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On Politics: Zellnor Myrie could doom Eric Adams even if he loses

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Mayor Eric Adams has a new challenger in the Democratic primary next year.

Zellnor Myrie, who represents a version of Adams’ old state Senate seat, announced he was opening an exploratory committee to run. Myrie put up a launch video with the announcement; barring unforeseen circumstances, he is going to be an official candidate before the year is out.

What does this mean? Can a 37-year-old state senator from Brooklyn get elected the next mayor? He’s a long shot. Adams is sitting on more than $2 million and should have the backing of several large labor unions. He’s an incumbent, and mayoral incumbents rarely lose.

But Myrie can help deny Adams a second term, even if he doesn’t win. Scott Stringer, the former city comptroller and a 2021 candidate, is likely to run as well. Together, it’s plausible they rack up enough votes to block Adams from winning the June 2025 primary.

It’s important to remember primaries and special elections in New York City are now run with ranked-choice voting. In the primary next year, just as they were able to in 2021, Democratic voters can choose up to five candidates on their ballot. Second-place votes matter greatly. RCV is a good system because it rewards candidates who can build broader, deeper coalitions. Adams can’t rely on a narrow plurality to get himself the nomination.

Myrie has several strengths. He represents a vote-rich district in central Brooklyn. He is Afro-Latino and can potentially gobble up middle class and professional class Black voters who are souring on Adams. Progressives in western Queens, northern Brooklyn and the brownstone belt could be attracted to his candidacy, since he has a reputation as a reformer in Albany; he’s a politician who fought to expand childcare and fix election laws.

Myrie is part of the state Senate’s progressive bloc, but his pitch, like Stringer’s, is more grounded in municipal management and battling back against certain unpopular budget cuts, like Adams’ attempt to trim spending for libraries. Myrie’s hope, as a candidate, will be to forge a coalition of center-left Democrats in Manhattan and Brooklyn while pitching himself to moderates as someone who can successfully oversee the city agencies Adams has stuffed with patronage hires or let wither altogether.

Myrie’s challenge will be building name recognition and raising money. Even with public matching funds, he’ll need to raise around $1 million on his own if he wants to get on television and scale up a five-borough campaign. This is far easier said than done. Stringer, who’s run citywide before, has an advantage on this score.

Ranked-choice voting incentivizes alliance-building, and it’s not hard to imagine a Stringer-Myrie coalition that wins many more votes than Adams in Manhattan and sections of Brooklyn and Queens. Adams has a large working-class base, but it’s shrunk since 2021. He is, by polling, the most unpopular mayor in decades, and it’s possible a federal investigation into his fundraising results in him — or close aides — getting indicted.

If so, the field might expand further. Indictments could lure Andrew Cuomo, the disgraced former governor, into the race, and he would be formidable, even with the large number of voters who view him negatively. Either way, Adams is already the most endangered incumbent since David Dinkins, who lost his re-election in 1993 to Rudy Giuliani.

The most apt historical comparison, though, might be Abe Beame, who had to govern through the fiscal crisis and saw his popularity plummet by 1977, when he was up for re-election. Democrats piled on Beame like Democrats are beginning to pounce on Adams, and Beame lost the primary.

Adams does have a path to victory, but he needs to figure out how to win back the voters he’s lost while proposing new policy initiatives that can drum up fresh excitement and interest. Adams needs a compelling argument for a second term. Absent one, he’s veering toward becoming a one-term mayor.

Ross Barkan is a journalist and author in New York City.

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Ross Barkan , 2024-05-13 17:11:13

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