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In the N.Y.C. Mayor’s Race, Being Second Might Be Good Enough to Win

In the fiercely competitive world of New York City politics, it is hard to imagine a candidate embracing a strategy to be voters’ second choice. Yet in the volatile, crowded race for mayor, such a gambit might actually pay off.

The reason? Ranked-choice voting.

The introduction this year of the ranked-choice system — allowing the selection of up to five choices for mayor, ranked in preferential order — has inserted a significant measure of unpredictability into an election still unsettled by the pandemic.

With the June 22 primary less than two weeks away, campaign officials for the leading Democratic candidates are still trying to figure out how best to work the system to their advantage.

Some campaigns have hired staffers who have experience with ranked-choice voting. They are weighing the risks of making a cross-endorsement with a rival. And candidates are openly reaching out to voters committed elsewhere, hoping to become their second choice.

When Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, recently lost an important endorsement from his friend John Liu, a state senator, he was unbowed. He called on Mr. Liu to rank him second, behind a key opponent, Andrew Yang.

“I’m going to need No. 2 voters, and I’m hoping that I can get him to endorse me as No. 2,” Mr. Adams said.

Even before Shaun Donovan, the former federal housing secretary, entered the race last year, an “electability” presentation to potential backers extolled how his “broad appeal makes him a natural second and third choice for voters.”

New York City approved the switch to a ranked-choice system in a 2019 referendum; it was designed to give voters broader influence by allowing them to back their top choice while still weighing in on the race’s other candidates — lessening the chances of a scenario where two popular candidates split the vote and a candidate without broad support wins.

If a candidate does not initially win a majority of the votes, the rankings come into play. The last-place candidate is eliminated in a series of rounds, with that candidate’s votes reallocated to whichever candidate their supporters ranked next. The rounds continue until there are two candidates left, and the winner has a majority.

The winner will still need to appear as the first choice on as many ballots as possible. But with 13 Democratic candidates diffusing the vote, securing the second spot on other ballots could be just as important, and could elevate a candidate with fewer first-place votes into the lead.

Uncertainty over how voters will approach the new voting system is making many of the campaigns nervous.

“We’re in uncharted territory, and our campaign has done everything it can to ensure that we get as many votes as we can get,” said Chris Coffey, a campaign manager for Mr. Yang, a former presidential candidate.

In most cases where ranked-choice elections have been held, the candidate who is ahead in the first round prevails. But there have been exceptions, including the 2010 mayoral election in Oakland, Calif., where Jean Quan won despite placing second in the first round. Ms. Quan, the city’s first female mayor, collected more second- and third-choice votes than her top rival, boosting her to victory.

Ms. Quan had openly supported the candidate who placed third, Rebecca Kaplan, as her second choice and believes that the friendly gesture helped her with voters.

“I knew there was a risk of helping Rebecca, but I thought it was more important to beat the front-runner,” she said in an interview.

Those types of alliances have been rare in New York.

A campaign adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning said that a cross-endorsement would only work if the other candidate was unquestionably lower in the standings. “You have to know that you’re going to beat the person you’re cross-endorsing — that’s rule No. 1,” the adviser said.

Indeed, the campaigns of Mr. Yang and his chief rival, Mr. Adams, both considered trying to craft a cross-endorsement deal with Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, according to two people familiar with the plans. But her recent rise in the scant public polling available has made that proposition more unlikely.

“We’re not overthinking our ranked-choice strategy,” said Lindsey Green, a spokeswoman for Ms. Garcia. “The goal is still to get as many No. 1 votes as we can and to win outright.”

Only two of the leading mayoral candidates, in fact, are even willing to list a second choice: Mr. Yang backs Ms. Garcia; Mr. Donovan, the former federal housing secretary, supports Maya Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The only known cross-endorsement pact was between Joycelyn Taylor, a businesswoman, and Art Chang, an entrepreneur, two Democrats who have shown little support in polling and fund-raising, and stand little chance of winning.

