegations, which he denied. Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive who cast herself as the farthest-left choice in the field, also saw her campaign collapse when her workers went on strike, alleging she had mistreated them.
Wiley may also have been hampered by her affiliation to de Blasio, who has long cast himself as a left-wing Democrat and was Wiley’s former boss, according to Gabe Tobias, who ran a super PAC that aimed to boost progressive candidates.
“There was a reaction against him,” Tobias said.
By some measures, Tobias and Kang noted, Adams is more progressive than he may seem.
He has backed an aggressive expansion of the earned-income tax credit. He is an ardent vegan who has promised to reduce the city’s meat procurements, and he has embraced the idea of transitioning the city to renewable energy resources.
“He’s certainly to the left of Bloomberg,” said Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, comparing Adams to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Is he to the left of de Blasio? Quite possibly.”
Garcia and Wiley had hoped to achieve what might have been described as a progressive goal, were it not so commonplace in other locales. They wanted to become the first woman elected mayor of New York City, but formally conceded Wednesday that their bids had fallen short.
“For 400 years, no woman has held the top seat at City Hall,” said Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner who trailed by 1 percentage point in Tuesday’s tally. “This campaign has come closer than any other moment in history to breaking that glass ceiling in selecting New York City’s first female mayor. We cracked the hell out of it, and it’s ready to be broken.”
She spoke in front of the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in Central Park, Central Park’s first monument featuring real women, and a landmark that Wiley had also deployed in her campaign.
Garcia ran on her reputation for managerial competence, offering herself as a counterweight to de Blasio, who developed a reputation as a sometimes hapless administrator. Her candidacy gained momentum after she was endorsed by The New York Times and The Daily News; a late alliance with a rival candidate, Andrew Yang, likely helped her draw second-place votes from his supporters.
A short while after Garcia’s concession speech, Wiley, who finished third, spoke outside the Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She had allied herself with the homeless men fighting to stay at the hotel as it became a flash point over inequality during the pandemic.
Wiley, who often spoke emotionally about what it meant to connect with and inspire young Black girls on the campaign trail, congratulated Adams and acknowledged that his victory carried historical significance: If Adams wins the general election, he will be New York City’s second Black mayor.
“That has tremendous meaning for so many New Yorkers, particularly Black and brown ones,” Wiley said.
As Garcia and Wiley were conceding the race, Adams was making the rounds of the morning news shows, casting his victory as a repudiation of the far left and its focus on defunding the police, when poor New Yorkers live on unsafe streets and grapple with inadequate city services.
“There’s a permanent group of people that are living in systemic poverty,” he said on CBS. “You and I, we go to the restaurant, we eat well, we take our Uber, but that’s not the reality for America and New York. And so when we turn this city around, we’re going to end those inequalities.”
Adams devoted little time Wednesday to addressing the November election, when he will compete against Curtis Sliwa, the Republican nominee and the founder of the Guardian Angels. When a reporter asked about Sliwa, Adams swiftly dismissed him as a single-issue candidate focused on subway crime in a city facing a multitude of complicated issues.
Instead, Adams directed his attention to what his win might portend for his party. And at the city’s “Hometown Heroes” parade for essential workers in lower Manhattan, he reveled in his victory.
Wearing an open-collared shirt, blue slacks and white sneakers, Adams bounced from one side of Broadway to the other, greeting the workers who were being celebrated. He grinned, waved, shook hands, exchanged hugs, cracked jokes.
The breadth of the coalition that Adams had assembled was on display. In the span of a minute, a Black man came up to Adams and said he had voted for him and so had his entire neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn. A few seconds later, a white man came up and said he planned to vote for Adams in the general election even though he was a Republican.
“This coalition is amazing,” Adams said. “Working-class people that saw a working-class mayor.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.