Gotham Gazette

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How Kathryn Garcia Defied the Odds But Came Up Just Short

7 absentee votes to win

Kathryn Garcia (photo: @KGforNYC)

When the New York City Board of Elections certified the results of the 2021 Democratic primary for mayor on Tuesday, it showed Kathryn Garcia losing to Eric Adams by just 7,197 votes. In the first citywide election using ranked-choice voting, the primary likely to determine the next mayor was decided by a difference of only 0.8%, with just over 942,000 Democratic votes cast.

Garcia conceded the race two weeks prior, on July 7, congratulating Eric Adams for his win after she had defied virtually all expectations and odds -- like the money spent helping Adams win more than doubling that spent in her favor -- to come within that one percentage point. “While it is only by a razor thin margin, Eric Adams will be the winner of the Democratic primary,” Garcia said, before thanking campaign staff, family, and any New York voter who shared in the mission of “making government work for everyone.”

While Adams’ victory is of course the top storyline of the mayoral primary, and he is heavily favored to become the next mayor given the city’s overwhelming Democratic enrollment advantage, Garcia’s narrow loss and over-performance, particularly given her major structural disadvantages coming into and throughout the race, is one of the more remarkable stories in recent New York political history. How did she do so well? Why did she still come up just short?

Garcia skyrocketed from virtually unknown to unlikely frontrunner status in the final months of the campaign after collecting major endorsements from the editorial boards of both The New York Times and The New York Daily News and delivering a steady, consistent message about making government work that appealed to many voters while several other candidates hit scandals or flailed.

Her candidacy relied primarily on the argument that she was an experienced crisis manager with the wherewithal to improve how city government delivers core services and a combination of plans and know-how to modernize the city. Garcia took relatively moderate stances on many issues, particularly policing, while laying out a progressive vision on others, like transit, and stressing the need to focus on climate resiliency, housing development, and a more livable city.

Perhaps most importantly, she promised a revolution of competence.

Having spent 14 years in city government -- heading up the Department of Sanitation, acting as emergency food czar during the worst of the covid pandemic, leading the public housing authority during an especially tumultuous period, helming efforts to reduce child lead exposure, serving as incident commander during Superstorm Sandy, and running operations at the Department of Environmental Protection -- Garcia had a lot of evidence to support her pitch that she knows how government works and doesn’t work, was one of the crucial responders when disaster arrived, and was ready to be mayor.

She came across to many close watchers and voters as authentic, no-nonsense, and most interested in doing the work of government without fanfare or drama — a distinct difference from several other leading candidates in the race and the man they were all vying to replace, Mayor Bill de Blasio. Even though Garcia was among the top candidates who had worked under de Blasio, she appears to have not had any trouble wooing the very Democratic voters who’ve been most disillusioned by the mayor’s tenure, which has been marked by mismanagement and lack of focus on running city government.

Garcia outlined detailed plans for a host of key issues and in many public appearances discussed the inner workings of government in commanding fashion, but she also spoke regularly about being willing to listen and compromise, while reminding people that often the mayor has to say ‘no’ or push ahead despite some opposition to do what’s best for the city or its underserved communities. She promised pragmatism and progress.

Though she did clearly differentiate herself with other candidates on experience at times, she almost never criticized an opponent, a strategy that appeared natural for her and that was tailor-made for ranked-choice voting, at play for the first time in a mayoral primary. These various factors and tactics appear to have helped Garcia earn many second- and third-rank votes to close the first-rank gap with Maya Wiley, who she passed, and Adams to within a slim final margin of just over 7,000 votes out of almost 1 million cast.

But Garcia, like Adams, was not ranked at all by more than 140,000 Democratic primary voters. Some have questioned why she didn’t do more to appeal to voters who saw Wiley favorably, thus possibly setting herself up for an even greater boost by Wiley’s elimination in the ranked-choice runoff, and why she didn’t do more to win first-rank votes in Black and especially Latino communities, with the latter a key swing vote that greatly buoyed Adams’ win. Particularly in first-rank votes, Garcia was the clear choice of white Democratic voters, especially in the areas she did best: much of Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn, among select other neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.

