Recovery, Restaurants, Policing: Where the Mayoral Candidates Stand

We interviewed the leading Democratic candidates running for mayor about the most pressing concerns facing New York City as it recovers from the pandemic.

We also asked them about their favorite restaurants and their sports allegiances.

Voters are still getting to know the crowded field of candidates ahead of the June 22 primary. They come from unique backgrounds and have differing visions for the city on issues that include policing, transit, climate and education.

Here’s a glimpse of what we learned (and you can view the full videos here):

As the end of the pandemic comes into focus, many of the mayoral candidates are centering their pitch around the idea that they can lead New York into a period of greater equity and prosperity than the city experienced before the shutdown.

For some of the candidates, that means a focus on small businesses and ensuring that the institutions that make New York so culturally vibrant — restaurants and Broadway, for example — have sufficient support to reopen.

“The first thing I would do to help New York City recover from the pandemic is really make sure we are investing in our small businesses and that we are bringing back the things that differentiate us from the rest of the country,” said Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner. “Art, culture, restaurants. When they’re strong, that means offices are strong and that means that tourism comes back.”

That view was echoed by several of the contenders. Some also emphasized the importance of reopening the city quickly and safely.

“We should get our artists, our musicians, our restaurants, filling our vacant storefronts, filling our public spaces,” said Shaun Donovan, the former federal housing secretary, “and make sure every New Yorker and the world knows that we’re alive and fun and the city to be in again.”

Or as Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate, put it: “The first thing we have to do to help New York City recover is let people know that New York City is open for business.”

Many New Yorkers will not miss Mayor Bill de Blasio when he leaves office early next year.

None of the candidates named him as the best mayor in their lifetime. Instead, many pointed to Michael R. Bloomberg and David N. Dinkins.

Ms. Garcia named Mr. Bloomberg, citing “his focus on the data.” Maya Wiley, a former civil rights lawyer, said Mr. Dinkins, who died last year, “was my hero” and cared about all New Yorkers.

Raymond J. McGuire, a former Wall Street executive, named both: Mr. Dinkins for bringing the city together as a “gorgeous mosaic,” and Mr. Bloomberg who was “effective at leading and managing the city,” though Mr. McGuire criticized his focus on stop-and-frisk policing.

Mr. Yang named Ed Koch, citing “his optimism and spirit,” while Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, cited both Mr. Koch and Mr. Dinkins.

Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, is the only candidate who fully embraced the “defund the police” movement.

Ms. Morales described how her children were pepper sprayed by the police at a protest at Barclays Center last summer and how her son was physically assaulted. She suggested that she supports an eventual goal of abolishing the police.

“We know that policing does not equal public safety — that communities that are most heavily policed are in fact the most at risk and the most harmed,” she said.

Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, said the term defund was not helpful and could “stop the forward movement we’re looking for.”

Mr. Yang said the slogan “unfortunately seems very absolutist,” but he does support channeling more resources to mental-health response teams.

Other candidates called for cuts to the police budget and other reforms: Ms. Wiley said the police department should have fewer officers; Mr. Stringer said officers should not handle 911 calls for mental health emergencies.

On any number of key matters, the candidates were in broad agreement: The city, in their view, does have an important role to play in confronting systemic racism; combating issues including traffic congestion and climate change should be top priorities for the next mayor; the city must reopen quickly and safely, and for some contenders, there are growing concerns around crime.

But real differences were also evident, both in terms of management style and ideology. Ms. Morales emerged as the most left-wing candidate in the field, on issues including public safety and “austerity,” warning against it as she sketched out an expansive public infrastructure program. Mr. Stringer and Ms. Wiley often took positions that also aligned them further to the left of other candidates.

Mr. Yang, Ms. Garcia, Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuire tended toward the more centrist side of the spectrum in discussing policing and economic development.

But for many of the candidates, the sharpest contrasts had less to do with politics than with experience. Ms. Garcia, Mr. Donovan and Mr. Stringer in particular are running as résumé candidates, citing their deep experience in government — at the city level for Ms. Garcia and Mr. Stringer and at the federal level for Mr. Donovan.

To varying degrees, Mr. Yang, Ms. Wiley, Mr. McGuire and Ms. Morales are seeking to run as less traditional candidates who emphasize their experiences outside of government, while Mr. Adams highlights both his experience in government and his work as a police officer.

The race will test both the city’s ideological mood, and whether voters want a seasoned government insider or someone promising to shake up the system as an outsider.

New Yorkers will use ranked-choice voting in the mayoral election for the first time this year, ranking up to five candidates in their order of preference.

That could lead to alliances among the candidates, though some were not ready to reveal whom they might rank second.

Ms. Wiley named Ms. Morales as her second choice, citing her “real lived experience” as a person of color in New York City.

Mr. Yang named Ms. Garcia and described her as a “disciplined operator with great experience,” and said he would like to work with her in his administration — comments that he has made before and that have frustrated Ms. Garcia, who says she wants the top job.

“Kathryn, if you’re watching this, Kathryn, let’s team up,” Mr. Yang said laughing.

Mr. Adams said he liked several candidates and was talking to them about a pact to rank each other second.

“That is a secret,” he said with a smile.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has faced calls to resign over allegations of sexual harassment and his handling of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.

Still, Mr. Adams, Mr. Yang and Mr. McGuire said they would accept his endorsement.

“I believe strongly in the due process system,” Mr. Adams said, adding that if leaders sidestep that process then “we are on a slippery slope.”

Mr. Yang said that the governor’s endorsement would be “positive for New York City” and “a clear signal that the city and state’s interests are aligned.”

Ms. Wiley said she was not seeking the governor’s support.

“I stand by my request that Governor Cuomo step down and resign because we can’t afford any of our people to doubt the integrity of our public servants,” she said.

The contenders sketched out extensive, sometimes sharply divergent, policy visions on issues including how to balance economic development with community concerns and the best ways to address educational losses from the pandemic.

But they also showed how they would use the bully pulpit of the mayoralty to root for New York City culture, parks and nightlife, ticking through their favorite restaurants, Broadway shows, city green spaces (a Central Park-versus-Prospect Park battle line emerged) and sports teams.

From sushi at Amber on the Upper West Side (Mr. Stringer’s favorite) to “a little hole in the wall in Fort Greene” called Dino (Ms. Morales’s choice); pizza at Corner Slice in Hell’s Kitchen for Mr. Yang or a meal at Red Rooster in Harlem for Mr. McGuire, they all appeared eager for a less wonky, but vitally important aspect of the job: cheerleading for the city.

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