Dec 17, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Help wanted: Rescue NYC

Illustration of the I Love NYC logo reading "help"
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

More than 30 candidates — including boldface names like Andrew Yang — are either running or considering a run for mayor of New York, a job that will involve saving a critically wounded city.

Why it matters: Not only will the next leader help determine if Gotham retains its status as the financial, shopping, dining and glamor capital of the world, but the decisions that mayor makes could guide other leaders as they chart courses of recovery.

Where it stands: Nearly every day, a new candidates emerges to try to replace Mayor Bill De Blasio, who is term-limited. The Democratic primary, which tends to determine the race, is in June.

  • "It's a critically important election," Howard Wolfson, senior advisor to former mayor Michael Bloomberg, tells Axios. "New York has taken it on the chin in the last six months. We were the earliest victim of COVID, and it hit us earliest and harder here than in other places."

The race is also wide open. Declared candidates include:

  • Scott Stringer, the NYC comptroller, who has held elected offices in the city for decades. (Fun fact: Bella Abzug was his cousin.)
  • Shaun Donovan, who worked in the Bloomberg administration and has led two federal agencies (HUD and OMB).
  • Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President, who was a longtime NYC police officer.
  • Ray McGuire, a former top Citigroup exec, a political neophyte who's considered the "Wall Street candidate."
  • Kathryn Garcia, the former NYC Sanitation commissioner.

The "likely candidate" list includes:

  • Yang, the businessman who ran in the Democratic presidential primary as an advocate of universal basic income.
  • Rep. Max Rose of Staten Island, who just lost his re-election bid.

What's at stake: New York has a $3.8 billion budget gap, rising crime and homelessness, neighborhoods with double-digit unemployment, rampant small business closings, etc.

  • Midtown Manhattan — the heart of what everyone thinks of as "New York City" — has been hit so hard by the pandemic that real estate developers have floated an extraordinary proposal to convert office space to apartments, in case business tenants don't return after the pandemic.
  • A coalition of 80 groups is calling on the next mayor to spend $4 billion a year on affordable housing.
  • "The next mayor is going to be setting housing policy for the next decade," Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference, tells Axios. "It’s a really critical time for New York, and we really need the next mayor to show leadership."

What's new: For the first time, the city will use a system called "ranked choice," with voters allowed to pick up to five candidates in the primaries.

  • Voters approved the system — which is meant to reduce negative campaigning and eliminate runoff elections — in 2019, but now it faces opposition.
  • Several city council members have filed a lawsuit to block its implementation.
  • At least two candidates — Adams and McGuire — have raised concerns that it puts Black and brown voters at a disadvantage.

What they're saying: "We have a history of municipal leadership that really sets the tone for cities across the country," Wolfson says.

  • "We’ve really lost that in the last eight years under the leadership of the current mayor. I don’t think anybody looks to NYC right now for leadership, and the hope would be that whoever is the next mayor can begin to restore that level of prominence and set the tone again for cities across the nation."
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