Meanwhile, Garcia was massively outspent by Adams (and other candidates who did not do nearly as well as they and Wiley did coming in as the top three), with spending in support of Adams, whether by his campaign itself or Super PACs backing him, more than double and more than $10 million greater than spending in support of Garcia. Still, Garcia was able to raise and spend, thanks in part to the city’s public matching funds program, more than $8 million.

Many Cracks in the Glass Ceiling 
Despite her extensive government experience, many in the political establishment were convinced Garcia would be unsuccessful in what was her first run for office.

“When I began this race, after 14 years at the helm of some of the city’s biggest and most complex agencies, I was told that I should set my sights lower, that I should set my sights on deputy mayor. I was told that I had no shot,” she said in her concession speech, delivered in front of the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in Central Park. Garcia attributed some of this initial doubt to sexism, and she had voiced frustration when fellow candidate Andrew Yang repeatedly said he wanted to hire her once he was elected mayor, condemning it as a back-handed compliment that played into the trope of powerful men seeing women as unworthy of the top spot while also wanting to take credit for women’s accomplishments.

State Senator Liz Krueger, a well-respected Manhattan Democrat whose endorsement in early May appeared another crucial get for Garcia, said this was a trope she also heard in conversations with the male candidates who were lobbying for her support and contributed in part to her decision. Krueger was one of the few elected officials to endorse Garcia.

“Hearing the other guys who were very confident they could be mayor saying that one of their reasons for confidence was that they would hire Kathryn or people like Kathryn to actually do the job. That was definitely a significant part of my thinking when I decided that I was going to endorse her,” said Krueger, who represents parts of Manhattan’s East Side and is chair of the powerful Senate budget committee, in a phone interview last week. “We had to get the public to understand, yeah, you can pick a woman to be an executive, we're tough enough and we're talented enough to get the job done.”

Many voters were convinced. Garcia won 184,430 (19.6%) votes in the initial tally of first-rank preferences among the 13 Democratic candidates on the ballot, trailing Wiley’s 201,093 votes (21.4%), and Adams in first place at 289,309 votes (30.7%). After the determinative round of ranked-choice tabulations with nearly every vote accounted for, Garcia leapfrogged Wiley and, with a big boost from ballots that had been with Wiley, got much closer to Adams, totalling 397,238 votes (49.6%) compared to his 404,391 (50.4%).

Garcia acknowledged the groundbreaking nature of her campaign, saying in her concession speech that “for 400 years, no woman has held the top seat at City Hall. This campaign has come closer than any other moment in history to breaking that glass ceiling and selecting New York City’s first female mayor. We cracked the hell out of it, and it’s ready to be broken.”

Garcia had paid homage to the ‘broken glass’ metaphor earlier in her campaign, with her first television ad, which garnered a decent amount of press attention upon its May 4 release. In it, Garcia puts on her leather jacket and safety glasses, stepping out of a red box as glass shatters in order to respond to the city’s current emergency as she has in the past. “The metaphors — escaping a box, shattering the glass ceiling, the emergency response — are beyond clear,” The New York Times reported the day it aired. “It is about breaking out, but there’s also this underlying message of: other people are trying to define you, and I’m going to define myself,” Garcia told The Times.

Had Garcia won the Democratic primary she would have almost surely gone on to win the general election given the city’s electoral makeup, with a massive Democratic enrollment advantage. While Ruth Messinger won the Democratic primary in 1997, she faced very long odds against Republican incumbent Mayor Rudy Giuliani and lost by a fairly wide margin of 16%.

