Kathryn Garcia with Andrew Yang (photo: @aqreno)
“A competent woman losing a job to an incompetent man is not an anomalous Election Day surprise; it is Tuesday in America,” writes New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister in one 2016 presidential election debrief. Unfortunately, five long years of hindsight later, this dynamic persists. On Tuesday, June 22, Kathryn Garcia stands to get Hillary’d in the Democratic primary election for New York City Mayor.
Garcia is a career public servant who most recently served as commissioner of New York City’s Sanitation Department. She has led the city through multiple crises, overseen tens of thousands of employees, managed multi-billion-dollar budgets, and served across departments and at different levels of city government. She has won the endorsement of The New York Times Editorial Board, which noted, “Her ideas and experience stand out in a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls.” At the first official primary debate earlier this month when NY1 anchor Errol Louis asked the eight leading candidates who other than themselves they would vote for – the plurality chose her.
Still, Garcia has at times struggled to break through the noise created by her male competitors.
Despite her bona fides, Garcia had, until recently, been flailing in this highly consequential primary, polling well behind Andrew Yang, a man of dubious accomplishment, and Eric Adams, a man with a penchant for controversy. Much like the 2016 election, Garcia’s quiet, consistent, and effective work to keep the city functioning has not earned the same attention as her viral and mercurial male opponents.
Yang’s first real engagement with politics was when he ran for president in 2020, winning 0 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Prior to his run for mayor, Yang joined the ranks of Rick Santorum as a commentator at CNN. His other endeavors were rife with complaints about his management style, including charges of racial and gender bias. Still, Yang has long-been a frontrunner in this primary despite never voting in a New York City mayoral election. At this moment, a man who fled New York City during the pandemic still appears more likely to be the city’s next mayor than Garcia, who oversaw the cross-agency effort to ensure all city residents had access to food during this crisis. If Yang’s lack of experience suggests he is unqualified to be mayor, his comments on a host of New York City issues this past week remove all doubt.
In assessing Garcia’s candidacy, Gotham Gazette writes, “she’s had her head down helping to run city government, not developing a donor network.” Prioritizing public service over campaign funding is not an affliction Eric Adams, who has also polled ahead of Garcia for most of the primary, appears to suffer from. The Times recently reported on Adams’ long history of using his “government power to benefit donors and advance his political ambitions.” While it cannot be said Adams, Brooklyn borough president, lacks the experience Yang does – he has maintained relevance in the primary through more of a cult of personality than thoughtful policy or accomplishments.
This dynamic was laid bare at the May 13 primary debate. Analysts described Garcia’s performance as “plenty substantive” but feared she “failed to introduce herself to voters…because she laid too far back from the fray.” In contrast, Adams repeatedly attempted to create reality TV moments, while offering dodges and clarifications in lieu of specific answers. He said civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley was acting “desperate” and being “nasty” due to her lagging behind in the polls. His exchanges with competitors were laced with terse retorts like “let me give you some facts.” He told Wiley “we both know how much [the Civilian Complaint Review Board] was a failure under you” and lambasted Yang as “disrespectful and appalling” for taking credit away from Stacey Abrams and other Black women organizers regarding the recent Georgia Senate run-offs that helped deliver Democrats a razor thin Senate majority.
Beyond their media and social media antics, Yang and Adams have demonstrated almost no principle with regard to their policies. Both candidates have flip-flopped on issues both large and small. This ideological inconsistency underscores their form-over-substance campaigns. Meanwhile Garcia consistently offers some of the most detailed and comprehensive plans to solve big city problems. Just as Hillary Clinton’s campaign policy book “Stronger Together” apparently wasn’t interesting enough to earn media coverage commensurate with Trump’s racist, ill-conceived, proposals, Garcia’s plans don’t earn the headlines won by Yang’s thoughtless street-vendor crackdown proposal or Adams’ dangerous gun-baiting.
Electing attention-grabbing men over competent women comes at a very real cost. From pandemic management to policing – the lives of New York City residents are literally on the line. The winner of this Democratic primary will all but inevitably become the city’s next Mayor. We’ve seen this movie before. New Yorkers have less than 30 days to rewrite the ending. Latest polling shows this is an incredibly close race among Adams, Garcia, and Yang. It’s time to start paying attention and getting engaged. On that Tuesday in June, let’s make sure the qualified woman wins.
Kaivan Shroff is a political commentator and alumnus of the Hillary for America Digital Team. On Twitter @KaivanShroff.