The mayoral primary will be the first citywide contest in New York City to use ranked-choice voting, and the new system was expected to change the race’s dynamics.

Most mayoral primaries typically feature bruising campaigns; ranked-choice was supposed to discourage that, with candidates wary of alienating each other’s base. That had largely been true this year, but the level of sniping and negative campaigning has increased in recent weeks.

One thing is certain: There will be no costly runoff this year; whoever emerges as the winner will be the Democratic nominee, even if that person did not get 50 percent of the initial vote.

But the voting system also has its quirks.

Assuming no one wins a majority in the first round, the city’s Board of Elections must completely receive and process mail-in ballots before it begins the ranked-choice tally. That is expected to take weeks, and officials have cautioned that a victor may not be declared until mid-July.

“Ranked-choice voting has definitely added an unpredictability to the race,” said Ester Fuchs, a politics professor at Columbia University. “The candidates would like to figure out how to maximize their chances of winning, and they haven’t been able to figure it out.”

Mr. Yang, who has strong name recognition and centrist views, has tried to evoke a cheerful image on the campaign trail. He said recently on MSNBC that the voting system rewards candidates like him with “broad appeal.”

Mr. Yang is working with Bill Barnes, a veteran of San Francisco government, which uses ranked-choice voting, and Billy Cline, who worked on the campaign of London Breed, that city’s first Black female mayor.

Mr. Adams, who appears to be the front-runner in the race, is working with Evan Thies, a media strategist who has experience with the issue, and Ben Tulchin, a San Francisco-based pollster from Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.

At the same time, progressive groups and the city’s powerful teachers’ union are urging New Yorkers not to rank Mr. Yang or Mr. Adams at all.

“Any appearance on your ballot, even as your fifth choice, can get them elected,” the United Federation of Teachers recently told its members.

Our City, a super PAC backed by progressive groups, is also arguing that anyone else would be better than Mr. Yang or Mr. Adams.

“The rest of the candidates — we don’t feel like they’re completely unreachable for progressive issues,” said Gabe Tobias, who is running the PAC. “Adams and Yang are unreachable. That’s a situation where we couldn’t win any of the things we want to win.”

Over the last few weeks, more endorsements have been given in ranked-choice format: The Working Families Party had endorsed the city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, first; Dianne Morales, a nonprofit executive, second; and Ms. Wiley third. But the group withdrew its support for Mr. Stringer and Ms. Morales after their campaigns became mired in controversy, and it is now supporting only Ms. Wiley.

Daniel Rosenthal, a state assemblyman, and two Jewish groups in Queens just ranked Ms. Garcia second. Their first choices were split between Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams.

Representative Adriano Espaillat, the first Dominican-American to serve in Congress, also recently endorsed Mr. Adams first and Ms. Wiley second. (He rescinded his initial endorsement of Mr. Stringer after allegations emerged that Mr. Stringer had sexually harassed a woman working on his 2001 campaign for public advocate. Mr. Stringer denies the allegations.)

The system allows voters to hedge their bets and rank multiple candidates — extending the odds of casting a winning vote for someone agreeable, even if not preferable. A voter could, for instance, rank three left-leaning candidates — Ms. Wiley, Mr. Stringer and Ms. Morales — guaranteeing that one would get their vote in a late round.

The same scenario could present itself to a voter who wanted to support a Black candidate, and rank only the four major Black Democrats: Mr. Adams, Ms. Wiley, Ms. Morales, who identifies as Afro-Latina, and Raymond J. McGuire, a former Wall Street executive.

Yet some Black leaders are also concerned that minority and working-class voters might not rank more than one candidate because there has not been enough public education about the process. More than half of voters say they will pick a second choice; 30 percent said they would only pick one choice, according to a Fontas Advisors poll in May.

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government advocacy group, said that ranked-choice voting eliminates the need for an expensive runoff election, which could take just as long to find a winner.

“Democracy takes time, and every vote counts,” she said. “Accurate and fair election results are worth waiting for.”

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Major Moments From the Final Democratic Mayoral Debate

Weather: Sunny again, with a high close to 80.

