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It’s NYC Voters Turn to Weigh In on City's Future

Mayor Bill de Blasio
Office of the Mayor
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During one of his daily press briefings, Mayor de Blasio used an online vote to gauge which pizza toppings New Yorkers favored to illustrate how ranked voting works. More than 20,000 New Yorkers weighed in. Pepperoni prevailed.

Every elective office is on the line in the primary contest ahead of November general election. WBGO's Bob Hennelly talks with News Director Doug Doyle

DOYLE: Voting has already started in New York City’s June 22 primary that will determine which candidates will be on the ballot in November for Mayor, City Comptroller, Public Advocate, and for all 51 City Council seats. The campaign has been climaxing as the city has been emerging for the COVID crisis that killed 34,000 residents. With us now to talk about the election and the city’s overall political landscape as voters mull a replacement for Mayor de Blasio, is WBGO’s Bob Hennelly, who is also the City Hall reporter for the Chief-Leader.

Thanks as always for joining us Bob.

HENNELLY: Thanks for having me Doug.

Bob and Doug.jpg
Doug Doyle/Zoom
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WBGO's Bob Hennelly chats via zoom with News Director Doug Doyle

DOYLE: What’s at stake in this election? It’s a primary.

HENNELLY: Well, I guess what you have to keep in mind in New York City you have a situation where voters are by a six to one ratio Democrats—that’s the lopsided nature of it. So, the big contest is in the primary. Yes, there will be a general election in November when there will be a Republican challenger. But historically, Democrats have a tremendous advantage. That said, we have to look to Bill de Blasio who was the first Democrat to win back-to-back terms as Mayor since Ed Koch. For most of the offices, this is the critical election to pay attention to.

DOYLE: I know there are officially a dozen candidates on the Democratic primary ballot for Mayor but a top tier of eight have emerged as the top contenders. Can you give us a quick rundown of who they are?

HENNELLY: You have Borough President Eric Adams, he is a former NYPD Police Captain and also earned himself a reputation fighting Stop & Frisk, someone who is trying to reform the NYPD from within. But in recent years, he has tacked a little bit to the right, so some progressives are suspect of him. There’s Shaun Donovan, who served in the Obama Administration in Housing and before that served in a similar post during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. You have Kathryn Garcia, a former Department of Sanitation Commissioner, who has really been favored by the op-ed boards; the New York Times: The Daily News, Crains, The Chief Leader—I wasn’t part of that decision. She really came to prominence for people who follow government with some of the assignments she was given by Mayor de Blasio. She was responsible Doug for standing up a massive feeding program for the City of New York at the worst of the pandemic. Then there is Ray McGuire, an internationally known businessman, African American investment banker. Dianna Morales, she is a non-profit executive very much associated with the progressive wing, probably the most left of the candidates on the political spectrum. She wants to see housing enshrined as a basic human right. There’s also Scott Stringer, a familiar name to people who follow politics. He’s currently the City Comptroller now, a former Assemblyman and a Borough President. Maya Wiley, who people who watch MSNBC know as a commentator, was a top lawyer for Mayor de Blasio and a civil rights lawyer. And there’s Andrew Yang-- someone who really came to prominence with this run for the Democratic Presidential primary contest. He is an entrepreneur/ businessman probably most famous for his concept of a universal basic income, something that Dr. Martin Luther King talked about to provide a minimum floor of economic support for everybody.

So, that’s the top tier of the Democratic field.

DOYLE: Bob, how about the Republican side? Who is vying for that nod?

HENNELLY: Fernando Mateo, a Dominican American businessman, very much involved with the taxicab and bodega’s trade associations. And of course, radio broadcaster Curtis Sliwa, who founded the Guardian Angels and has been around New York City a very long time.

DOYLE: What issues appear to be defining the race? We know that cases like the 2014 death of Eric Garner during his arrest by the police as well as controversy over the NYPD’s stop and frisk strategy have made police accountability a defining issue in New York City in recent elections. How has that issue helped to define this current campaign?

HENNELLY: So, let’s consider where New York City has been. When I started out back in the 1980s you are talking about some 2,100 homicides a year. It was a very dangerous place. Over the arc of a number of Mayoral terms for a lot of reasons crime dropped dramatically Doug. Over the years, for a whole lot of reasons, including some connected to better policing and the role of undocumented immigrants that revived neighborhoods that had been in serious decline, homicides dropped at one point to below 400 a year.

Now, what has happened in this pandemic period of time some of that progress has been lost. We are seeing a spike in shootings and homicides. There are also significant questions about quality-of-life issues we thought we had turned the corner on back when New York City became a place thar attracted international investment. Now, you are seeing issues about folks that are homeless, people that are emotional disturbed and are dealing with the fact they don’t have a place to lay their head down at night. All of those things, as we come out of this pandemic are looming larger and larger.

It is also a period of time when there’s an economic fallout that still endures. We have millions of people who still face possible eviction or foreclosure because, while things are coming back in the aggregate, individual households are still struggling.

DOYLE: The new wrinkle in this year primary is the ranked voting system where voters get to vote for more than one candidate. Explain for the layman’s explanation of just what the heck is going on Bob?

HENNELLY: Well, it means when you vote you have to really bring some more thought to this. The idea is that you rank in order of your preference who you want to see get the top job. All the votes are aggregated and what happens is the candidates that don’t make a certain threshold, those candidates drop off. And then, they return back to everyone’s ballot to see who was ranked number two until they get to the winner. This has opened up some creative opportunities here where you have alliances that are happening. You have certain groups, for instance, have campaigned against a candidate being ranked at all. I think it is getting people to think more deeply about the candidates’ bios instead of focusing on one, you have to pay attention to the entire field. That’s the big change.

DOYLE: It’s kind of reminds me a little bit like Hall of Fame voting for sports.

HENNELLY: Or, coming up with those dream teams for football or baseball.

DOYLE: Is there any way at this point to gauge voter interest?

HENNELLY: Well, what is a little concerning is that we have had a few days of early voting and

We have seen turnout below one percent. Could there be campaign over saturation? In the past where you didn’t have an incumbent, back in 2013 who had Bill de Blasio, in not as crowded a field only 20 percent of voters turned out and then it dropped to 13 percent in the general election when he faced a Republican. There was an uptick in voter interest, in our region and across the country, in 2020. It is very much an open question whether or not this contest is going to carry the same intensity that we saw with Vice President Biden, who won against Donald Trump.

I will say that with the potential of a possible lower voter turnout, what happens is there is a kind of premium on union support, because when you see a diminished turnout, organizations like unions that have some leverage and can speak to thousands of people, have a kind of increased power because they can get people to turnout. In that case, labor will play a defining role in who the next mayor is.”

DOYLE: In addition to the early voting option that runs up until June 20, polls will be open from 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. the day of the primary election June 22. He’s laid it all out for us much more clearly now. Thanks Bob Hennelly, for joining us on the WBGO Journal.

You can see the exchange between Bob and Doug at https://fb.watch/6d0YN7a6FW/.