In her concession, Garcia finished by telling something of a familiar anecdote about her first day as Sanitation commissioner, on which she was handed a jacket fitted for a man, signaling the expectation that she would operate like a man in the job and adjust to a man’s world. She left the jacket in the closet, she said, and had a jacket made that fit her. “When I addressed the workforce at 6 a.m. or 5 a.m.,” she said, “I addressed my department in my high heels and in my style -- as Kathryn Garcia. That is who I have been throughout this race - I ran a positive campaign focused on the issues that New Yorkers care about the most, and we beat the odds at every turn.”

A Slow Start
The initial skepticism towards Garcia’s chances of success was not entirely unfounded though. She came into the race with almost no name recognition among the broader public, she had never run for office or raised money for a campaign before, and she did not pick up early endorsements that would shift the narrative around her campaign and help bring in money, press attention, and more endorsements — until The New York Times hit.

At the start of the campaign Garcia trailed many of her fellow candidates in the polls by a  significant margin, and there were few signs that she could break through but for some major development given she was not a prodigious fundraiser or splashy personality. It wasn’t until late May that she broke into the top tier. In fact, a series of polls conducted by Emerson College had her at 5% on March 6 and only a slightly higher 8% on May 15, released a few days after the endorsement by The Times. Still, undecideds were high, Garcia was gaining momentum, and other candidates, especially Yang and Scott Stringer, were fading.

In the final poll of the Emerson series, released just under a month before primary day, Garcia was slated as the prospective winner, jumping to 21% of the first-rank tally. Other polls in the final weeks showed her in strong position, though not usually in the lead.

Going into primary day, Garcia appeared to be the candidate most likely to overtake Adams, though he looked like a strong favorite to win based on the polling, while Wiley was also very much in the mix.

Throughout the primary contest, Garcia reiterated that though she had been a public servant, she was not a politician, something evident in her no-frills approach to campaigning.

“She was running on her record of delivering for government, her qualifications and understanding of the job,” said Krueger. “She’s not a bigger than life kind of charismatic character.” The comparative lack of flashiness was in part reflected in a large fundraising gap. Krueger described it as a “skeleton campaign” and Garcia said in her concession she believed no other team had done as much with as little, though she did ultimately spend more than $8 million thanks to public matching funds she earned through low-dollar private fundraising.

Even after the boost of several major endorsements, Garcia’s fundraising numbers continued to trail behind almost all of her fellow frontrunners and her fundraising from private sources wound up less than half of Adams’. When it came to both campaign and outside spending like Super PACs, funds spent in support of Adams’ candidacy totaled almost $18 million, more than twice what was spent for Garcia (she had almost no Super PAC spending on her behalf). Some of the independent expenditure on Adams’ behalf targeted, for example, crucial Latino and older voters.

Appearing on the Max Politics podcast two days after primary day, with results still unknown, Garcia was asked how consequential it was that she was drastically outspent. “Money isn’t the whole driver but it does matter,” she told host Ben Max of Gotham Gazette. “It gave him some extra running room that I just didn’t have,” she said of Adams.

As a first-time politician, she said on the podcast, there was a steep learning curve for fundraising. Growing up she was taught not to talk about money, she explained, so asking people for it felt very strange. 

A spokesperson for Garcia’s campaign further explained that candidates like Stringer, the city comptroller who was previously Manhattan borough president, and Adams, a state senator before becoming Brooklyn borough president, had years to build up a fundraising base whereas Garcia was not in a position as sanitation commissioner to do the same. She started raising money fewer than nine months before primary day, when Adams and Stringer already had millions in the bank.

Yang jumped into the race and quickly raised many millions of his own, relying on and expanding the donor network he had just built up running for president, while dominating much of the media attention and leading in all available polling for months. But when candidates got inevitable questions about who they would rank second under ranked-choice voting, Yang started to say Garcia, and then he began talking about wanting her to be part of his administration if he won. The comments helped lift Garcia’s media profile some and gave her an opening to say that if Yang and other candidates who spoke highly of her thought she was so great, they should get out of the way and just let her be the mayor.

