The Newsletter That Never Sleeps- Edition #11, 7/1/21
Repeat after me: The 2021 Primaries Did Not Take Place. It’s…
THE NEWSLETTER THAT NEVER SLEEPS
- Your weekly five borough briefing -
This is the eleventh edition of The Newsletter That Never Sleeps, from July 1st, 2021. Any new subscribers can read all previous editions, which include breakdowns of local races, ranked choice voting, public safety and COVID recovery here. Welcome!
THE NEVERENDING PRIMARY- HOW THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS BOTCHED THE ELECTION IN RECORD TIME
The New York Times had some harsh words for the New York City Board of Elections, after the BOE bungled yet another major election:
“The board stands as a rotten board. It is at best a semi-functioning anachronism. Membership on it is considered a patronage plum. The pay is good, the work-load is light.”
That quote is from 50 years ago, when the Board of Elections was brought to court by the City of New York over the board’s unrepresentative member roll, as all of the executive players in the BOE hailed from only Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Times went on to say that
“What is vital is to streamline the operations of the elections office here while also reforming presently restrictive procedures and making other changes to facilitate both the registration of voters and their participation in elections. A good start would be thoroughly reforming the Board of Elections itself.”
50 years later, and that thorough reform has yet to come, and the “semi-functioning anachronism” continues to embarrass the city year after year through a ritual series of head-scratching errors, gross oversight and acts of blatant incompetence.
New Yorkers held their breath as returns from the 2021 primaries came in on June 22nd, and the city let out a collective sigh of relief as there seemed to be no major errors in the reported count of the Election Day vote and votes from early, in person voting. The next step of counting the elections, the first in the city to be held in a ranked choice voting model, was for the BOE to publish the initial RCV simulation on June 29th.
On June 29th, the RCV simulation was posted, but something was very clearly wrong. The numbers did not, at all, match the unofficial results that we saw on Election Day. Candidates who failed to reach 1% of the vote had tens of thousands of new votes, multiple candidates were eliminated in a single round, and there seemed to be an additional 145,000 ballots added into the mix between Election Day and June 29th.
Most shockingly, though this did not seem to be the result of an error, it seemed that Eric Adams, who for the last week was, for all intents and purposes, the presumptive 110th Mayor of New York City, was going to lose the election to Kathryn Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner who was polling as low as 4% in mid-April.
So what happened?
After hours of silence from the Board of Elections, a photo was posted to their Twitter account- a screenshot of a note written in the iPhone Notes App. It explained that the additional 145,000 votes were dummy votes put into the system weeks ago used to test the RCV software. No one had removed them before adding in the actual votes.
Minutes later, the tweet was taken down, as there was a typo. Then a corrected version of the statement was put on Twitter.
I warned last week that, though we could know most winners of the nearly 100 elections across the city by early July, the past actions of the Board of Elections pointed to a much longer and rockier waiting period.
And so it was. The Eric Adams campaign has already filed a civil suit to ensure a fair counting of the ballots- and who know where that’ll go. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, will be holding a hearing with the executives of the BOE to demand answers. Mayor Bill de Blasio has, with the City Council, put forth a bill in the state legislature that would abolish the BOE as it currently is in favor of an independent, meritocratic system.
A more recent New York Times expose onto the BOE (linked in City Reads) reveals a pretty horrifying and nepotism-ridden environment where the elections in the largest city in America are determined. By state law, members of the board are appointed by borough leaders, and are explicitly appointed in a partisan manner.
Well, a bipartisan manner. For every Democrat appointed to the board, there must be one Republican, and vice versa. The majority of the executive staff in the BOE are relatives, close friends or political associates of New York City’s most influential politicos- most have no prior experience managing an electoral board, and some have no long term employment history at all.
That might explain why, year after year, the Board of Elections somehow manages to completely wreck the democratic process that decides the city’s local and federal leadership. Governor Cuomo, the patron of patronage, had refused to take any action in his three terms as Governor to reform the board. To be fair, no Governor before him has, either.
It took a full day for the Board of Elections to delete the dummy votes and put up the actual RCV simulation, which only counted the votes from Election Day and early, in person voting. Absentee ballots, of which there are over 135,000, were due on the 29th, and can be cured (if there are any errors rendering the ballots invalid) until July 9th.
