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My NYC Mayoral Rankings, Part II: Candidates & Rankings

My mayoral rankings were both quite easy — there are two clear top choices — and very hard between those two. Thanks to ranked choice voting, though, I can give both a shot to win.

Published onJun 21, 2021
My NYC Mayoral Rankings, Part II: Candidates & Rankings
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Last week, I wrote about my debate judge approach to ranking candidates. Today, I’ll discuss how I used that approach to rank the four major candidates.

As a refresher, I wrote the following “resolution” based on my preferences:

Resolved: New York city should be more affordable, equitable, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

I’m planning to test these candidates against my resolution first by looking to their websites to construct a sort of “case.” In particular, I’ll be looking for their overall vision, their top priorities, and their plan for achieving their priorities. If you wanted to be very technical, you could compare these elements to a debate case’s plan, advantages, and solvency, respectively.

If needed, I’ll then look to The City’s Meet Your Mayor tool to weigh candidates’ specific policies against each other, before putting together a final analysis.

If you want, you can skip straight to my rankings. Or read on for details.

Eric Adams

Overview

Honestly, it’s hard to know exactly what Adams’ vision, priorities, or plan is. The closest thing to a coherent vision (his “Vision” tab doesn’t actually link to a single vision page) I could find on his website was a box at the bottom of his about page:

All New Yorkers need to know, including Latinos in Spanish, that Eric Adams is a progressive Democrat who believes that New York’s comeback starts with making sure every kid has a fair shot at a safe and secure future.  Eric’s plan – investing in early childhood education, improving our public schools — and safe, affordable housing.  And it also means getting illegal guns off of our streets and tackling violent crime — head on.

He does not list top priorities on his homepage. The closest I found is his “100+ Steps Forward for NYC” document, which lists five top sections: Smarter City, Safer City, Fairer City, Educated City, and City of the Future. Of these, Fairer and Future speak to my priorities of equity and greenhouse gas emissions in their descriptions.

There are so many ideas listed that it’s hard to know which ones are actually priorities, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be a cohesive, or particularly coherent, argument for any of them. Some steps are labeled “big steps,” but ironically, these tend to be either the most vague (“ensure diverse, equitable growth”) or fairly small in potential impact (“return to urban agriculture”).

The most coherent single argument for Adams I could find is:

Eric is deeply passionate about creating positive change in the lives of all New Yorkers.  For over 30 years he has been a dedicated servant of the People.  Now is our time to stand with Eric for an equitable New York City.

Overall, Adams doesn’t seem to have an overall vision, clear priorities, or an argument for how he will accomplish his priorities.

Kathryn Garcia

Overview

Garcia’s website contains a fairly straightforward vision statement on her about page:

I envision not the New York of our past, but the New York of tomorrow.  A city where every child has the opportunity to pursue their dream. Where everyone can make a good living. A city where families are safe and healthy and people thrive. The most climate forward city on Earth. A city with world-class infrastructure, and subways that run on time. A city government known more for its efficiency than its mistakes. As we plan for the revival of this great city we must plan for a city that will be more equitable, more just, and climate-resilient. I can get it done. 

Her homepage lists her top priorities: Recovery, Climate Change, Housing that Heals, Transportation, Public Safety + Police Reform, and Education. In her descriptions, all of them speak to at least one of my priorities. Her homepage also contains a clear argument for how Garcia plans to accomplish her goals:

Kathryn Garcia is a lifelong New Yorker and a public servant. She has 14 years of government experience delivering services that New Yorkers rely on every day. Kathryn has been the go-to crisis manager for our toughest moments as a City. During COVID-19, she created an emergency food program that has delivered 200 million meals to New Yorkers in need. She served as incident commander during Hurricane Sandy. She stepped in to protect children from lead poisoning in our public housing. Kathryn knows how to build a healthier, safer, more liveable New York. She’s done it before and she’s ready to do it again.

Overall, Garcia’s vision is a city with strengthened and expanded infrastructure. Her priorities are making the city safer, healthier, and more livable. Her plan is to leverage her demonstrated knowledge of city bureaucracy and infrastructure to achieve her goals.