In fact, The New Yorker ran a major profile of Garcia on May 1, entitled “Kathryn Garcia Doesn’t Want Andrew Yang’s Praise.” In it Garcia displayed a rare distaste for other candidates, condemning both Yang’s and Adams’ comments about hiring her as part of their administration.

“Are you not strong enough to actually do this job, without me helping you? You should be strong enough. You shouldn’t need me. To be quite clear: I don’t need you guys, to run this government,” she said in the interview. Though most of the piece revolved around Garcia's qualifications and the message of her run, and not around Yang’s comments about her, the flashiness of a conflict between the two candidates won the headline, piqued the interest of many readers, and lit the New York political world abuzz.

The New Yorker piece was part of a flurry of articles that referenced Yang’s approach to Garcia when talking about sexism in the race -- The New York Times soon published a profile headlined “Kathryn Garcia Doesn’t Want to Be Anyone’s No. 2” and Marie Claire published “Kathryn Garcia Has Spent Her Career Cleaning Up Powerful Men’s Messes,” among others -- and generally positive profiles of her.

Chris Coffey, who served as co-campaign manager for Yang, reiterated in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette that Garcia had very low expectations starting out, but both she and Wiley very much over-performed.

“I think both of them ran really really good races, especially Kathryn who got 8,000 votes away from being the mayor having never run for office before. She raised the maximum matching funds. She had a big coalition. She got ed-board endorsements,” said Coffey, who was part of the Yang team that Garcia ultimately linked up with in the final days of the campaign for joint appearances where Yang, seemingly aware his chances had faded, impressed by Garcia, and out to stop Adams, promoted her and asked his voters to rank her second.

In those appearances with Yang, and when facing press questions about them and her lack of reciprocation to call him her number two, Garcia showed a steel indicative of her larger persona in the campaign. To some, the joint appearances showed her as more of a politician than she may want to admit, while others -- including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who had endorsed Wiley -- were turned off by the alliance with Yang. Williams — a progressive with strong roots in Central Brooklyn and popularity throughout communities of color, progressive circles, and where they overlap — urged his supporters not to rank Garcia at all.

“I want his number twos,” Garcia was seen on video telling a Manhattan voter who skeptically asked her about the alliance with Yang.

Ultimately, many of Yang’s voters ranked Adams second and many ranked Garcia second. It’s unclear how much impact the joint appearances and Yang’s endorsement of sorts had, but they appear to have helped in some areas of the city, like the heavily Asian neighborhoods of Queens and Manhattan where the two campaigned together.

Just after primary day, Garcia told Max that the political favor-trading in politics had also taken her by surprise in her first run for office, saying it was something she was unfamiliar with (though some, especially Adams and his allies, saw her as highly political in the alliance with Yang). This theme was echoed in her concession speech. “We proved that you can compete even without decades of being in the political machine, with no help from powerful interests, political favors or big donors, just hard work, determination, and strong grassroots support,” she said.

Asked about her success in defying the odds Garcia, explained on the podcast, “It was having an incredible discipline on the message of the campaign, being willing to put the time in to do the hard work of getting that message out.”

And put the work in she did: Garcia may have had the best attendance of the top eight Democratic primary candidates at the dozens and dozens of forums organized by political clubs, advocacy groups, and others, almost all of them held over zoom. Though so much zoom campaigning frustrated her, as it did other candidates, Garcia almost never said no to an invitation, whether a forum or media interview or other chance to talk directly to voters.

When the ballots were cast, she did particularly well in first-rank votes throughout much of Manhattan and in Brownstone Brooklyn, places where The Times editorial board likely has the the most sway, as well as Riverdale in the Bronx, parts of Southern Brooklyn, and sections of Staten Island. Asked about why she was successful in those particular areas, Garcia said on the Max Politics podcast: “I think the message about understanding people’s day to day lives -- they want their kids to go to school, please get out of my small business’ way, please keep us safe, keep the streets clean.”