Alternate-side parking: In effect through tomorrow. Suspended on Saturday for Juneteenth.

Five days of campaigning left.

With Tuesday’s primary fast approaching, Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City sparred over matters of public safety, schooling and homelessness last night as they shared their closing arguments in the final debate before the vote closes.

The early voting period lasts through Sunday, and the ranked-choice system has injected a large degree of unpredictability into the race. Still, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, remains a consistent front-runner in the sparse available polling.

[Read more about the debate and the candidates’ visions for New York.]

Here are a few of the standout moments:

This week, Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate, received the endorsement of the Captains Endowment Association, the union that represents police captains. When asked at the debate to explain why he was the candidate best equipped to tackle a rise in shootings, Mr. Yang pointed to the endorsement.

“The people you should ask about this are Eric’s former colleagues in the police captains’ union,” Mr. Yang said.

Mr. Adams tried to dismiss the endorsement, suggesting that he had not even asked for it. Mr. Yang accused him of lying.

Mr. Yang sounded alarms around matters of mental health and homelessness, saying that the issues were impeding the city’s recovery and that homeless people needed to be introduced to a “better environment.” He said he would rebuild “the stock of psych beds in our city.”

Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, shot back: “That is the greatest non-answer I’ve ever heard,” he said, discussing a need to create tens of thousands of units of “truly affordable housing.”

The question encouraged contenders to sling a little mud, and Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams again targeted each other. Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, ripped the “defund the police” movement. Maya Wiley challenged Mr. Adams on policing.

“The worst idea I’ve ever heard is bringing back stop and frisk and the anti-crime unit from Eric Adams,” said Ms. Wiley, a civil rights lawyer. “Which, one, is racist; two, is unconstitutional; and, three, didn’t stop any crime; and, four, it will not happen in a Maya Wiley administration.”

Mr. Adams responded that, if he was elected, the abuses of stop and frisk would not return.

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A Black feminist writer from Harlem. The first Black woman to have a play produced on Broadway. An actress and singer who lived in Manhattan and broke ground for Black performers.

New York City officials announced on Wednesday that 16 parks across the five boroughs would be named for those figures and other Black leaders who made significant contributions in areas from education and entertainment to civil rights and community relations.

“Our goal is to represent the culture and diversity of New York City,” the city’s parks commissioner, Mitchell J. Silver, said at a news conference at Mullaly Park in the Bronx. The roughly 15-acre park in the Concourse neighborhood of the borough was a focus of local activism as protests arose to push for officials to change its title, citing concerns about the record of its namesake, who published attacks on the Emancipation Proclamation.

“For years, the community has expressed discontent and a desire to rename this beloved green space,” Mr. Silver said. A new name that honors the Rev. Wendell Foster, the first Black elected city official in the Bronx, will be adopted in September 2022, he said.

The move comes amid a larger push to change some names of monuments and landmarks in New York and elsewhere, sometimes to leave behind references to figures with racist pasts and at other times to honor Black New Yorkers. Several top Democratic mayoral candidates have suggested they would support renaming sites including streets named for slaveholders.

As for park spaces, those that will take on new names include the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn (changing to Lena Horne Bandshell); Hell’s Kitchen Park in Manhattan (to become Lorraine Hansberry Park); and St. Albans Oval in Queens (to be renamed Musicians Oval in honor of influential Black jazz musicians).

It’s Thursday — get outside.

Dear Diary:

My mother loves Denzel Washington. So it was only natural that we would go see him in the “The Iceman Cometh” when she visited a few years ago.

My legs were stiff and my mouth was dry after the four-hour production ended, and I was ready to go home. But my mother loves Denzel Washington. So we waited outside the stage door for the cast to emerge.

My mother was easily the oldest person there, but she was grinning like a teenager about to meet her hero.

“Do you have a pen?” she asked me nervously.

“These actors always carry pens,” I said with confidence. “Don’t worry.”

Soon, though, I was frantically asking everyone around us for a pen while my mother continued to wait for the star to emerge.

