For a few decades New York City had mayor’s races between representatives of the city’s Democratic establishment and silent majority type Republicans who presented themselves as hedges against the city’s excesses. That role was embodied for a dozen years by Rudy Giuliani. Then it was taken over in a considerably more muted form by Michael Bloomberg. After the transition from Michael Bloomberg to Bill deBlasio that all kind of ended. Republicans have scarcely even registered in the last two elections and there’s little sign they will in 2021.
And yet something funny is happening in this year’s mayor’s race as candidates jockey to succeed deBlasio. The race is being dominated by one candidate running on conventional retail politics (Andrew Yang) and another on public safety (Eric Adams). They’re both in the high teens or maybe 20%. Various candidates supported by the city’s progressive movement, its leaders, influencers, etc. are simply not getting much traction.
There are some major caveats here. There are a ton of candidates and none of them have the kind of star power to force the race to be them vs one other candidate. One could plausible argue that there are just as many voters supporting the progressive candidates. There are just more of them so each individually is mired in single digits. This will also be the first election that the city will use ranked choice voting, where you can list up to five candidates in order of preference. That could produce some very unexpected results.
But it all comes down to this. This is supposed to be a really liberal city. And yet the progressive candidates are either underperforming or, more generously, dividing the progressive vote in a way that might give the race to Yang or Adams. For all the complexities the answer seem pretty straightforward. The progressives in the race are participating in conversations that are very internal to progressive politics. Voters either disagree or those issues just don’t resonate. I suspect it’s a bit of both, with perhaps more or the latter.