She also argued that some of the neighborhoods she performed best in had large pockets of civil servants and city-government employees who would be familiar with her work and her ability to get things done. She said she got votes from the sanitation unions that endorsed her and knew her best, but also from teachers in the United Federation of Teachers and other municipal employees from DC37, even though those unions had endorsed Stringer and Adams, respectively.

Overwhelmingly, Garcia did best on first-rank votes in whiter, higher-income parts of the city, even if her message did resonate with many middle- and working-class New Yorkers and she did do well in terms of second- and third-rank votes in some communities of color.

Where the Votes Were 
A map of the first-rank votes shows Garcia as the clear favorite in much of Manhattan below 96th Street -- claiming overwhelming victory on the Upper East and Upper West Sides as well as in Midtown, and various neighborhoods from Lenox Hill and Morningside Heights to the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, the West Village, the Financial District, and more.

Most of the Bronx went to Eric Adams though Garcia did have a strong showing in Riverdale, Woodlawn, Spuyten Duyvil, Fieldston, and parts of Marble Hill. She also took all of City Island in the east as well as other neighborhoods. 

On Staten Island, Garcia went head to head with Adams, claiming several neighborhoods, including Grasmere, Richmond, Great Kills, Oakwood, Seaside, Huguenot, and more.

Garcia struggled in Queens, where Adams, Wiley, and Yang all won large swaths of territory. She did win in Beechurst, Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Far Rockaway, Breezy Point, and other neighborhoods, though.

Adams of course did very well in big, voter-rich portions of Central Brooklyn, where he lives and was a state senator, and Wiley won some of the more progressive territory in the borough, as she did in Queens. But Garcia won huge numbers of votes in and around liberal Brownstone Brooklyn where she grew up and still lives, joking on the Max Politics show that since she’s been there for 51 years if she didn’t perform well it would be a problem. She also won some other parts of Brooklyn, laying claim to the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Dyker Heights, Dumbo, Fort Hamilton, Bay Ridge, and Red Hook.

When asked just after primary day about performing exceptionally well in whiter areas and struggling to win votes in communities of color, Garcia shrugged it off, saying when you start to look at the number two and three rankings of voters they would show she was strong across the board. It’s not yet clear how true this assessment was, as the Board of Elections has yet to release the full cast vote record, but it is clear that Garcia struggled to make significant inroads in communities of color and that was likely one reason that while she over-performed expectations and came extremely close to pulling off a tremendous upset win, she came up just short.

Her endorsements from elected officials lacked diversity. Her only support from elected officials of color were for second rankings, from Congressional Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Grace Meng and Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez.

The collapse of Stringer’s campaign over allegations of sexual misconduct said to have occurred in 2001 also served as an inflection point for Garcia’s run as she went on to win big in Manhattan, especially in areas widely thought to be Stringer’s for the taking, after landing the Times endorsement that many thought would go to Stringer. The comptroller’s campaign continued to unravel when a second accuser came forward alleging sexual misconduct by Stringer in the ‘90s.

“When there was the accusation made about Scott and then later a second one that really served to blow up his campaign, but Scott was not catching fire as a candidate for mayor long before those things happened,” said State Senator Krueger. She said that though he did initially win the endorsements of the major Democratic clubs thought to be strongholds of Congressional Rep. Jerry Nadler, who she called Stringer’s “non-biological father,” he did not win them with as wide a margin as he had hoped to and there were major cracks in the support he thought he would have. Stringer was, however, on the upswing when the first allegations emerged, having just been endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers and Working Families Party and having released his first television ad. Supporters thought the Times could very well come in next. 

Who is Progressive? 
On some issues, Garcia ran a moderate campaign and was marked as one of the centrist candidates, with some pundits pointing to her and Adams’ success as a sign the Democratic Party in New York is not as progressive as some claim. Both she and Adams opposed defunding the police and hiking taxes on the wealthy and expressed support for expanding charter schools and encouraging real estate development.

