Brigid Bergin / WNYC
A major primary election kicks off in New York on Saturday as voters prepare to choose a new mayor for the first time in eight years.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is out at the end of the year due to term limits and as voters choose from a crowded field of potential successors, the issue of crime and public safety has overtaken COVID-19 as the main concern of voters – stimulating moderates and serving as a stress test for the city’s progressive left.
So far, more than 33,000 city residents have died from COVID-19, more than any other major city in the United States. But as virus rates decline and vaccination rates rise, voters in New York City are increasingly saying crime and public safety are their biggest concerns, according to a recent poll.
Shootings have increased 77% since the start of the year, including a series of recent high-profile incidents. Last weekend, a gunman targeted a house in Queens and killed a 10-year-old boy. A few weeks earlier, a 4-year-old had been injured by stray bullets on a Saturday afternoon in Times Square.
“If the city can’t stop the shootings in Times Square, what does that say about what’s going on in the black and brown communities in our city where we are underinvesting and we know gun violence rates are higher? ” said Andrew Yang, the former Democratic presidential candidate who is now one of the main Democratic candidates for mayor.
He’s neck-and-neck with Eric Adams, a former New York City police captain who is currently president of the Brooklyn Borough.
Both oppose cuts to the NYPD. Their more moderate stance on policing is shared by Kathryn Garcia, most recently the city’s sanitation commissioner, who secured approvals from both The New York Times and New York Daily News.
To their collective left is Maya Wiley, a civil rights lawyer and former member of Blasio’s administration. She called for taking $ 1 billion out of the NYPD’s $ 6 billion budget and reinvesting that money in communities hardest hit by gun violence.
She took a major boost last weekend when New York City congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the left had to come together and approved it. “At the end of the day, we’ll have to get this ballot out and fill it out and I’m going to put Maya at number 1,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
This reference to “number 1” was a nod to the new ranked choice voting system that will get its first city-wide test in this primary, allowing voters to rank up to five candidates in order. preferably. Voters adopted the new system in a referendum in 2019.
As the candidates make their arguments, voter Jose Martinez, 79, said he wanted someone who will focus on tackling gun violence. “The police are supposed to be tougher. Everyone here has a gun.”
He was among voters walking past Elmhurst Hospital in Queens on Monday, the epicenter of the city’s COVID-19 pandemic, who voiced concerns to NPR about police issues.
At the height of protests against police brutality last summer, some reform activists pushed hard to slash the NYPD budget. These cuts never fully materialized, but the debate over police funding remains very active.
“I think it was a very unfortunate wording to say ‘fund the police.’ I would be totally against that,” said Nancy Davis, who moved to the city 50 years ago from Ohio. “I love to see them and I think most New Yorkers do too,” she added.
“I think we should slightly fund the police,” said 19-year-old Mohamed Rahmen. “I feel like a lot of people are too radical with that, like they want to cut the NYPD budget in half or something,” he said. “I’m not really for that.”