Campaign Confidential

The game-changing endorsements of the primaries

These supporters weren’t just a name on a list.

Brad Lander at the Hometown Heroes ticker tape parade on July 7.

Brad Lander at the Hometown Heroes ticker tape parade on July 7. Ron Adar/Shutterstock

There’s a saying, often attributed to President John F. Kennedy, that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. So while the results were still being tabulated in the 2021 New York City primaries, many of the countless unions, organizations and public figures who endorsed candidates were clamoring for credit for wins – or at least a shoutout during the victory speech. While many endorsers just end up being a name on a list, some of them are indisputable game-changers. Here are a few of them from the primaries.

The New York Times for Kathryn Garcia

On May 10, Garcia surprisingly received the endorsement for the Democratic nomination from The New York Times’ editorial board, which wrote that she could “run a government that delivers for all New Yorkers,” based on her extensive managerial experience in city government. Following the Times’ endorsement, Garcia – who had been mired at the bottom of polls until then – ended up the first pick for voters in a poll conducted by Emerson College published on May 26. The former Sanitation commissioner stayed in the top tier, ultimately finishing second to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in the ranked-choice runoff. 

“Garicia’s the big overperformer this cycle. Nobody expected her to do anything,” Trip Yang,  a political strategist who worked for Andrew Yang’s mayoral campaign, told City & State. “She did not have the millions of dollars that (the other candidates) had …  And she had basically no institutional support … The areas that she won are the liberal areas, mostly in Manhattan, that people associate with the Times.”

Garcia also received the endorsement from the Daily News on May 15, which may have helped her carry areas like the South Shore of Staten Island. Toward the end of Garcia’s campaign, she received a second-ranked endorsement from fellow mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, which likely moved some of his supporters to include her on their ballot. Garcia outperformed Adams when it came to lower-ranked votes, narrowing the gap between the two in first-ranked votes and nearly overtaking the Democratic nominee. 

While the newspaper endorsements didn’t put Garcia over the top, the Times’ endorsements of Alvin Bragg for Manhattan district attorney and Brad Lander for comptroller appeared to consolidate their support among progressives in crowded fields, without which Bragg might have lost to Tali Farhadian Weinstein and Lander might have lost to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. 

Working Families Party for Brad Lander

Lander ended up surprising New York politicos by winning the June primary for comptroller, despite Johnson leading in most polls and enjoying higher name recognition, easy access to media coverage and endorsements from major labor leaders, Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Ritchie Torres.

He did it with the early and near-total consolidation of the progressive left, including an endorsement way back in December 2020 from the Working Families Party. Other well known progressive politicians followed, such as U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, which helped boost his signal among progressive voters. 

The WFP stumbled in the mayoral race and failed to secure victory for a number of City Council contenders, but a few other primary winners did seem to get a big boost from the WFP, including Antonio Reynoso for Brooklyn borough president, Sandy Nurse in Council District 37 in Brooklyn’s Bushwick and East New York and Shahana Hanif, who ran to replace Lander in Council District 39, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope and Kensington. 

Adriano Espaillat’s City Council slate

Third term Congress member Rep. Adriano Espaillat from Upper Manhattan was Oswald Feliz’s only major endorser when he pulled off a surprise victory in the City Council District 15 special election in the central Bronx in March. And when the June primaries came, Espaillat kept winning. He went all in on endorsing Shaun Abreu in District 7 and Assembly Member Carmen De La Rosa in District 10, both in Upper Manhattan, and Pierina Sanchez in District 14 in the West Bronx, as well as Feliz’s reelection. All had competitive races, and all won with the Dominican-American Espaillat’s direct support. “He was doing train stations with me in the morning, he was door-knocking with me, we were consistently in contact,” De La Rosa said. “He was just an amazing supporter, as he’s always been.”

Espaillat’s support was also a boost to City Council Member Mark Levine, a longtime ally who won a competitive race for Manhattan borough president, and Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, who picked up Espaillat’s endorsement late in the mayoral race and ended up performing well in his Upper Manhattan and northwestern Bronx district. Espaillat didn’t go undefeated – he supported Tali Farhadian Weinstein, who lost the Manhattan district attorney race despite performing well in Washington Heights and Inwood, and Espaillat stayed out of the competitive District 9 race in Central Harlem. But Espaillat’s record didn’t go unnoticed. “Game recognize game,” said Trip Yang. “He had a huge cycle. I’ve got to respect that.”

Political observers also noted that Rep. Grace Meng did well with Council endorsements. She backed Sandra Ung, Lynn Schulman and Linda Lee in competitive races overlapping with her Queens district, and all three won. 

Donald Trump for Vito Fossella

Among Staten Island Republicans, nobody is more popular than former President Donald Trump. So in a nail-biter of a borough president primary, in which preliminary results show former Rep. Vito Fossella with a 290-vote lead over City Council Member Steve Matteo, it appears Trump’s seal of approval was decisive. Fossella represented the borough in Congress for 11 years, until 2008, but has mostly been out of the public eye since then – and was even out of the public eye for most of this year, barely reporting any spending and barely campaigning. But even if it came just three days before the primary, Trump’s endorsement made waves, and was all over Facebook thanks to promoted ads from the Trump-aligned news outlet Newsmax. The endorsement may have packed even more punch since the borough’s most prominent Republican, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, declined to endorse in the race. Now, rumors are flying that she may be repaid with a primary challenge from Fossella. 

Bronx Democratic Party for Amanda Farías

Many progressives pinned their hopes on Amanda Farías’ Council campaign in 2017 to beat conservative Democrat City Council Member Rubén Díaz Sr., known for his stance against same sex marriage and a history of offensive comments. But Díaz, with the support of the Bronx Democratic Party, won the seat in the southeastern Bronx easily. Four years later, Díaz declined to run for reelection, but backed William Rivera, the local community board district manager, to replace him. Rivera also had the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the Bronx Dems joining in. But the party is trying to be more progressive and welcoming to women under its new chair, state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, and instead joined the dozens of labor unions and progressive organizations that had already backed Farías and endorsed her campaign. 

Farías’ campaign manager, Christian Amato, also gave credit to DRUM Beats, a progressive South Asian group, for its endorsement. “They sent us so many resources that were really effective in our community – namely Bangla speakers who were able to connect with the Bengali community,” in the district, even though Farías was running against two Bengali-American opponents. In the end, Farías beat Rivera by just over 500 votes

New York Post for Eric Adams

Throughout the course of Adams’ campaign for the Democratic mayoral nominee, the New York Post has made it unabashedly clear that they’re rooting for him. Not only did the Post’s editorial board give Adams their endorsement for mayor, they also published pieces claiming that he was the only candidate who could “bring back New York City” and restore public safety. The outlet also published a glowing profile of Adams and wrote about his health journey, becoming a vegan and reversing his diabetes diagnosis through healthy eating. The Post’s coverage of the mayoral race leading up to the primary also tended to go soft on Adams and went hard on his opponents, particularly when it came to mayoral debates, issues pertaining to police reform and the skepticism over whether or not Adams actually lives in the city, among other things. The tabloid that is obsessed with crime and constantly covers the shooting surge helped shape the Adams-friendly narrative that the city needs an experienced crime fighter to combat it. 

The support of the right-leaning publication was hardly the only thing that helped tip the scales in Adams' favor – the candidate also won the support of the Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and powerful labor unions like 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council – but it certainly didn’t hurt Adams in the long run either.