Though at times she pointed out there were several candidates to her left in the race, Garcia also bucked against the idea that she was not a progressive candidate, saying on several occasions, “what’s more progressive than government that actually works?”

Garcia also pointed to her climate, transit, and housing plans as progressive. She spoke assertively about making climate and resiliency urgent areas of focus and about building out open and green space, public transit and bike infrastructure, and more.

“Some of the most progressive policies that passed in the last administration are ones that I did. If you want to talk about environmental justice, commercial waste zones is eighteen million truck miles taken off the street. If you want to talk about waste equity, I’m actually doing the work, I'm not hashtagging the work,” she said on Max Politics, adding that she thinks a practical vision for the city where families and small businesses can thrive is not actually so moderate, but pretty progressive. She argued that her plans for building a lot of new housing, including tens of thousands of low-income and supportive housing, were progressive, as well as her focus on moving ahead aggressively with a controversial NYCHA rescue plan that has not been implemented with any urgency.

Her rhetoric and the specifics of her plans appealed to many liberal and moderate voters, as well as some of the most active, civically-engaged New Yorkers, people working in and around government who were paying attention to the mayoral race long before most other voters.

Gabe Tobias, manager of Our City PAC, a progressive political action committee, said in a phone interview he thinks Garcia’s unwillingness to outwardly woo progressive voters is part of the reason she came up just short. Looking at the ranked-choice elimination rounds, he explained, Garcia got more of Wiley’s votes than Adams but there were a lot of Wiley voters who didn’t rank either Garcia or Adams.

“She could have made a much clearer pitch of herself to progressive voters and I think that cost her in the end,” Tobias said. “Considering how small the margin was, if she had gotten some chunk of those people who didn’t put Kathryn on their ballots at all to put her down, to amass all those people who were more progressive voters who, because Kathryn tacked right on charter schools and real estate and then didn’t really give a cogent analysis of why we need policing reform in the city, I think that she lost out on those people for that reason.”

Everyone’s Favorite Second-choice?
Garcia’s ‘not a politician’ moniker also manifested in a dogged persistence to stay above the fray. Aside from a few stray comments on what she saw as the apparent sexism in the race and a few respectful distinctions she drew with other candidates on their experience levels, Garcia restrained from launching personal attacks against fellow candidates.

“I don’t want to have a fight. I don’t need to have a fight,” Garcia said on Max Politics. “I don’t think it helps the voters understand the differences between the candidates, I don’t think it helps really push your message about where you’re taking the city.” 

Garcia has also contended that a positive campaign is a much more prudent choice with the new ranked-choice voting system that was used in the primary. After primary day, but before the full ranked-choice votes were tabulated and as Garcia still saw a strong path to victory, her campaign sent out a July 5 memo detailing that path and citing independent analysis by FairVote that showed that ranked-choice voting favors candidates who run positive campaigns.

“Garcia’s consistently positive campaign, including campaigning with rivals and never engaging in personal attacks, even when other candidates attacked her – along with her clear message of getting things done –  made Garcia the consensus candidate, earning her 185,000+ votes between the start (R1) and end (R9) of the preliminary ranked choice rounds,” Garcia’s campaign said in the memo. 

Whatever the reasons and factors at play, Garcia’s candidacy was clearly well-designed for and benefited heavily from the ranked-choice system, shrinking the gap between herself and Adams by a sizable amount after all tabulations were finished.

“What we saw going into these final days was that my favorables were higher than anyone else’s,” Garcia said on Max Politics, previewing why she thought she would do well once rankings were accounted for. “And favorables in a ranked-choice situation are incredibly helpful, it means that I was popular among everybody, I get everybody’s seconds and that means that we are on the pathway to victory.” Though that victory did not ultimately materialize, Garcia ran something of a model ranked-choice campaign, including her positivity and campaigning in tandem with Yang, while reportedly seeking out but failing to do the same with Wiley.

