Eric Adams

Waiting years to be mayor, Eric Adams will have to wait a little longer

The Brooklyn borough president lead in first-place votes, but not enough to declare victory.

Mayoral contender Eric Adams

Mayoral contender Eric Adams Jeff Coltin

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has been waiting to become mayor of New York City for at least 16 years, when, as a newly minted captain in the New York City Police Department, he started telling friends that one day he’d lead the city he had lived in his whole life. But even though Adams led the Democratic primary for New York City mayor Tuesday night with 31% of the first-place, in-person votes with 91% of precincts reporting as of midnight, he will have to wait a little longer before he can officially declare victory.

“We know there’s going to be twos and threes and fours,” Adams said at his election night party Tuesday, referring to ranked-choice voting. “There’s something else we know – that New York City said ‘our first choice is Eric Adams.’”

This is the first citywide election in New York City implementing ranked-choice voting, and since Adams didn’t earn at least 50% of first-ranked votes, Democrats’ lower-ranked votes will be counted and allocated towards the total in the coming weeks, after absentee ballots are also received. That “instant runoff” may close the gap between Adams and either Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is in second with 22% of first-place votes, and Kathryn Garcia, the former New York City sanitation commissioner, who stood in third place with 20%. Garcia aggressively promoted RCV by campaigning with another opponent, Andrew Yang, and polling suggested that Garcia was among the least polarizing candidates in the field, which should help her pick up lower-ranked votes from New Yorkers who gave other candidates their number one selection. However Adams’ lead was large enough that it’s unlikely for any other candidate to overtake him. (In other municipalities with ranked-choice voting, the first-place votes winner ultimately triumphs roughly 96% of the time.)

In a celebratory, though measured tone, Adams came close to declaring victory Tuesday. “What a moment. The little guy won today,” Adams said, emphasizing his humble upbringing in South Jamaica, Queens and presenting his success as a triumph for blue-collar New Yorkers. Adams would be the first mayor to attend New York City public schools since Abe Beame, who left office in 1977. Adams later added that “We have been chosen by our neighbors to lead this city.”

However, the New York City Board of Elections said that 207,500 absentee ballots had been requested by Democrats, and as of Monday night, 86,920 of them had been filled out and returned, which could represent more than 10% of the total vote. 

Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur and former presidential candidate who dominated both the polls and the conversation around the election for months, was in a distant fourth place with 12%. He conceded Tuesday night that he did not have a path to victory. “You all know I’m a numbers guy. I’m someone who trafficks in what’s happening by the numbers, and I am not going to be the next mayor of New York City based upon the numbers that have come in tonight,” Yang said at his election night party near his home in Hell’s Kitchen. “I am conceding this race but we are not sure ultimately who the next mayor is going to be, but whoever that person is I will be very happy to work with them to help improve the lives of the 8.3 million people who live in our great city.” 

In his speech on election night, Adams contrasted himself with unnamed candidates – though probably, implicitly Yang – who have a comparatively massive and youthful online following and garnered disproportionate media coverage. “What some candidates misunderstood is that social media does not pick a candidate. People on Social Security pick a candidate,” he said. “You can have a lot of likes on social media, but you need a lot of votes for Social Security!”

An Adams victory would represent a win for the political establishment. Adams, who represented Central Brooklyn in the state Senate from 2007 to 2013, before his election as borough president, has fastidiously built relationships with labor unions, elected officials and political donors over his political career. It paid off this year, as he earned support from some of the city’s most politically powerful unions, including District Council 37, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council. Adams was also the choice of the Bronx Democratic Party, Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, who chairs the Brooklyn Democratic Party, and Keith Wright, who chairs the Manhattan Democratic Party. He raised more money than all but one of his 12 competitors in the primary, , former Citigroup vice chairman Ray McGuire.

Money isn’t everything, though: McGuire sat in seventh place Tuesday night, with just 2% of first place votes counted so far. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who was once thought to be Adams’ main competitor, was in fifth place with 5% of the vote, after allegations of past sexual harassment badly damaged his campaign. Nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, who attracted some excitement among progressive voters for her left-wing platform before her campaign descended into chaotic staff discord,had 3% of first-place votes, and former U.S. Sec. of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan held 2%. 

Adams also won over voters with his talk of combating crime. Though NYPD statistics suggest that crime overall in New York City is at or near a historic low, shootings and murders have increased in recent months. High-profile shooting deaths, random subway attacks and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Jews have dominated headlines. Adams served in the NYPD for more than two decades and has taken a hard line on crime, appealing to Republicans like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who spoke highly of Adams in a recent interview with WCBS. (Adams himself was a registered Republican for several years because, he said, Democrats were too soft on crime.) At the same time, Adams has long advocated for some policing reforms, such as only limited use of stop-and-frisk, and has spoken often of his own experience being a victim of police brutality as a teenager. Poll after poll showed that crime was a top concern for voters and that a plurality of voters trusted Adams to handle it the most. 

Adams’ election night party was held at Schimanski, a dance club near the Williamsburg waterfront – a location physically and spiritually far from Adams’s electoral strongholds in middle-class and working-class communities of color in Central Brooklyn, Southeast Queens and the Bronx. But Adams filled it to the brim with supporters, including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Rep. Tom Suozzi, City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar and 32BJ President Kyle Bragg. The venue is owned by Eddie Dean, who donated $1,000 to Adams’ campaign back in 2019, but the venue seemed to fit Adams: Schimanski is reportedly named for a blue collar cop from the 1980s German TV show “Tatort.”

With reporting by Sahalie Donaldson