Maya Wiley

Wiley’s most coherent single vision statement is found on her website’s Meet Maya page:

Maya Wiley is committed to a New York City where every New Yorker can afford to live with dignity, that’s why she is running for Mayor. She will fight for New Yorkers of all races, all religions, all classes, all types; so that no matter who we are or how we see ourselves, we can find a home here. Maya is the progressive choice for New York —  her vision is a New York that rises from the ashes of twin pandemics — coronavirus and systemic racism that denies opportunity to people of color. New York must rise together; rising above hate, rising from joblessness to dignity, rising from homelessness to hope, rising from an affordability crisis to communities that sustain all of us.  

This is within our reach, but it requires courageous leadership that fearlessly confronts the realities New Yorkers face. Leadership that marshals all of the government’s resources to make history, not deals; and that transcends the business-as-usual governmental tinkering to make truly transformational progress. New Yorkers cannot afford the politics of least resistance and deserve leadership that will beat a path to shared prosperity — to become one city, rising together, out of the ashes, and into a future we build and live together.

Her website homepage makes a clear argument for Wiley as a leader who will stand up to powerful forces in the city to make it a more equitable place to live:

I am a civil rights lawyer and a mom, and I won’t stand by while we risk losing a generation of our kids to the trauma of injustice and violence when we should be investing in their futures.

With courageous leadership, we have a chance to not just come back from this crisis but actually fix what’s broken, and rebuild as a stronger, more equitable, and a better New York City

I am running for mayor to make sure that we don’t just hand the keys over to Wall Street or Big Tech, but build a recovery that lifts up all of our communities.

Her top priorities are a little less clear. The homepage rotates between multiple plans, and her Plans page itself lists no fewer than 14. However, most of her plans focus on giving communities a voice in reforming the criminal justice system and making education and housing more equitable, speaking to the first two points of my resolution. She has a robust climate plan, but it is less central to her platform than Garcia’s is.

Overall, Wiley’s vision is a city with that focuses on solving for inequity at every level. Her priorities are transforming the police and criminal justice system and making education and housing more equitable. Her plan to achieve her priorities is to give less represented communities more input in governance and use her experience both in government and civil rights to take on the powerful and force the system to serve the least powerful as well as it does the most powerful.

Andrew Yang

Like Adams, Yang doesn’t really articulate a vision other than “a City that works for all New Yorkers,” taken from his "Why” page.

His homepage helpfully lists his top priorities, which cover the affordability part of my resolution, but not equity or emissions:

We need to launch the largest basic income program in history, invest in a human-centered economy, return to fact-based governance, and create an accessible healthcare system. We will move New York forward —together.

Yang also doesn’t present much of a clear argument for himself. The closest I could find on his website, from his “Why” page, argues that as a businessman, Yang can bring innovative solutions to solving the city’s problems:

I want to serve my community in this time of need and bring bold, innovative solutions to the table. I want to lead us forward as we rise above our current politics. I want to see every last New Yorker thrive in our City.

Overall, Yang doesn’t have a particularly clear vision for the city of New York. His priorities are enacting a universal basic income, investing in economic recovery, and making healthcare better. He does not have a clear plan for how he will achieve his priorities.

Initial Evaluation

Just by reading what the candidates wrote about themselves against my resolution, I’ve been able to draw some meaningful conclusions. It’s unclear whether Adams or Yang’s top priorities meaningfully address my resolution. But even if they did, neither of them really make an argument for how they will accomplish those priorities. So right away, I’m inclined to rank them lower than Wiley and Garcia, or not at all. Their relatively weak arguments for themselves also speak to some more personal criticisms levied at them by opponents. In Yang’s case, his plans’ vagueness echoes criticism that he is not serious or experienced enough to run the city. In Adams’ case, his unfocused grab-bag of priorities reinforces criticism that he is a potentially corrupt, machine politician trying to cater simultaneously to everyone and no one. So, although my debate judge method of evaluation doesn’t explicitly focus on more subjective qualities like personality or leadership style, which, as my father (and only reader?) points out is an important part of evaluating any political candidate, I think it can help shed light on those harder-to-gauge strengths and weaknesses by asking candidates to argue how they will accomplish their goals, not just what their goals are.