When I got back to where she was standing, I overheard her chatting with other members of the cast.

Denzel Washington never came out that night, but my mother still proudly tells everyone back home how she invited half the cast of a Broadway show to visit her in Colorado.

I’m glad I didn’t have a pen.

— Sid Gopinath

New York Today is published weekdays around 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at

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It’s Not Too Late to Discover Louise Meriwether

“My uncle and father were always politically involved,” she said. “And I was with them, so I became politically involved, too.”

Credit…Fern Gillespie

In 1965, Meriwether earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Los Angeles. After three years at The Sentinel, she left the paper to become the first African American story analyst at Universal Studios, a job that entails reading and providing feedback on scripts. Around this time, she also joined the Watts Writers Workshop, a collective by the screenwriter Budd Schulberg, where she began writing “Daddy Was a Number Runner.” “I remember asking myself: This woman is a great writer. What is she doing in a workshop?” the poet Quincy Troupe said in an interview. “She was way above everybody else.”

When Troupe reminisces on their friendship, he recalls a moment in which he is convinced she saved his life. Driving home from a poetry reading, he was stopped and searched by police officers. Meriwether happened to be on the road with a friend who was a lawyer. When she saw Troupe, she stopped her car and went to question the officers, asking for their badge numbers.

“I said, ‘I’ve got your numbers, and that’s my attorney over there,’ in case they tried to shoot me,” Meriwether said. “That sort of defused the situation, you know?”

In 1969, Meriwether, who had divorced, returned to New York to care for her ailing mother. As she did in Los Angeles, she dove into New York’s artistic and political scenes, starting Committee of Concerned Blacks, an anti-Apartheid group, in 1972, and joining the Harlem Writers Guild, a group whose founders included the writers John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy and John Oliver Killens. Her circle of friends encompassed still more writers, including Maya Angelou and Sonia Sanchez.

“I think one thing you can get from Louise is loyalty, support, and undying love for her people,” Hill, her friend and caretaker, said.

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Why This Overlooked Residential Island in N.Y.C. Wants Tourists

When Med Abrous, a restaurateur behind trendy establishments in Los Angeles, Nashville and Seattle, got the call about opening a restaurant on Roosevelt Island in New York, he almost hung up the phone.

“The last time I was at Roosevelt Island was probably in the third grade for a class trip, where we took the tram, ” said Mr. Abrous, who grew up in New York City. “All I remember is we learned something about smallpox, and then I never went back.” (In the 1800s the island, now a quiet residential neighborhood, was the repository for several city asylums and hospitals, including one for smallpox, as well as a prison).

The restaurant would be part of Graduate, Roosevelt Island’s first hotel, which opened this month. The property is on the campus of Cornell Tech, a hub for cutting-edge graduate students in tech, design, law and business, which opened four years ago. Although the university has been a boon to the community — which was redeveloped starting in the mid-20th century and has plenty of dated architecture to prove it — would a stylish hotel and restaurant really work out here?

“People who have lived in New York City for 20 or 30 years have never been to Roosevelt Island,” said Ben Weprin, the founder and chief executive of Graduate Hotels. “That is the biggest challenge, to educate people on how close and easy and fun Roosevelt Island is.”

Mr. Abrous and his business partner agreed to at least visit the site, and he was immediately impressed. “I was taken aback just being in the middle of the East River,” he said. New high-rises were plentiful, and the rooftop of the hotel offered views of several New York City landmarks, from the United Nations building across the river to One World Trade Center farther south.

He signed on to create the Panorama Room, a bar and lounge with the very same rooftop views that seduced him, and he is aiming for a splashy midsummer opening. The idea is to make the restaurant a destination unto itself. “I’ll go into deep Brooklyn or Queens for a great meal,” he said, adding that he wants Roosevelt Island to be a destination, too. “We want this place to have the same weightiness as the Rainbow Room or Windows of the World,” he said.

