In the summer of 2019, two younger progressive legislators of color, state Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, endorsed New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer for mayor in 2021. “He’s clearly walking the walk” on promoting racial and gender diversity, Niou told City & State at the time.
Conversations around race, inclusion and political representation have only been elevated in the year since, thanks in part to the protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and also a Democratic presidential primary that elevated a white, male political lifer in former Vice President Joe Biden out of a historically diverse field.
So the big news at Stringer’s official campaign launch press conference on Tuesday wasn’t so much that Ramos, Niou, and other progressive political allies endorsed his run, but that so many of them are sticking with him, a 60 year-old white man, and endorsing early in the race, despite the political moment.
“I’m willing to look past identity politics, in this moment,” said Amanda Septimo, who endorsed Stringer on Tuesday and is on her way to winning an Assembly seat. “I’m a young woman of color from the South Bronx,” Septimo, who is Dominican-American and Black, told City & State. And while Stringer’s demographic profile is different, “I recognized that we share the same values. And that’s rooted in the idea that it’s not fair that there are places in the city that are consistently left behind.”
Niou, who is Taiwanese, agreed, telling City & State that her endorsement is about Stringer’s consistent record. “This is somebody who has stood up on the right side of the issues for so long,” she said. That includes police brutality, which has been highlighted this summer by the widespread protests against systemic racism. “I’m going to go with the guy who literally went to jail, who got arrested alongside folks who got arrested protesting police brutality,” Niou said, referencing Stringer’s arrest during the 1999 protests following the NYPD’s killing of Amadou Diallo – something Stringer himself mentioned in his speech.
“It doesn’t matter what your skin color is as long as you have somebody who is fighting for what you believe in,” Niou said.
So far, the other two major potential candidates in the race include Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is Black but is a more moderate former police officer, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is white and would be the city’s first openly gay mayor, but has lately come under fire from progressives for failing to more substantially cut the budget of the New York City Police Department.
Stringer is hoping that many New York City Democratic voters, who also surely care about racial and gender diversity, make the same calculus as the elected officials who backed him. Stringer’s campaign launch, held at Inwood Hill Park in Upper Manhattan, showed support of a multi-ethnic coalition that included state Sens. Robert Jackson, Alessandra Biaggi, Julia Salazar and Brian Kavanagh, as well as Assembly Members Al Taylor, Catalina Cruz, Linda Rosenthal and Robert Carroll.
Stringer went out on a limb to endorse a number of those now-elected officials when they were challenging incumbents, including Jackson, Biaggi, Salazar and Cruz – which distinguishes him not only from Adams, but also first-time candidates like former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales or Maya Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who didn’t endorse candidates in the 2018 primaries.
But the story isn’t a simple quid pro quo. Septimo noted that Stringer stayed out of her race against incumbent Assembly Member Carmen Arroyo. Niou mentioned that Wiley endorsed her reelection campaign this year – one of Wiley’s very few public endorsements – but that she was still backing Stringer. Similarly, Corey Johnson, another potential mayoral candidate, had backed Ramos, Jackson and Biaggi in their primary races, too.
Asked on Tuesday what he’d say to New Yorkers who think it’s time for a mayor of color, Stringer gestured to the elected officials on his side. “I’ve assembled what I think is the beginning of a multi-racial, intergenerational group of supporters,” he said. “I believe people will vote for the mayor who best represents the hopes and dreams of every diverse community.”