New York Democrats Take a Stab at Reality

What just happened in New York? Something hopeful.

In the Democratic primary, which took place Tuesday, the candidates for mayor reflected competing party realities. Each brought a particular vibration. City Comptroller

Scott Stringer


Abe Beame

without the charisma. Former Sanitation Commissioner

Kathryn Garcia

was the woman on the train working a hard job in the city, the kind of middle manager who keeps the whole place going. Manhattan loved her.

Andrew Yang

was a good person, refreshing and unpredictable—refreshing because unpredictable—but he didn’t know the city in his gut. Activist

Maya Wiley

was elegant, dignified, had presence and warmth, but her policies were those of the detached academic, all progressive ideology. She wouldn’t say in debate that she’d refuse to disarm the police.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, currently in first place by nearly 10 points, scrambled things up. In the war between the abstract and the real, he backed reality. Opposition to his candidacy had a constant undercurrent: He’s an old-time machine pol, a deal maker, corrupt, he doesn’t even live in New York. Everyone heard these things. A lot didn’t care because of the other thing they knew, which is that Mr. Adams was a cop for 22 years, left the New York City Police Department as a captain, and was the first and for a long time the only candidate to campaign on crime and the public’s right to safety. He was the first to admit we were in a crime wave.

That was considered cheap until it was considered visionary. (The NYPD reports shootings were up 73% last month, compared with May 2020.)

Mr. Adams’s election-night speech had an air of lovely bitterness: “How dare those with their philosophical and intellectual theorizing and their classroom mindset talking about the ‘theory of policing’?” he said. “You don’t know this. I know this. I’m going to keep my city safe.”

His multiracial coalition drew heavily from black voters. It looks to me like the Democratic Party is in the middle of a big change that it’s not fully noticing, or admitting. For at least 50 years Democrats thought they had to lean left to secure the black vote. In a general way this tilted the entire party left. Now the party has to tack rightward to hold them, at least on some issues, those I’d characterize as the intensely human ones, such as crime. This shift has been apparent at least since the 2020 presidential primaries, when black voters in South Carolina, specifically women, deliberately and strategically rejected progressives and chose

Joe Biden,

the moderate with whom they’d had a long relationship, saving his candidacy.

I think this was part of the story in New York. Because of the new system of ranked-choice voting, we don’t know the winner. Later rounds of counting could deliver a surprise. But whoever wins, this is true: If you take the top five first-choice candidates as of Thursday afternoon, the more or less reality-oriented moderates (Mr. Adams, Ms. Garcia and Mr. Yang) received 63% of the Democratic vote. The self-declared progressives (Ms. Wiley and Mr. Stringer) got 27%.

This in deep blue New York, ground zero of the progressive explosion, where in 2018 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sprang from Zeus’ brow and defeated the moderate

Rep. Joe Crowley

in the Bronx. (It must be noted that progressives did better down the ballot on Tuesday; we squish that information in here so as not to harsh our mellow.)

Here is something I think helped Mr. Adams.

What is always missing from “the public discourse” on crime is simple compassion. It is weirdly absent. Being the victim of violent crime can change a life and bring untold long-term woe, real physical and psychological repercussions.

The progressive left brings a coldness to this issue. If they feel any personal horror they don’t show it, perhaps because horror demonstrates a human and real-world understanding of the nature of the violation, which suggests an insufficient adherence to ideological abstraction. Rising crime is simply more evidence that if we don’t focus on root causes—poverty, racism—crime will continue to rise. Rising crime is proof that inequity brings violence. AOC at a town hall last July, when the crime uptick had begun: “Do we think this has to do with the fact that there’s record unemployment in the United States right now?” People are “economically desperate.” “Maybe this has to do with the fact that people aren’t paying their rent and are scared to pay their rent and so they go out and they need to feed their child and they don’t have money so . . . they feel like they either need to shoplift some bread or go hungry.”

But bread-stealing isn’t the problem. The problem is that criminals, professional and freelance, know the police are on the defensive, that elimination of cash bail has left the criminal-justice system a revolving door, and this is in fact a golden age for street criminals.

On the conservative side what is always present is indignation and a tendency equal to the left’s to diminish the problem by reducing it to a matter of political gain. Yes, Sean, I think voters will punish those who want to defund the police. It will be a killer issue for us in ’22.

What is missing is human sympathy. It is missing because many in public life are detached from the lives of the people they represent.

The media cover the politics of the issue, not the issue itself. They seem afraid to tell the stories of victims of crime—their lives, what happened, the physical and emotional impact on them and their families, including long-term effects such as debilitating anxiety, or fear of being on the subway, which has an impact on your ability to hold a job. When you are a victim of violent street crime, you become not only afraid of the streets but afraid of your fellow citizens. You feel in some new way how thin is the veil of civilization, how quickly it can be sundered. And this is a fairly common story. In 2019, before the current crime wave, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said there were approximately 367 violent crimes per 100,000 people. New York City’s figure was 571. The numbers for this year are sure to be a lot higher.

Media folk seem to fear such coverage might be taking a side, or somehow exploitative. But the public, I think, sees these stories are never or rarely told. That tells people who have experienced crime, or the fear of it, that they’re not really at the table, not really seen, not an Official Object of Compassion. It does us no good as a society that our national media underreport this story and don’t break your heart with it.

Eric Adams, however, talked about the victims of crime a lot. You could see he felt it. This would have made an impression on a lot of people.

Whatever the outcome, those in the primary who gave signals that they know what crime is and how its victims suffer got far more votes than those who gave signals they don’t. Good. Gives you hope.

Wonder Land: Progressives can win elections, but there’s a problem: They don’t know how to govern. Images: AP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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