In a way, the combination of Cornell Tech’s opening and the pandemic’s hitting the city has given Roosevelt Island a new chance at the spotlight. In addition to the hundreds of graduate students who have moved there, other New Yorkers in search of green space and affordable rents have gobbled up real estate. Several longtime residents are recommitting to the area, opening yoga studios and restaurants. And then there is Graduate, with its rooftop bar.

“It’s funny, having lived here so long, to see something so artsy and modern and hip coming to the neighborhood,” said Amanda Baehr Fuller, 48, an illustrator who has lived on the island for 15 years. “In the past we used to hear about things possibly opening, and years would go by and it would never happen,” she continued. “Now it’s getting better.”

Although many locals are thrilled about the attention the island is getting, the population of around 14,000 is still not enough to keep these new businesses thriving, said Shelton J. Haynes, the president and chief operating officer of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, which functions like a local government.

“These small businesses definitely need tourists to come in,” he said. “Many were hit very hard during the pandemic. Especially now, they need a hybrid of residents as well as tourism to stay alive.” The corporation is considering a series of free tours, both on foot and by bus, to bring in more people, Mr. Haynes said.

So it all hinges on foot traffic. The island battles an unfair reputation as being hard to reach despite access from the F train, the ferry, the Queensboro Bridge and of course the island’s unique tram. “We are still in the middle of the East River, and I am reminded of it all the time,” Mr. Abrous said. “This may have been a completely crazy idea,” he said of his decision to commit to Roosevelt Island.

In these late-pandemic days, the appeal of the area is obvious. It’s possible to walk through its parks and not see another human. Families, especially, appreciate the open fields, tree-lined promenades and playgrounds. Later this summer, Southpoint Park will open on the southern tip of the island. “It will be similar to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you can walk right up to the water,” Mr. Haynes said.

For people interested in living here, there is currently a wait list for three-bedroom apartments, which is unprecedented, according to Chris Schmidt, a senior vice president at the real estate firm Related Companies, which owns eight (and soon to be nine) buildings on the island.

Last summer, Paul Krikler, 60, who owns a consulting and business coaching business, moved to Roosevelt Island from the Upper East Side of Manhattan with his three teenage children. “It’s so calm and peaceful and quiet,” he said. “There is green everywhere and water everywhere and public benches everywhere. During the pandemic having that space was just lovely.” He likes how people bring hammocks and hang them between the trees.

An adjustment for him, however, was the lack of amenities. “There’s very limited shopping here, so you have to use Amazon and make the most use of your time when you’re on the mainland,” he said. “For example, there is no bike shop.” Mr. Krikler is working to change this by getting a mobile bike shop to visit the island regularly.

Before the pandemic there was one of everything, said David Kramer, who oversees Related’s retail spaces for Roosevelt Island. “There was a pizzeria, a Japanese restaurant, a Greek diner, a Chinese restaurant and a supermarket,” he said.

In the past year, however, more specialty offerings have arrived. Wholesome Macelleria, a high-end butcher shop, opened over the winter. Last September came Granny Annie’s, a restaurant that became a go-to spot for cocktails. And this summer, Graduate will introduce two new restaurants overseen by Mr. Abrous.

Jax Schott, who has lived on the island for over 12 years and is a yoga and barre instructor, is opening the island’s first dedicated yoga and barre studio, Island Om, this summer. She’s transforming a 2,000-square-foot space on Main Street that used to be a makeshift batting cage. “We have a lot of wellness people on the island, and I am trying to figure out how to bring them together and make this a sort of hub for the community,” she said.

The hope is that the 224-room Graduate Hotel will lift up the other businesses. The property has gone out of its way to be bold. In the lobby is a 12-foot statue by Hebru Brantley, an artist known for his Afrofuturist style, as well as 5,000 square feet of shelved vintage textbooks. There is a meeting room inspired by the Tom Hanks movie “Big,” with a giant piano mat and a Zoltar machine.

“We need people to come and be, like, ‘Holy shoot, I can’t wait to bring my friends here,’ ” Mr. Weprin said. “We have to make this a landmark of the city.”

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