NEW YORK — Andrew Yang stood in front of a roaring crowd and a Chinese lion-dancing troupe in Flushing and exhorted his most loyal constituency — Queens’ Asian-American community — to support his rival in the New York City mayor’s race along with him.
“Kathryn Garcia is a true public servant,” he said through a microphone, highlighting her years of public service. “For anyone listening to my voice right now, if you support me, you should rank Kathryn number two on your ballot.”
Garcia did not return the favor.
“Let me be very clear, I’m not co-endorsing,” she told another crowd an hour later outside of Stuy-Town in Manhattan. “We are campaigning together. We are promoting ranked choice voting.”
The declaration elicited awkward murmurs from the crowd and more than a few confused expressions. But after making a splash Friday night, when the two Democratic mayoral candidates announced they’d be campaigning together, Garcia told POLITICO Saturday she never planned to back her competitor and Yang never expected her to.
“That was not a surprise for him or for his team … they absolutely knew what I was gonna say,” she said as she sped downtown to the Staten Island Ferry inside her custom-wrapped green and blue campaign van.
Ranked-choice voting, where voters can list five candidates in order of preference on their ballots, is debuting on its largest U.S. stage this year has changed the game in New York’s typically bare-knuckle political arena. Under the system, alliances between candidates are a common strategy to win support from voters’ in their second- and third-place choices.
Saturday’s matchup underscored the unpredictable nature of the primary, less than three days away. The alliance has torn away the psychological security blanket afforded to a normal frontrunner leading in normal polls. And it’s put Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President and former NYPD captain who’s been dominating those polls, on the attack.
“I think it’s a level of hypocrisy,” he told reporters at a campaign stop in the Mount Eden neighborhood of the Bronx, focusing his ire on the former sanitation commissioner.
“We heard Kathryn talk about how Yang treated her as a woman. We heard how she felt — he did not have the experience and know-how to run the city,” he said. “He has criticized her. Their teaming up together is just a level of hypocrisy in my opinion.”
He then alleged the move was an attempt to make sure “candidates of color” were locked out of contention.
“They’re saying that we can’t trust a person of color to be the mayor of the City of New York, where the city is overwhelmingly people of color,” he said of Yang and Garcia, accusing them of deliberately announcing the agreement on Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.
Garcia dismissed the accusation.
“No, Eric, we’re winning. That’s your problem,” she said. “And I think he’s surprised that his traditional politics is not as effective … I don’t see how I was a hypocrite. I don’t see how Andrew was a hypocrite.”
“It’s actually consistently where both of us have been for this entire race,” she added later. “He’s been saying, ‘Put Kathryn number two,’ and I’ve been saying, ‘I’m not telling you who my number two is,’ and that I do want people to rank their [own] ballots.”
Where she’s taken issue with Yang is when he was riding high in the early polls and said he’d hire her for a top-level position to help run his City Hall.
“I’m fine with taking his number two votes. I was offended by the deputy mayor [comment]. I was never running for that — I was running for mayor.”
In a statement, the Yang campaign told POLITICO that they were “excited to spend time with Kathryn Garcia today and our teams are looking forward to handing out 40,000 pieces of joint lit in each of our best neighborhoods for the next 3 days.”
Nearly a half-dozen of Adams’ supporters released statements razing the two candidates as well, including former Gov. David Paterson, City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, Civil Rights Activist Ashley Sharpton and City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.
“Latino and Black New Yorkers did not organize and fight for generations so that they could finally put a working class person of color in Gracie Mansion, just to then have their victory taken from them by a backroom deal,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said. “Both candidates should be ashamed of themselves.”
But in cities like San Francisco, where ranked-choice voting has been the norm for more than a decade, the alliances are a common feature for contenders who are not necessarily leading the pack.
“The classic RCV opportunity is where you have a person in the lead … and two ideologically compatible contenders who, in the aggregate, out-poll the leader,” Alex Clemens, a veteran Bay Area political strategist and lobbyist with Lighthouse Public Affairs, told POLITICO in April. “In a situation like that, it would make a great deal of sense for them to align.”
Despite the gang-up, Adams still appeared to be reveling in his frontrunner status as he soaked up support in another day of campaigning across the boroughs.
At Orchard Beach, he donned a yellow bathing suit and took a dip in the water as multiple beach-goers called his name.
“OK, now I’m really going to vote for him because he’s at the beach,” said a woman who joined the hordes asking to snap photos with the candidate throughout the day.
He attempted to clarify his earlier remarks about “people of color,” as Yang is of Asian descent and would be the first Asian-American mayor of New York.
“You know, they should be willing, if they’re gonna do some cross-endorsements, think of some of the other candidates in the field as well,” he said, referring to candidates like Maya Wiley and Dianne Morales who are Black and Afro-Latina. “But typical Yang.”
Wiley spent her day campaigning across the city, focusing on her proposals for mental health and wellness.
She told reporters that she had been invited to campaign with Yang and Garcia, but turned it down due to Yang’s recent comments about mentally ill New Yorkers at Wednesday’s debate.
“I couldn’t do it because I spent this entire campaign focused on how we serve people who are mentally ill, recognize that they have value and have human rights, and that they deserve services and support,” she said at a campaign stop in Rochdale Village in Queens. “After the comments Andrew made at the debate, I simply could not stand up for those comments.”
Both Yang and Garcia’s campaign denied that Wiley had been invited to campaign with the duo Saturday.
Wiley was referring to the debate hosted Wednesday by POLITICO, WNBC and Telemundo 47 where Yang said, “Mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else have rights? We do! The people and families of the city.”
Wiley countered that the city needs to take “a balanced approach” to handling mental health issues. She focused on the city’s approach of using police officers to arrest those experiencing mental health services.
“My own daughter was body slammed on a subway by a mentally ill person, just a few weeks ago, and that was a traumatizing event for her. But did she say, ‘Mom, I wish there was a police officer to take this mentally ill person in handcuffs?’ No, she said ‘Mom, how come we’re not providing and getting help and outreach to these folks?’” Wiley said.
“We need a continuum of care and services for folks, everything from mental health crisis intervention … [to] rehabilitation services for those who are also drug addicted, because that is a reality and a mental health issue of its own, and we have to make sure we have both a housing first strategy for that and also the emergency medical services we need,” Wiley said.
The candidate has had a surge of momentum on the left since winning the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a host of other progressive luminaries that followed. But she has not been as strident as Morales, who vowed to cut the NYPD budget in half and fight against the construction of new jails after Rikers is closed.
Morales faced a campaign revolt that derailed the momentum she had just begun to gather weeks ago. Scott Stinger, the city comptroller who was also running in the progressive lane, was accused by two women of sexual misconduct — allegations he’s denied.
That left Wiley to pick up the progressive mantle in the waning weeks of the campaign. On Saturday, she received an endorsement from the Black Lives Caucus, the political arm of Black Lives Matter Greater New York.
“We’re four days out from choosing a mayor,” said Chivona Newsome, co-founder of the organization. “Being a Black woman, it’s important we break those concrete ceilings. Not only is it the first woman, it’s the first Black woman.”
Newsome said the caucus went with Wiley because of her policies — and despite the fact that she was once aligned with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Newsome issued an important caveat, though, in announcing the group’s backing.
“If Maya gets in there and she doesn’t live up to her campaign promises, we will bring hell and holy fire,” she said.
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