A Last-Chance Mayoral Election Guide
Eric Adams, left, and Curtis Sliwa will face off in New York’s mayoral election on Tuesday.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York TimesThe final …
Eric Adams, left, and Curtis Sliwa will face off in New York’s mayoral election on Tuesday.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
The final weeks of the New York City mayor’s race have been dominated by personal attacks between the two leading candidates. Eric Adams, the Democratic front-runner, called his Republican opponent, Curtis Sliwa, racist and a “Mini-Me of Donald Trump.” Mr. Sliwa has criticized Mr. Adams as an elitist and “Bill de Blasio 2.0.”
It should be no surprise that the two candidates also have very different visions for the city as it emerges from the pandemic.
Mr. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, wants to trim the police budget by cutting back on overtime pay; Mr. Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels subway patrol group, wants to hire 3,000 more officers. Mr. Adams is a cyclist who wants to build 300 miles of new protected bike lanes; Mr. Sliwa wants to remove bike lanes. Mr. Adams wants to keep vaccine mandates for city workers and indoor dining; Mr. Sliwa would reverse both.
There are some areas of common ground: Both want to expand the gifted and talented program for elementary schools instead of ending it. Both have called for hundreds more “psychiatric beds” at hospitals to be used for people with mental health problems who are living on the streets. Both want to bring back the Police Department’s plainclothes anti-crime unit, which was disbanded under Mayor de Blasio.
The candidates have also proposed somewhat overlapping economic recovery initiatives focused on getting New Yorkers back to work and removing regulations for small businesses.
Whoever wins on Tuesday will face enormous challenges when he takes office in January. Here are the candidates’ plans for the city.
— Emma G. Fitzsimmons
Born: New York.
Professional experience: Brooklyn borough president; former state senatorand police captain.
Mr. Adams has long had his eye on becoming mayor. He first ran for office in 1994 and was briefly a Republican during the Giuliani administration.
Salient quotation: “The city betrayed Mommy,” Mr. Adams said as he voted for himself during the primary in June, explaining that the city has failed poor Black families like his.
Personal detail: Mr. Adams is vegan and has eaten a plant-based diet since discovering he had diabetes at age 56.
Born: New York.
Professional experience: Founded the Guardian Angels subway patrol group; has been a conservative radio host.
Mr. Sliwa has never run for office before. He became a Republican last year, once led the Reform Party of New York State and was a Democrat earlier in his life.
Salient quotation: “Who at the age of 67 is running around wearing a red beret and a red satin jacket and going out there like a crime fighter and a superhero from our days reading comic books?” he told The Times earlier this year.
Personal detail: Mr. Sliwa lives in a studio apartment on the Upper West Side with his wife — his fourth — and 16 cats.
New York City’s recovery from the pandemic will depend heavily on mass transit and other transportation. But the subway is facing a looming financial emergency, with ridership significantly below prepandemic numbers.
Like his predecessors, the next mayor’s influence over the subway system will be limited: The subway and its daily operations are overseen by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is largely controlled by the governor.
Still, both Mr. Adams and Mr. Sliwa say that it is crucial to restore confidence in the subway system and bring back riders. To do so, they are both targeting public safety underground. Though subway crime was down for the first nine months of the year relative to the same period in 2020, felony assaults there are up not just compared to last year, when ridership was very low, but also compared with 2019. A string of high-profile attacks has pushed the issue to the forefront.
Both candidates want to deploy more police officers in the subways and direct homeless and mentally ill people off the trains and toward services. Mr. Sliwa, who has falsely stated that subway crime has reached all-time highs, wants to add 5,000 city police officers to patrol the system, some of them redirected from other duties. He also proposes relocating mentally ill and homeless people from the trains to psychiatric facilities or homeless shelters, though he has not explained how he would do so.
Mr. Adams, a former transit police officer, wants the Police Department to shift officers from other roles to subway patrol, though he has not stated a specific figure. He also seeks to restore the department’s homeless outreach unit, which was defunded by Mr. de Blasio, and have mental health professionals team up with police officers. He also seeks to invest in better cell service, Wi-Fi and surveillance cameras in stations to help deter crime.
The mayor’s largest sway over transportation in the city is in control over its streets, where there have been severe congestion and a surge in traffic deaths. Here, the candidates have markedly different approaches.
Mr. Adams has thrown his support behind the state’s plan to enact congestion pricing in parts of Manhattan, which would charge a fee on vehicles in the area and aim to both reduce traffic and provide new funding for the transit system. Mr. Sliwa opposes it.
Mr. Adams says he favors redesigning streets to address safety issues, including by encouraging alternatives to car travel. Over four years, he wants to build 300 new miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of new bus lanes and busways with a particular focus on transit deserts and busy corridors like Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn.
Mr. Sliwa has accused the city of a war on vehicles and has proposed removing underutilized bike lanes that he says could better serve as parking spots. He has called for eliminating speed cameras but wants the Police Department to enforce traffic laws more actively and would provide funding to help it do so.
