Gotham’s 10 days of voting for mayor started on Saturday. Even in a close race, we will know the winner by early July. Which raises a strange question in these strange times: What is the mayor-in-waiting supposed to do for a full six months, until inauguration on Jan. 1?
The June primary is an oddity. For 44 years, New York has selected its Democratic mayoral candidate in September.
In September 1977, New Yorkers chose comparative moderates Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo out of a field that, up until this year’s race, at least, was the most eclectic ever. Left-wing Rep. Bella Abzug, Bronx Rep. and Puerto Rican trailblazer Herman Badillo and civil-rights activist and Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton were among the losers.
If that race had been held in June instead of September, it might have had a different outcome. Koch was the tough-on-crime candidate who crested, really, after the July 1977 blackout and attendant looting scared New Yorkers into hard-headedness.
Why the sudden switch to June now? In 2012, New York lost a federal lawsuit over its equally long-standing September primary date for national primaries. The feds charged that the September date didn’t leave enough time for overseas military voters to receive absentee ballots before the November general. In 2019, the state Legislature and Gov. Cuomo decided to hold all future races at once, on the fourth Tuesday in June.
But presidential races are drawn-out affairs. Between spring and November, each party’s winning candidate has to barnstorm the whole country multiple times. With New York’s nearly 7-to-1 Democratic registration, it’s highly unlikely this month’s Democratic primary winner has to worry too much about a GOP opponent.
Yes, Republicans have won before. In 1993, though, Rudy Giuliani was the perfect candidate: A young, energetic prosecutor with high-profile victories against corrupt politicos, the Mafia and insider traders under his belt, he could credibly run on the two issues plaguing the city: graft and violent crime. In 2001, Mike Bloomberg had Giuliani’s backing, a stellar business career and tens of millions of dollars to spend.
No such Republican candidate is on the horizon now, although the winning Democrat will still have to debate either Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa or Fernando Mateo, a bodega and taxi-driver advocate.
So, what should the winner do from July to January?
A short vacation might be in order, except for the fact that leaving the five boroughs is perilous for goodwill. Brooklyn beep Eric Adams can never leave Brooklyn again, or it will show up on his E-ZPass; Andrew Yang had better not spend too much time at his upstate house.
This is especially true, because, while the risk of losing to a Republican is low, it’s never zero (see: Trump, Donald). Does a Kathryn Garcia or a Maya Wiley really want Sliwa to be the only candidate who shows up at the scene just after a major shooting?
A long, hot summer of crime — which is, unfortunately, what we seem about to get — makes the Dem candidate a sitting duck for swing voters fed up with the one-party status quo.
Setting up a “cabinet” is probably a good idea — except that it doesn’t take that long. Adams already appears to know who his (female) police commissioner would be; Garcia knows every experienced deputy department head who might move up to chief.
Plus, announce your choices too early, and they’ll have the same problem as the mayor: Should they all stand for a few months outside City Hall, waiting?
Does the mayor-to-be spend six months publicly second-guessing Mayor de Blasio’s final decisions in office, including potential multibillion-dollar construction contracts for four-borough jails?
But nobody wants a constant critic: The new almost-mayor-elect, if he or she abuses the bully pulpit too much before being sworn in, risks ending the honeymoon before it even starts.
The best option may be a quiet, five-borough, 59-neighborhood tour: an immersive semester of learning what New Yorkers want. The winner should certainly use his or her six months’ interregnum more wisely than did the last June primary winner who went on to become mayor: Abe Beame, in 1973, who proceeded to lurch the city close to bankruptcy.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor of City Journal.
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