It is almost impossible to describe how scattered, mediocre and tasteless this Democratic primary has been. Petty reviews and personal scandals abound. Current leftist leader Maya Wiley has seen her legitimacy questioned because her longtime partner paid money for a private security car to patrol her neighborhood – after a brutal assault l ‘drove to the hospital. Kathryn Garcia is “accused” of not being Hispanic. Serious questions have been raised as to whether Eric Adams or Andrew Yang even live in the city they wish to rule. Former frontman Scott Stringer’s efforts failed after he was accused of tampering with a friend 20 years ago and a waitress 30 years ago. Dianne Morales’ campaign staff unionized and quickly went on strike, though like a ghost ship, her campaign continues to run television commercials.
What former Mayor David Dinkins once called New York’s “magnificent mosaic” appears to have been shattered, with each candidate grabbing a shard. Adams has his Hasidic faction, Yang has his. Adams and Wiley are fighting over the support of black voters. Ray McGuire on the Upper East Side, Garcia on the Upper West.
There is no doubt that the Byzantine format of preferential voting, in which voters are asked to choose their top five candidates in order of preference, contributed to the confusion. The new system offers a kind of ‘instant getaway’ that saves money, while ensuring that the winner will be someone who has been do not the first choice of a majority of voters.
Admittedly, most of the city’s last municipal elections were far from having learned any lessons from democracy. New York, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan so aptly put it, was the first great city in history to be run by the people – and the people have often made a hash of it. Nineteenth-century mayors included creatures wholly owned by Boss Tweed like John T. Hoffman and A. Oakey Hall, a resplendent fool who loved to dress all in green on St. Patrick’s Day. The brazenly corrupt Fernando Wood sparked a riot between rival police forces and proposed, at the start of the Civil War, that New York City also leave the Union and form its own “Tri-Insula” country. (It might not be such a terrible idea to relaunch…) Running through a field of three men in 1886, a young Teddy Roosevelt finished only third, losing to the immortal Abram Hewitt.
Even Fiorello La Guardia, considered to this day as the gold standard among American mayors anywhere, won office in 1933 with just over 40 percent of the vote. Jimmy Walker, who had crushed La Guardia in the previous election, was forced to resign and fled to France within days, his showgirl lover and around $ 1million in bribery vanished with him. La Guardia’s successor William O’Dwyer fled to Mexico with his wife when evidence emerged that he had allowed a notorious mob murder.
Yet, in times of real crisis, New Yorkers have proven themselves capable of paying attention to the issues of the day and choosing candidates and programs that represent a real break with the past. The shining example was La Guardia’s ‘merger’ campaign in 1933, when a coalition of Republicans, Democrats, Socialists and other reformers decided they could no longer afford the incompetence and venality of Tammany Hall. at the bottom of the Great Depression. Other policy changes included the election of Ed Koch after he went overnight from Greenwich Village Liberal to public order candidate in 1977, Rudy Giuliani as the first Republican elected since nearly 30 years old in 1993, and Michael Bloomberg, the first elected businessman. in over a century, when New York’s future looked shaky in the aftermath of 9/11.
As decisive as they were, I’d say all of those sharp right-turns took New York in the wrong direction, ultimately exacerbating the city’s already sizable divisions over race and wealth, and privatizing or wiping out much of it. the public sector that was built during the New Deal to make New York a city for all of its inhabitants. Many New Yorkers, I think, have buyer’s remorse about some of these choices. (I’m looking at you, Rudy.)
Yet in recent years, when dissatisfaction with the course the city has taken has become evident, no individual – no grand vision – has emerged at all. Bill de Blasio took over as mayor in 2013, after that year’s pitch receded in scandal and boredom. De Blasio had two landslide victories without ever being able to build a mandate or even attract a lot of people. This lack of purpose showed how far New York has drifted in recent years, even before the pandemic. We have expressed a desire for many things – more affordable housing and commercial rents, a police department that responds to the people who pay for it, better schools, businesses that provide real opportunity for all New Yorkers – but no effective program ever seems to emerge. . Instead, we just seem to have more super-tall skyscrapers and land billionaires.
This year’s run has been more or less the same, reduced in its final days to talks about crime and quality of life, as if nothing has changed since 1993. Questions about today’s biggest issues Today and tomorrow – the wealth gap, rising sea levels and, again, the police – have not been the driving force behind the campaign. Candidates have spoken broadly about how they want all the good things – better public education, higher wages, more health care, a less abusive police force – but they say these things as if the desire was the achievement, with no substantive debate on how to get there. This left the contestants trying to distinguish themselves primarily through slander and innuendo focused on each other’s personal lives, and spending a fortune on advertising.
New Yorkers prided themselves on having led the way as America revised and redefined ideas of freedom and democracy. Now we just seem distracted and listless, demanding that someone take those loud ATVs off the streets. It may be a sequel to Covid, but social distancing remains. We have the impression of having lost confidence in our own ability to make this city a city for all, preferring to continue to squat, each in his corner.