The press has found a national narrative for the victory of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary: It’s yet another indication that the Democratic Party must stick to moderate ideas–especially around crime and policing–and away from the left-wing politics of the so-called “Squad.”
Adams, a Black former NYPD officer who had the backing of the city’s powerful real estate industry, ran on a multifaceted agenda. But a major thread was his contention that although the police department needed reforms, calls to “defund the police” were reckless, and the city needed a tough-on-crime approach. This won him praise from the likes of Rudy Giuliani (New York Times, 6/20/21) and Fox News host Tucker Carlson (Real Clear Politics, 5/7/21).
‘A way forward for Democrats’
The Financial Times (7/12/21) said that Adams’ win “points a way forward for the Democrats as they prepare for the 2022 midterms,” because while the right will paint the entire party as the “radical left,” the Adams model “found ways to neutralize those attacks by staking out resolutely moderate positions that emphasized practical solutions over ideology.” The paper pointed to his background as a former cop who vowed to reform the police force, and offered a “ pro-business” platform in a “field full of leftists.”
The New York Times (6/29/21) echoed the need to get moderate in light of the Adams win: “The bad news for the Democratic Party is that this national majority is not as liberal as many high-profile Democratic activists and politicians.” AP (7/7/21) trumpeted Adams’ win, saying it could “accelerate a recent trend of some of the party’s most fervent voters breaking away from its most progressive candidates.”
The Wall Street Journal (7/8/21) claimed that his victory “rescued the party from the gentry left,” as the runner-up Kathryn Garcia, a former Sanitation commissioner and New York Times backed candidate (5/10/21), who did particularly well in Manhattan (New York Times, 6/23/21). Adams’ tough-on-crime agenda could spark a rolling-back of progressive measures enacted in the state in the last several years, the paper hopefully suggested–for example, repealing the “state’s bail reform law.”
The only New York City newspaper to endorse Adams was the right-wing tabloid New York Post—like the Journal, a Murdoch-owned property. After its initial endorsement (5/10/21) that painted Adams as a tough-on-crime candidate, with a reminder endorsement 10 days later (5/20/21), the editorial board (6/10/21) doubled down, emphasizing that “nearly 46% of likely voters want crime and public safety to be the top priority of the next mayor.”
“Adams has been the candidate most forthright and credible in vowing to bring [crime] down,” the Post wrote, “and insisting that #Defund nonsense is not the way to do it.”
Invoking a favorite Trump administration phrase to dismiss its own scandals, the Post dismissed questions of whether Adams actually has a permanent residence in the city as “nothing-burgers served up by rival campaigns.”
New York-centric punditry
Non–New Yorkers are used to the annoying trope of the New York City mayor’s race being automatically treated as some kind of national phenomenon. But while the city’s self-image as a global capital can be tiresome, there’s some plausibility to the idea that what happens to Democrats in the country’s biggest city might have some kind of message for the rest of the country.
Still, it’s important to apply some context here. This mayor’s race was nothing like the two previous Democratic presidential primaries, because there was no real leftist in the mix. There were lesser-known progressives like Dianne Morales, whose star started to fall once the press started applying scrutiny to her record (Nation, 6/25/21). Maya Wiley, a lawyer for term-limited incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio, did finish better than expected, but only started rising late in the race (Wall Street Journal, 6/19/21). NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s attempt to make himself the progressive alternative to both Adams and Andrew Yang fell flat, thanks in part to allegations of sexual misconduct, losing the support of progressive backers like the Working Families Party (WNBC, 4/30/21). There was simply no insurgent with a movement behind them in this race.
Nonetheless, two citywide races in the city were won by candidates well to the left of Adams: City Council member Brad Lander, who was endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, won the primary for city comptroller, and incumbent Public Advocate Jumaane Williams won his primary. Two City Council candidates backed by Democratic Socialists of America won their primaries, and Gothamist (7/7/21) noted that the “next New York City Council is on track to be the most diverse and the most left-leaning in the city’s history.”
When reading post-election think pieces, readers might ask if the opposite lessons would be drawn if Wiley, for instance, had managed to coalesce the progressive vote through the new ranked-choice voting system to win a victory. (Adams was able to navigate the process to eke out a narrow 50.4% victory.) Would these same outlets have declared that the the success of a de Blasio administration alum who tacked to the left meant that national Dems should stress a progressive message? A good guess would be: No.
Better lessons from Buffalo?
But regardless of who won, we’d be right to question New York City’s political centrality. The Democrats don’t have a problem winning in large, metropolitan areas. They have a problem winning working-class towns and regions that they used to rely upon (Salon, 11/17/16).
Might more useful lessons be drawn by the mayoral primary win of DSA-backed candidate India Walton (Vox, 6/30/21) in Buffalo, New York’s second biggest city, where deindustrialization has taken a huge toll? A plan on how to win in the Rust Belt might better start there, rather than in New York City, where financial, media and real estate money have long driven up the cost of living. But that’s not a narrative most corporate media are eager to explore.
There is still a lot of time between now and the 2022 midterm elections, and things like the handling of the new Covid-19 Delta variant and the extent of economic recovery will be on voters’ minds. Focusing on the victory of Adams, a well-connected machine politician with enough quirky qualities to draw media attention his way, seems very much like an ideologically driven desire to put the cart before the horse.
The post Press Sees NYC Primary Win as Yet Another Reason for Dems to Move Right appeared first on FAIR.