In contrast to Adams and Yang, Garcia and Wiley both make strong arguments about why they can accomplish their goals, in both cases mirroring some of the criticisms they’ve faced. Garcia’s more understated equity plans and focus on infrastructure and working within the current system lend some credence to the argument that she’s not a particularly progressive candidate. Wiley’s focus on standing up to the system echo the criticism that she may not be capable of accomplishing her ambitious plans.

In my own initial evaluation, Garcia comes out slightly ahead, mostly because climate change, one of the parts of my resolution, is a top priority for her in addition to equity and affordability. However, Wiley is far stronger on equity than Garcia, and on the surface, both of them seem quite committed to affordability.

So, I think it’s worth a deeper dive to see where they stand on the specific parts of my resolution. For this analysis, I turned to The City’s Meet Your Mayor quiz.

Affordability

In this category, I’m looking at The City’s COVID Recovery, Transportation, Housing, Labor, Taxes and Build NY Better sections. In general, I tend to be persuaded by the idea that New York’s biggest affordability problem is its lack of housing and crumbling transportation infrastructure. Garcia matches my views on 19 out of 24 questions, and is a particularly good fit when it comes to housing, transportation, and labor. I particularly like her answers on zoning, where she basically supports doing whatever she can to get around New York’s notoriously NIMBY-friendly land use process. Wiley, on the other hand, matches my views on just 15 out of 24 questions, and is a particularly bad fit when it comes to housing. Her answers on zoning are particularly concerning to me, because they include lots of references to “community input,” which often means allowing the rich and powerful to block needed development in their well-to-do neighborhoods.

Equity

In this category, I’m looking at The City’s NYPD, Education, Criminal Justice, Homelessness and Quality of Life sections. In general, I tend to be persuaded by abolitionist arguments that the criminal justice system in general is designed to perpetuate systemic inequality rather than repair it. Here, Garcia matches my views on just 6 of 20 questions, and is a particularly bad fit on Education and Criminal Justice. I’m particularly concerned about her answers on drug decriminalization, which speak to a lack of knowledge about the science of addiction, economics of drug use, and the systemic racism of the War on Drugs. Wiley, on the other hand, matches my view on 13 out of 20 questions, and is a particularly good fit on Education and Quality of Life. It’s clear from her answers that Wiley has thought much more deeply than Garcia about education in particular, and how improving it can fight injustice. Interestingly, I’m significantly to the left of both of them when it comes to reforming the NYPD, though Wiley is more aligned with my views.

Climate

The City has a specific climate section, and both Garcia and Wiley match me on 3 out of the 4 questions. Predictably, Garcia and I differ on the proposed 2030 gas hookup ban, where affordability and climate clash. I come down on the side that we should ban new gas hookups, even if it makes development somewhat more costly. In her statement on the issue, Garcia says she supports an outright ban once it’s affordable to do so. On the other hand, Wiley and I differ on the question of flood zones. Wiley prefers limiting development and allowing landowners to sell back to the city, even though it risks worsening the housing crisis by eliminating stock. Garcia and I think we should build protections, both natural and manmade, to decrease the risk of flooding without reducing our already short supply of housing.

Final Evaluation

In the end, both Wiley and Garcia present very strong cases for themselves when tested against my resolution. It’s a very tough decision. Garcia is far stronger when it comes to affordability. She’s focused on removing the roadblocks that prevent the city from building enough housing and better transit infrastructure, which I think are the biggest affordability problems facing the city. Wiley, meanwhile, is much better on equity, on pretty much every issue, and particularly on the NYPD and criminal justice. Garcia is slightly stronger on climate given its centrality to her plans, but the two are fairly close, and closer than I suspected at first glance.