— Michael Gold
Mr. Adams’s most concrete education proposal may also be one of his least-discussed plans: blow up the school calendar and introduce year-round schooling. A 12-month academic year would be logistically complex and likely to be unpopular with some families and teachers. It would also require an overhaul of the teachers’ union contract, and significant funding to pay for many more educators to work outside of the traditional year.
Mr. Adams has also made screening young students for dyslexia and other learning disabilities a priority. Asked how he would approach the task of desegregating schools, Mr. Adams said he would focus on making sure that children with disabilities and other challenges were not separated from their peers unnecessarily. He also said he would dedicate more funding to struggling school districts, a strategy used by Mr. de Blasio that produced disappointing results under his $773 million Renewal program for low-performing schools.
The Democratic nominee has said he would keep the city’s gifted-and-talented program, despite Mr. Blasio’s announcement that he would seek to eliminate the current system. Mr. Sliwa has also said he would keep gifted classes.
Mr. Adams also reiterated his support for keeping the admissions exam that dictates entry into the so-called specialized high schools, and said again that he would add five more specialized schools. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg tried a similar strategy in an effort to diversify the schools in the early 2000s, but the schools have enrolled fewer Black and Latino students in recent years. Mr. Adams also said he would “replace” the current admissions process for competitive middle and high schools, without offering more details.
Mr. Sliwa said he would transform struggling schools by bringing vocational training programs into more high schools and add financial literacy courses to high school curriculums.
Asked how he would combat racial segregation in schools, Mr. Sliwa said he would focus on reducing class sizes, an expensive project that several mayors have struggled to implement, and increase teacher bonuses, particularly for educators willing to teach in low-performing schools. Mr. de Blasio has already tried the latter proposal, with mixed results. And the powerful United Federation of Teachers has viewed bonuses based on performance with skepticism for many years, frustrating Mr. Bloomberg and, to some extent, Mr. de Blasio.
— Eliza Shapiro
Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Sliwa say they share a goal of making health care more accessible and affordable for average New Yorkers. But many of the details of their ideas — and how they want to go about making them happen — differ.
Mr. Adams said his top priority would be to focus on ending the racial inequities that made Covid-19 “a tale of two pandemics, where Black and brown New Yorkers died at twice the rate of white New Yorkers.” He wants to enroll all New Yorkers who lack health insurance in low-cost plans run by the city’s public hospitals. He also wants to create more community health centers, put housing assistance and social services in hospitals and introduce a citywide network that would better distribute care for indigent patients between private and public hospitals, particularly in emergencies.
Healthy eating is a particular passion of Mr. Adams. He is motivated by his own experience of waking up almost blind, with full-blown diabetes, at age 56 and says he reversed his illness by switching to a vegan, unprocessed-food diet. He has written a book, “Healthy at Last,” about his journey, and wants to scale up a clinic at Bellevue Hospital that he helped spearhead which focuses on treating disease by changing lifestyles.
“One of the most important things we can do to prevent chronic diseases is to provide better access to quality, healthy food for underserved New Yorkers,” he said.
Mr. Sliwa has not published a health care platform. But in a statement, he said his focus would be bringing down costs for working-class New Yorkers “across all demographics, from our young to elderly.” To do this, he focused on involving the private sector, with “public-private partnerships to increase access to medicine, treatment and other remedies” Like Mr. Adams, he also wants to encourage healthy eating and exercise in public schools.
The plight of mentally ill homeless New Yorkers is a particular concern of Mr. Sliwa’s as the founder of the Guardian Angels, which has spent decades patrolling the city’s subways. “Increased access to psychiatric resources will ensure that no New Yorker is left behind in our road to emotional and physical recovery,” he said.
The candidates are at odds on coronavirus vaccine mandates. Mr. Adams said he wanted to “double down” on the city’s vaccine mandates and its “Key to NYC” policy, which requires vaccination for indoor dining and entertainment. Mr. Sliwa has railed against such mandates at political rallies, though he is vaccinated and says he wants others to be.
“Vaccine mandates only serve to hamper down our revitalization efforts for small businesses and restaurants,” he said in a statement.
— Sharon Otterman
New York’s next mayor will inherit a police department — the largest police force in the country — at what is perhaps its most critical juncture in recent memory. Following a national reckoning over police brutality spurred by mass protests over the murder of George Floyd, public pressure has mounted to trim back police department budgets and shrink forces, even as violent crime rates have reached historical highs in big cities across the country.
In New York, the crisis has been particularly acute: 2020 was the bloodiest year for the city since the notorious 1990s, and while gun violence rates have leveled, they remain well above prepandemic levels. Transit crime has risen, in part because of emptier subways.
Much of the department’s future depends on whether the budget shrinks. The City Council voted last year to shift $1 billion from the N.Y.P.D.’s annual budget, a decision that incensed police unions and advocates of criminal-justice reform alike. On this, the two candidates could not be more opposed: Mr. Adams advocates strategically cutting back the Police Department’s budget and footprint; Mr. Sliwa wants to reverse budget cuts and expand the force.
“I believe we can save at least $500 million annually through strategic civilianization of N.Y.P.D. units,” Mr. Adams told The Times, referring to officers spending significant parts of their day doing civilian jobs or clerical work, like moving trucks and barricades, or doing crowd control.
