NEW YORK — As the primary race for New York City mayor heads into the final 10 weeks, a left-leaning group — buoyed by a new poll showing popularity for its chief policy goals — is gearing up to make a public case against frontrunner Andrew Yang.
The political action committee “Our City” recently commissioned a survey that found 56 percent of likely voters are unsure who to back in the eight-way Democratic primary — a race Yang has dominated since his entry in January. But the same 509 voters said they are looking for a candidate committed to shifting resources away from the NYPD, expanding affordable housing and increasing taxes on high earners to underwrite the city’s recovery from Covid-19.
That does not describe some of Yang’s positions, though he has led every public poll, quickly raised donations and commanded news cycles — all to the detriment of other well-funded campaigns that claim to be more in sync with the progressive movement.
The organization said candidate rankings are not available until the pollster, progressive think-tank Data For Progress, finishes analyzing results with regard to the ranked-choice voting system debuting in the city this year. Several people familiar with the survey said Yang maintained a healthy lead, with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and former City Hall attorney Maya Wiley trailing him.
With what it considers a clear mandate for a policy platform — if not a specific candidate — Our City says it’s time to begin warning voters about Yang, an entrepreneur turned presidential candidate who is skeptical about raising taxes on the wealthy and has embraced working with the private sector on the city’s recovery.
“We want to make sure that a progressive candidate wins the mayoral race, and make sure that no voters go in voting for a conservative, nonprogressive candidate and that’s definitely Andrew Yang,” Gabe Tobias, who leads Our City PAC, said in an interview. He said fundraising for the PAC is getting underway.
Tobias said Adams, a former police officer who supports real estate development and has amassed union support, does not present as much of a threat to the left flank of the party.
“I think Eric Adams’ positions are very far from progressive positions in most areas, but we are more concerned about progressives voting for Andrew Yang than we are about them voting for Eric Adams,” he added.
He said he is also concerned that low voter turnout, common in city Democratic primaries, will benefit Yang.
Yang representative Alyssa Cass pointed to his promised cash payments to the 500,000 most financially-struggling New Yorkers — a scaled-back municipal version of the Universal Basic Income plan he popularized on the presidential campaign.
“Isn’t the very definition of successful activism setting an agenda, selling a vision and getting people behind that?” Cass said. “On the issues, Andrew Yang is aligned with where progressives, including progressive activists, are. I believe the biggest gulf is sometimes rhetorical — he doesn’t always use ideological buzz phrases. But when it comes to the substance, he’s aligned.”
Yang recently voiced concerns about raising taxes on high-income New Yorkers during an appearance before a pro-business civic organization, the Association for a Better New York, but Cass said he is committed to reforming the property tax system, which disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Both would require cooperation in Albany.
The text message- and web-based poll by Data for Progress mirrored an earlier survey commissioned by lobbying outfit Fontas Advisors: 44 percent said they have yet to settle on a preferred candidate and 12 percent reported being unsure about the June 22 primary contest, according to results shared with POLITICO. Another 28 percent said they favor certain contenders but haven’t settled on an order. Ranked-choice allows voters to select up to five candidates in the likely event no one amasses 50 percent of the votes at first.
Respondents eschewed attributes candidates have showcased — personal stories, endorsements, managerial experience, relationships with state and federal officials — in favor of a robust policy agenda. More than six in 10 listed a strong policy platform as a leading consideration, yet only 40 percent said it is imperative a candidate share their values.
The likely voters also described ideological alignment with progressives: 53 percent said they would support a candidate who advocates “moving significant NYPD responsibilities and budget to civilian agencies and social programs.” Other than former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, no candidate has embraced calls to “defund” the NYPD, but several support shifting certain responsibilities to other city agencies.
Another 59 percent said they agree with reducing the number of people in jail “instead of building new jails to replace Rikers Island.”
Two-thirds of voters said they do not support candidates accepting real estate contributions — which most candidates are this cycle — and do want more affordable housing.
“There are still a lot of voters who are undecided, and while Yang maybe is getting early attention in this race, it’s far from over,” Data for Progress political director Marcela Mulholland said.
The poll did not pose a question about the rise in crime — an issue Adams emphasizes on the trail as communities he’s courting contend with increased gun violence. Last week Adams rolled out a gun safety plan on the steps of a Bronx courthouse and over the weekend he joined a graffiti clean-up effort at a public housing complex in the Bronx.
“We need to fight for police reform in the city, but we have to be equally as outraged and as vociferous around the violence in this city,” Adams said at the press conference. “A mother does not receive any consolation if you knock on her door and say, ‘Miss Jones, your son was not killed by a police officer in blue uniform but he was killed by a gangbanger in blue jeans.’ She doesn’t mourn any differently.”
Neither Adams nor Yang is likely in contention for the support of the Working Families Party, which is voting on a mayoral endorsement this week. Several people involved in the process said the organization is leaning toward supporting more than one candidate, as its members are divided among Morales, Stringer and Wiley.
The third party, comprising of activist organizations, has its own ballot line but generally cross-endorses Democratic candidates for office.
In down-ballot races, it provides ground troops for voter outreach, a harder feat in citywide elections and particularly during a pandemic. It is, however, seen as a progressive seal of approval.
Those involved in the endorsement process, who would only speak on background to freely discuss private meetings, said members are concerned about Morales’ ability to win, given her low name recognition and fundraising disadvantages. While many appreciate Stringer’s loyalty to their causes, they would prefer not to back a white man over two women of color. And some are disturbed by Wiley’s record during her time in the upper ranks of the de Blasio administration.
“Anybody who calls themselves a progressive, you would be lying to yourself if you said you aren’t looking at Dianne Morales,” Stanley Fritz, political director of Citizen Action, said in an interview. “If I’m in a meeting with our members and we’re talking about transformational change, it sounds a lot like what Dianne is saying.”