The Garcia-Yang alliance, formed shortly before primary day, rubbed some the wrong way, with Eric Adams even going so far as to imply it was a form of voter suppression targeting Black and Latino voters. Garcia says any blowback though was likely just a part of the adjustment process, because voters aren’t used to candidates collaborating, which is more likely to happen under ranked-choice voting. Ultimately, she argued on Max Politics, she thinks it helped increase voter turnout, and would have been open to collaborating with other candidates. She said there were talks with the Wiley campaign but nothing wound up working out. The New York Times later reported that the Wiley and Garcia camps had had discussions about campaigning together and that Garcia herself was supportive and ready, but Wiley wouldn’t do it, worried that the alliance would hurt her with progressive voters. 

Garcia’s claim she would be a very popular second-ranked candidate showed up in the tallies as she rose steadily in vote totals after ranked-choice tabulations. According to the July 5 campaign memo, which was based on still-incomplete numbers but able to identify key trends, at the time of that ranked-choice tabulation, Garcia owed 54% of her final tally to rankings beyond number ones, while for Adams that percentage was just 27.4%.

Krueger said that there was a clear campaign strategy at political club events and elsewhere that even if an organization had already endorsed a candidate, their number two and three endorsements still had value. “I don't know that in her heart Kathryn started out the campaign thinking, all right, I'm not going to be their number one, let's see if I can do their two or three. I think that was an evolving concept,” Krueger explained. “But I do think that with Kathryn, it was more a surprise of how much she was moving up to the people's number one.”

Garcia’s campaign spokesperson attributed some of this upward mobility to Garcia’s extensive resume in government and times of crisis. “What really, I think, spoke to voters was Kathryn's incredible knowledge of how this government works,” the spokesperson said, adding, “her deep level of expertise in managing some of the most complex, some of the biggest agencies gave people a lot of comfort and confidence in a moment where I think experience really mattered.” 

Aside from the Times, the Daily News, and Senator Krueger, Garcia also credits endorsements from the New York League of Conservation Voters and the Planned Parenthood of Greater New York Votes PAC as being crucial to her success, as well as the support of State Assemblymembers Danny O'Donnell and Nily Rozic.

Assemblymember Rozic is of particular interest as her endorsement, which came on May 6th, marked a shift from her original support of Scott Stringer. Rozic rescinded support after Stringer’s first accuser came forward. 

“We were proud to endorse Kathryn Garcia because her platform prioritized fighting climate change and she has a track record of delivering on the environment,” said Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, in a statement to Gotham Gazette about the primary results. “We knew that if she was able to break that 400-year-old glass ceiling that it would be recycled. She ran a great race and we were proud to be a part of it.” Tighe added later that NYLCV is looking forward to working with Eric Adams, calling him an “ardent supporter of environmental causes.”

Though many of the major labor union endorsements went to Adams, Garcia did win the support of all three major sanitation unions — Teamsters Local 831, SEIU Local 444, and SEIU Local 246 — which she had worked closely with as sanitation commissioner. Joseph Mannion, who has served as the president of SEIU Local 444 for 28 years, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette ahead of the primary that Garcia was “a breath of fresh air” at the department. “She really did not rule with an iron fist, and she would listen,” he said mid-June. “There was definitely more harmony.” 

Harry Nespoli, president of Teamsters Local 831, the biggest sanitation workers union, said in a phone interview of his union’s endorsement, “We were the first ones to come out for Kathryn — it definitely starts your campaign off the right way.”

Nespoli explained that the support came easily because he and his members knew Garcia, having personally worked with her to improve women’s facilities on the job, among other working conditions. “She knows the working person, she knows the women that get up early in the morning to come work on this job here loading a truck,” Nespoli said, adding later, “I think what she did here put a spotlight on her for the future, I just hope somebody turns around and picks her up and uses the knowledge that she has in city government.” He praised how she ran her campaign, lauding her for projecting confidence even when she wasn’t the frontrunner and having the strength to go out and sell her message to everybody in order to get known. 