Mr. Adams called the increase in gun violence “the most pressing challenge facing the New York City Police Department.” He said that the Police Department was bloated and that he would pare back its overtime, but he also endorsed reinstating gang and gun task forces, the latest iteration of which were disbanded last year amid mounting public complaints that the units were abusive.
Mr. Adams also supports creating a requirement that new officers live in the five boroughs and an incentive for current officers — who are allowed to live in surrounding counties — to move back into the areas they police.
Mr. Sliwa, meanwhile, wants to fully reinstate $1 billion to the budget and hire more police officers, who he says should be diverted to high-crime areas. He also advocated reinstating the N.Y.P.D.’s anti-crime unit.
“We need to put $1 billion back into the police budget and hire more cops,” he said. “Under current city leadership, our police force has become reactive to crime, not proactive in crime prevention.”
— Ali Watkins
The next mayor of New York will take over an economy still struggling to mount a robust and sustained recovery 19 months into the pandemic. More than in any other large American city, New York’s extreme income inequalities were brutally exposed.
The city’s unemployment rate is 9.8 percent, down slightly from early summer but still stubbornly high and nearly double the national rate. Two major drivers of the economy in the city — office workers and tourists — remain at home, cutting off significant sources of spending.
And if office workers continue to work remotely after the pandemic, even if it is just a few days a week, it would most likely reshape the city’s economy for years to come.
Mr. Adams and Mr. Sliwa have proposed somewhat overlapping recovery initiatives, both pledging to use the city government to help get New Yorkers back to work and to eliminate regulations they claim hurt small companies and deter the creation of new businesses.
Mr. Sliwa has sought to cast his major campaign proposal of a property tax overhaul as potential fuel to jump-start the economy. His plan would provide tax deductions to some homeowners, place a 2-percent cap on annual property tax increases and eliminate tax breaks for wealthy institutions like hospitals, universities and Madison Square Garden.
The plan would require approval from the State Legislature. It also mirrors an initiative announced by Mr. de Blasio in early 2020 to overhaul the property tax system, which ultimately lost political momentum when the pandemic emerged.
Another top initiative by Mr. Sliwa would to test the feasibility of establishing universal basic income; he aims to set up a pilot program that would provide $1,100 a month to 500 New Yorkers.
To help small businesses, Mr. Sliwa said the city would offer up to $45,000 in low-interest loans and extend tax incentives to companies with fewer than 50 employees that operate in the city outside Manhattan.
Under Mr. Adams, the city would create a jobs program driven by real-time data from private businesses about their current openings and the skills they require, connecting applicants with employment opportunities that best match their skills. The city would also streamline its own hiring system with an online portal that would simplify the process of applying for municipal jobs.
The ultimate goal, Mr. Adams said, would be to position New York City as a leader in the jobs of the future, especially in scientific research and cybersecurity, two industries that were growing before the pandemic. He also wants New Yorkers to work in renewable energy, part of his effort to make the city a major hub of wind power.
— Matthew Haag
The next mayor will take the reins of a city with a chronic shortage of affordable housing, which is in turn a main driver of homelessness. More than a quarter of city residents spend more than half their income on housing, and the number of single adults in the city’s main shelter system has risen 60 percent during Mr. de Blasio’s tenure.
On housing, Mr. Adams says he will focus on adding more lower- and middle-income homes in wealthier neighborhoods with good transit access and good schools — what he calls a reversal of gentrification. He would push to legalize unpermitted basement and cellar apartments, an idea that has proved difficult to execute in the past. Mr. Sliwa favors building more housing in manufacturing zones.
The pandemic has left hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers struggling to pay rent. A state moratorium on evictions has kept many in their homes, but it is set to expire in January, threatening some renters with homelessness. Mr. Adams says he will let the State Legislature reassess the need to extend the moratorium, while Mr. Sliwa would press the state to better distribute millions of dollars in rent relief to landlords to address residents’ rent debt.
The city’s public housing system, NYCHA, is also in dire trouble: It faces a backlog of over $40 billion in capital needs. Mr. Adams says he will push to let developers build on existing NYCHA land — a plan that he said could address less than a quarter of those needs. Mr. Sliwa says he will make sure repairs are done faster, and train and employ NYCHA residents to make repairs themselves.
While both candidates emphasized the need for more permanent housing, Mr. Sliwa also wants to increase the capacity of the city’s shelters, which many homeless people avoid because they say they are dangerous and unpleasant. Mr. Sliwa says he would add police officers and social workers to make shelters safer. Mr. Adams opposes expanding shelters.
The homelessness crisis is also a mental- health crisis. People with serious mental illnesses who live on the streets and in the subways have committed violent assaults and hate crimes that have grabbed headlines and raised alarms in recent months.
Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Sliwa stress the importance of reversing a decline in hospital psychiatric beds and accelerating the creation of so-called supportive housing that includes on-site social services for mentally ill people. Mr. Adams touts a plan to convert thousands of empty hotel rooms into supportive-housing apartments.
— Andy Newman and Mihir Zaveri
Illustrations by Eden Weingart