Thus, my decision ultimately comes down to affordability vs. equity, and who I think has a better chance of achieving their goals as stated. It’s pretty much impossible to prioritize the two goals, which are deeply interconnected. So, I have to look to the two candidates’ frameworks for getting things done and consider what the worlds in which they win might look like.

Wiley prioritizes community input and standing up to the powers that be in nearly all of her plans. In some areas, like education, this approach seems like a very good idea. In others, like housing, such approaches can be seized upon by affluent liberals to reinforce the status quo. And for some, like police reform, I’m skeptical that her approach will have any impact at all. In a world where Wiley wins, I think education and the criminal justice system get a lot more fair, and the NYPD is threatened with meaningful reform, but not much changes. Overall affordability probably also doesn’t change much. There are some decent pushes to build moderately better transit infrastructure, and we get more affordable housing units, but the same people who hold the power to decide whether, how, and where development happens today continue to do so under Wiley.

For Garcia, leveraging the city’s ability to build and shape infrastructure is her main strategy. In some areas, especially criminal justice and the NYPD, working within the system may be self-limiting compared to Wiley’s desire to use the bully pulpit, and as a result less likely to bring about radical change. But in others, principally housing, wielding the city’s existing levers of power could actually be much more transformative. In a world where Garcia wins, I think the way we build housing in the city changes dramatically thanks to her zoning and land use policies, opening up richer neighborhoods for more development of housing of all types, in turn making the entire city more affordable for all. Meanwhile, potentially huge numbers of streets are reclaimed from cars for use for sanitation, biking, recreation, and transit. We see some modest criminal justice reforms, but the NYPD remains a pox on the city, and the education system continues to serve the rich and powerful better than anyone else.

Again, it’s really tough on the merits and the candidates’ approach. Overall, though, I still lean ever so slightly towards Garcia. Although I desperately want Wiley to completely reshape the NYPD, I find that outcome unlikely. And in a world where that doesn’t happen, I think her changes to criminal justice and education, though positive, will be less transformational — both for affordability and equity — than what Garcia could accomplish on housing, street use, and transit. In Garcia’s New York, I can envision a city where housing truly does start to become affordable for all, transit serves everyone, and our streets are designed for people, rather than cars. If that were to happen, I think it would be truly transformative for pretty much every aspect of our city, in ways we’ll find hard to predict. One outcome I can imagine is that future candidates who take Wiley’s stand up to the system approach may be more likely to succeed, because a broader, more diverse, and more stable base of voters will have been able to set down roots in the city and have more of a vested say in its future.

Fortunately, ranked-choice voting affords me the ability to essentially vote for both candidates. If the race looked like it were coming down to Wiley and Garcia, I’m not sure what I’d do. As it is, however, it looks like Adams is likely to face one of these women (or maybe Yang) in the final round. Thus, my vote against Adams effectively goes to whomever out of those three candidates survives, and no matter who does, I’m quite happy to be able to vote not just for my candidates, but against him.

Final Rankings

In addition to ranking Garcia and Wiley, I’ve decided to rank a few candidates who don’t have much of a chance, and to strategically rank Yang last and omit Adams. By ranking two long-shot candidates, I’ll be giving support to their ideas, hopefully inspiring future candidates to run campaigns on similar platforms. I like Paperboy Love Prince’s progressive positions a lot, and their playful campaign and clear love for New York City are infectious. I’m not a huge fan of Dianne Morales personally given the way she apparently ran her campaign, but I do like her policies, and as a one-time potential consolidator of progressive votes, it seems like she has as much of a shot of winning as Scott Stringer, without the entitlement and baggage of sexual misconduct allegations. By ranking Yang last, I’m effectively saying that in a run-off between Adams and Yang, I’d prefer Yang. Although I don’t want him to become mayor, I prefer Yang to Adams because he’s not part of the Democratic machine and at least seems to be genuinely interested in making the city better, not just serving the party system. So, my final ballot is:

  1. Kathryn Garcia

  2. Maya Wiley

  3. Paperboy Love Prince

  4. Dianne Morales

  5. Andrew Yang


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