Garcia herself speculated on the podcast that many union members, despite official support from their organization being elsewhere, might be voting for her, specifically mentioning the teachers union (Garcia’s older sister is a teacher) and members of DC37, who knew her through the pandemic food program, she said. 

Krueger, who said she worked hand in hand with the Garcia campaign after offering up her endorsement, argued that without the endorsements from the Times and the Daily News it would have been difficult to get voters to take a real look at her resume and the campaign really moving. She said she lobbied the Times editorial board herself to grant Garcia the endorsement, which came as a surprise to Garcia, who said she was doing debate prep with her team when a staffer’s boyfriend sent her a text with the news. “I was like, are we still doing debate prep?” she joked on Max Politics. Garcia’s camp reported that their best fundraising day up until that point was directly after the Time’s signaled support. 

In their endorsement, which came on May 10, giving it a lot of time to benefit Garcia before primary day, the editorial board wrote: “It is Kathryn Garcia who best understands how to get New York back on its feet and has the temperament and the experience to do so. Ms. Garcia has our endorsement in perhaps the most consequential mayoral contest in a generation.” (The decision to highlight “temperament” appeared particularly purposeful, as it is often one of the first qualities called into question when a woman runs for major political office.) 

Only five days later Garcia received the backing of the Daily News editorial board, which directly compared her to the eventual winner of the race, whom it ranked second for voters, writing, “Garcia is a cut above Adams, and head and shoulders over the others. As we assessed the field, including hour-long interviews with each major contender, we were repeatedly reminded of her preparedness, pragmatism and well-placed priorities, all of which in this election must trump lockstep obedience to political ideology.” 

Crain’s New York Business unsurprisingly echoed that sentiment in its endorsement, arguing that “Unlike some of the career politicians in the race, Garcia is not an ideologue, and her experience in city government is at the managerial level. The 51-year-old lifelong New Yorker didn’t seek the spotlight, only a chance to serve.”

While’s Garcia’s more moderate politics appeared a perfect fit for the Daily News, Crain’s, and others, for the Times, Krueger, and others, some endorsers clearly prized her experience, preparedness, and apparent dependability -- as well as her ideas around key issues like climate, housing, and transit -- over adherence to a more progressive political ideology that they may share with someone like Maya Wiley (or Scott Stringer, though the sexual misconduct allegations against him made many endorsements all but impossible; Rozic rescinded her endorsement from Stringer and went with Garcia).

Missing It By That Much
Garcia urged patience until the bitter end, insisting that every ballot needed to be counted and waiting out her ranked-choice strategy while repeatedly noting she had a path to victory despite coming in third in the in-person first-rank votes and trailing Adams by such a wide margin. In the end she lost by just over 7,000 votes, a remarkably close contest given nearly 1 million Democratic primary ballots cast. 

“I think if the campaign was two weeks later, she absolutely would be the mayor,” Senator Krueger said of Garcia, adding that she was approached by elected officials after who were much more in favor of Garcia than Adams and who told her if they had known she would have been so close, they might have done things differently in terms of their endorsements. 

“It feels like we were able to do something that is not done very often in politics,” Garcia’s campaign spokesperson said, describing a campaign centered around message and experience rather than name identification. “We were able to develop, I think, very personal, real relationships with voters and be out there every day talking to people,” the spokesperson said, reiterating just how close Garcia had come to victory, calling it “a huge achievement” and “something to be proud of.” 

Garcia expressed no regret in her concession, saying that she encouraged other women to run for office and that she would stand with and support them, and promising to continue working on the issues that mattered most to her like foster care reform.

She finished her remarks saying, “I leave you with one piece of advice: People will try to hand you the jacket that’s made for someone else. You don’t have to accept it. Wear the one that fits you. And if it doesn't yet, you can make it your own.”

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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