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In the Big Apple, a crowded mayoral race to save a city ‘gone to hell’

Primary voting is underway for the next mayor of New York City. The winner will be tasked with a long list of challenges: reviving the city's economy, curbing rising rates of violent crime and police reform. Filling the needs of more than 8 million people in America's largest city is not an easy job, but it hasn't stopped more than a dozen Democrats from running for it. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Primary voting is under way for the next mayor of New York City. The winner of the general election this fall will be tasked with a long list of challenges, reviving the city's economy, tackling police reform and curbing rising rates of violent crime.

    Hari Sreenivasan reports on what New Yorkers want in their next mayor and how a new voting system could change the race.

    Eric Adams (D), New York Mayoral Candidate: We will win this race.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Filling the needs of more than eight million people in America's largest city is not an easy job, but that hasn't stopped more than a dozen Democrats from running for it.

    Ray Mcguire (D), New York Mayoral Candidate: I'm Ray McGuire. I'm running for mayor.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And as they campaign across the five boroughs, the hugs and handshakes, selfies with supporters is a sight almost unimaginable just a few months ago.

    Andrew Yang (D), New York Mayoral Candidate: You guys can take your mask off if you want.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Though the state set off fireworks last week to celebrate the lifting of COVID restrictions, the next mayor will inherit a city deeply scarred. COVID-19 killed more than 33,000 people here. It shuttered thousands of small business. Violent crime is up, including shootings and homicides.

  • Maureen Morrone, New York City:

    The city has gone to hell under the current mayor.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Maureen and Nick Morrone don't like what they see.

  • Maureen Morrone:

    The crime rate has increased. I see the store owners, of course, with the pandemic, going out of business. I feel like we need somebody who really understands New York here.

  • Pat Wong, New York City:

    Every time you turn on the news, there's killings, nothing but killings or someone getting beaten up or someone getting shot.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Brooklyn Borough President and candidate Eric Adams says he has an edge to fighting crime.

  • Eric Adams:

    They sent me into the police department to fight for reform inside.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    A former captain of the NYPD, Adams has stressed that safer streets require more officers, not less:

  • Eric Adams:

    The reason I can turn it around is because I understand the crevices and interdynamics of policing. They will run rings around all of them.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    His opponent Andrew Yang, best known for a universal income plan on the presidential debate stage, has in recent weeks made tackling crime the cornerstone of his campaign.

  • Andrew Yang:

    Every New Yorker I talk to is deeply concerned about the fact that we don't feel safe on our streets, on our subways. We're going to need the police to turn this around.

    My first act as mayor will be to go to the police and say, we need you.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yang also points to the alarming rise in hate crimes against people of Asian descent, up more than 300 percent since last spring.

    You feel less safe now?

  • Pat Wong:

    Yes, definitely.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    It's a message that resonates with May Chu and Pat Wong, both longtime residents of Lower Manhattan.

  • May Chu, New York City:

    How they're going to help the Asian to correct that or bring it back to offer us some safety, the feeling of safety.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But just how police can and should work toward that safety is a contentious issue between New York Democrats.

    This is the first citywide vote since thousands took to the streets demanding police accountability after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The NYPD's response to those protests has fueled calls for drastic change to the department.

  • Jawanza James Williams, Vocal-NY:

    I learned New York through struggle.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jawanza James Williams is Black, gay, HIV-positive and, shortly after moving here, had no place to stay.

  • Jawanza James Williams:

    And, suddenly, I experienced homelessness. And while I was in the shelter, I realized that everyone around me was Black and brown.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    He is also the organizing director for the anti-poverty group Vocal-NY, which works with low income communities impacted by HIV, homelessness, and incarceration.

  • Jawanza James Williams:

    If you are concerned about violence in the subway, for instance, if your first knee-jerk reaction is to call for an infusion of police into the subway, that means you have not centered the person experiencing homelessness with unmet mental health needs in the subway. You have centered the politics of fear.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    He's backing Maya Wiley for mayor. She's a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio is term-limited.

    Maya Wiley (D), New York Mayoral Candidate: We are going to show this city what courage looks like.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Wiley is one of four major candidates proposing cuts to the police budget to invest in under-resourced neighborhoods.

    Scott Stringer (D), New York Mayoral Candidate: We need a progressive, but we need a progressive who actually knows how to govern.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    That's city Comptroller and candidate Scott Stringer's critique. The city's budget totals almost $100 billion.

    Kathryn Garcia (D), New York Mayoral Candidate: Hi. I'm Kathryn Garcia. I'm running for mayor.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Making that money move and work is why Kathryn Garcia, the city's former sanitation commissioner and COVID food czar, says she is best for the office.

  • Kathryn Garcia:

    I am running for mayor not because I want the title of mayor, but because I want to do the job.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Democrats outnumber Republicans more than six to one in the city, making it likely that the winner of the Democratic competition will be the next mayor.

    That said, mayoral politics in this city is actually more moderate than many major U.S. cities. And it's been tough for progressive leaders to make it to the top of city government.

  • Bruce Berg, Fordham University:

    It may very well be that the city is becoming more progressive.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Bruce Berg is a political scientist at Fordham University who has studied the city's politics for decades.

  • Bruce Berg:

    The borough-based organizations, the Democratic Party organizations, especially in the outer boroughs, have really kept the city much more moderate than many other — many other urban areas.

  • Maya Wiley:

    I do ask that you rank me number one, but rank five candidates in the order of your preference.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Progressives are hoping a new style of voting called ranked choice can pull the city further left. For the first time, voters have the option of selecting not just one candidate, but listing their top five picks.

  • Eric Adams:

    The only requirement that I'm having today is rank me one.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Berg says it could be a game-changer.

    What does ranked choice voting do to this election?

  • Bruce Berg:

    Assuming it works and assuming the voters are engaged, it should result in a much more representative outcome, where many more voters are involved in electing the candidate.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    It's a huge spotlight for ranked choice voting. And officials have pleaded for patience as they count the ballots, estimating it could take days or even weeks to determine who New Yorkers choose to lead a city putting the pandemic in the past and at a crossroads for its future.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Hari Sreenivasan in New York.

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