A New Era Begins In New York City Politics: Will The Working Class Benefit From It?

Once all the rounds of the city’s new ranked choice voting system had finally been completed, the results told a clear story: the conservative establishment of the Democratic party had mostly beaten back a minor left challenge and is poised to move city government in an even worse direction than it went under two terms of the feckless Bill de Blasio.

After 8 rounds of retabulation, the Democratic mayoral primary came down to Literal Cop and Real Estate Toady Eric Adams, and Technocrat Kathryn Garcia. Garcia is a moderate who has been quite hostile to the left in the past, but much of the more progressive elements of the Democratic primary electorate rallied behind her late in the campaign as Scott Stringer and Dianne Morales collapsed in scandals (Maya Wiley, further to the left than Garcia but still nothing more than a de Blasio-style liberal was eliminated in the 7th round). 

Ultimately, it was not enough as Adams edged out Garcia by 7,000 votes. Adams is all but guaranteed to replace de Blasio, as the Republican nominee Curtis Silwa stands little chance in November’s general election.

Adams’ win is a devastating blow for the working people of New York he stands firmly on the side of the powerful corporate interests that dominate city politics. In recent weeks he has come out strongly in defense of the brutal NYPD as well as the rich in the city, and has declared that he is running against the socialist movement. It is not a stretch to say that Adams will be the most reactionary mayor since Rudy Guiliani in the 90s.

In the city council races, only 2 of the 6 candidates who received the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America won their primaries. It has to go down as a stinging defeat for an organization that before these primaries had mostly found success in the campaigns they’ve run in the city since 2018. 

Facing down four years of what is sure to be continued misery for the working class of the city, the New York left will need to quickly learn from the failures of the 2021 elections, or else even more defeats await us in the future.

What Does an Adams Mayoralty Mean?

Since winning the primary, Adams has made it quite clear as to who he views as the enemy. He has repeatedly railed against socialism generally, as well as claimed that he is being targeted by the DSA. A former NYPD Captain, Adams has also made clear that he opposes anyone who criticizes the police. 

At a recent fundraiser for Adams that was organized by a Republican member of the city council, Adams stated that if he won, he would “start the process of regaining control of our city.” It should be fairly obvious what he means by that: under Adams, the NYPD will be even more unleashed and unhinged than they already were during the de Blasio administration. We should expect law enforcement to be given an absolute free reign to further criminalize Black and brown communities, ignore even the most minor attempts at reform, and brutalize protestors who stand up against the rotten system the police defend.

Adams’ New York will also continue to be a haven for rich real estate developers who are making our city increasingly unlivable. Adams, a landlord himself, collected over $320,000 in donations from big developers during his time as Brooklyn borough president in the run up to his mayoral race. Those developers will now be overjoyed that they will have their man running the city.

Quite simply, we can expect Adams’ time as mayor to be good times for the rich and powerful, and devastation for all the rest of us.

Toward Building Lasting Working Class Power in New York

There are a couple of key lessons the left should take away from the 2021 primaries. First, ranked choice voting is not going to be the silver bullet many progressive organizers thought it would be. The argument in favor of RCV had been that it would make it more likely for left candidates to do well as it is a more “democratic” option than first-past-the-post voting.

In actuality, what ended up happening in both the mayoral race and in several council primaries was that the ruling class was able to financially support multiple candidates in the races, increasing the likelihood that one of their representatives would win by diluting the chances of left candidates. RCV may help independent candidates get higher percentages in general elections, but in intra-party primaries, it just allows the establishment to increase the chances of one of their people getting though (it’s no surprise then that when RCV was put forward as a ballot measure in 2019, it was only to be used for primaries and special elections).

The second lesson that the left must learn is that the Democratic establishment is now fully prepared for how to deal with left primary challenges. Four of the six candidates endorsed by NYC-DSA lost their races (though another self proclaimed socialist who was not endorsed by DSA did win her race). The losses are of course disappointing for socialists in the city, but we should not be surprised by them.

Since AOC’s stunning defeat of Joe Crowley in 2018, DSA-backed candidates have mostly been winning their primaries against establishment Democrats, so the 2021 primaries represent the first major setback in their post-2016 resurgence. While some in DSA will cling to the argument that their future for electoral success is still bright, the recent results should be setting off alarm bells.

Over the last couple of years, the establishment has begun taking the threat of left challenges seriously, and has adapted accordingly. They have begun to put forward candidates who are very adept at speaking the language of movements without actually being any threat to capital. This allows them to neutralize the candidates on the left to ensure the conservative establishment remains in full control of the party. With this new reality, the longer socialists insist on running in Democratic primaries, the more likely it is that they will be defeated in primaries, ensuring that socialist voices are left out of the much higher visibility general elections. 

The tasks for the city’s left remain the same as they were before the primaries, but they are now more pressing given the certainty of a reactionary mayor taking office in January. We must quickly reorient ourselves to the new administration and have to start building the kind of organizations that can challenge the corporate politics that have dominated New York for decades.

Instead of wasting time running in a party that is hostile to our ideas and has figured out how to deal with our challenges to their control of the party, we must work toward building sustained movements and social struggles that will challenge the dictatorship of Wall Street. It is vital for progressive labor union activists, grassroots social justice organizations, activists, youth, and socialists to contest elections through independent working-class campaigns outside of the strict confines of the Democratic party ballot line. 

This will not be done simply by organizing only around elections we must first organize within our communities, workplaces, and universities around the issues and concerns that matter to our neighbors, co-workers, and fellow students on a daily basis. As Adams begins to implement his reactionary agenda once in office, we have to be there to oppose him and Wall Street’s agenda every step of the way.