Why release an RCV simulation with an additional 135,000+ votes left to count? State law prohibits election boards from opening a single absentee ballot until the due data, so the BOE could not begin counting the votes until yesterday. The BOE plans to release weekly RCV simulations as they count the incoming absentee ballots. The whole schedule, frankly, makes little sense.
But enough, for now, about the incompetency of the NYC BOE. Their social media intern has had a pretty rough few days. What did the *correct* RCV results say?
In the Mayoral primary, we see a pretty similar story. Though Eric Adams maintains his lead over the field throughout the count, he only leads Kathryn Garcia by 2.2% in the final round, or about 15,000 votes. That’s really bad news for Adams, as the over 135,000 absentee ballots are mostly from districts that voted heavily for Garcia, and Garcia only needs to win the outstanding ballots by a 57%-43% margin to best Adams, which is pretty doable.
In the Comptroller race, Brad Lander maintains a similar razor-thin margin over Corey Johnson. However, it’s a bit less clear how absentee ballots will affect this race, as the same areas in Manhattan (where most of the absentee votes are coming from) that favored Garcia also favored Lander.
The BOE was supposed to release RCV simulations of the Borough President races as well as the City Council races, but they did not. Results from those 56 races is supposed to come later today. We’ll see.
So how did Eric Adams, who led the first choice count by over 9%, come so close to losing to Kathryn Garcia, who placed 3rd on Election Night? It seems that Garcia, in her short time as a top tier candidate, made a number of smart plays that made her palatable to nearly every electoral demographic in the city.
She was always going to get the lion’s share of Maya Wiley’s votes, should Wiley get eliminated before Garcia. Garcia’s biggest hurdle was reaching Yang’s voters; late polling showed that Yang voters preferred Adams by a 2:1 margin.
And so Garcia co-campaigned with Yang, bringing the floundering former frontrunner around Queens and Manhattan across several dual events that were meant to ingratiate the two candidates to each others’ bases of support, and to get Adams off the minds of as many voters as possible.
It was a sort of theatric role reversal of the early months of the race, when Andrew Yang, a seemingly insurmountable frontrunner, touted the little-known Kathryn Garcia as his second choice and his Deputy Mayor-to-be, much to Garcia’s chagrin. Yang knew that Garcia had no shot of winning, and singing the praises of a female candidate would dispel rumors of the misogynistic culture of Yang’s inner circle.
Now Garcia had Yang on a leash; Yang was still loudly telling his voters to rank Garcia second, but Garcia did not return the favor. It didn’t matter. Yang knew he was going to lose this race, and lose it badly, and that no amount of second choice votes from Garcia’s supporters would bolster his chances. The objective was to stop Eric Adams from becoming Mayor.
And it seems that it may have worked. Maybe. Leading into the final round, only 3 candidates remained: Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley. Garcia only bested Wiley by a little over 500 votes, securing her slot in the final round of counting.
While absentee ballots should favor Garcia, even a slight tip of the balance in Wiley’s direction at any point in the counting could toss Garcia out of the running entirely and lead to an Adams vs. Wiley showdown- one that Adams is far more likely to win.
Last week, it seemed all but certain that Eric Adams had won this thing handily. Today, it seems like Kathryn Garcia will likely be inaugurated as the first woman to ever hold the position of Mayor of New York City. But who knows what it’ll look like next week? Maybe the absentee ballots throw everything off course. Maybe the BOE doesn’t even count the ballots, or accidentally flushes them all down the toilet.
We’ll be back here next week, the day before the absentee ballot curing deadline. It’s more than possible for an election board to count all of the absentee ballots by next Tuesday, and to count what few cured absentee ballots and valid affadavits there are shortly thereafter.
But the New York City Board of Elections has proven, as it does every year, that it does not deserve the benefit of assumed competence, and that as long as there are undeclared winners in the city’s primaries, those watching the race will be anxiously waiting to see what goes wrong next.
HOT ENOUGH FOR YA? IN THE MIDST OF NATIONAL CONVERSATION ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND INFRASTRUCTURE, HEAT WAVE ROCKS NEW YORK CITY
Just like the eternal primary cycle of New York City’s elections, it is always Infrastructure Week in the United States. What exactly qualifies as “infrastructure” depends on who you ask, and Democrats have expanded the definition in the past few years to include criteria beyond the meat and potatoes of infrastructure as bridges and roads, wrapping in universal broadband and retrofitting existing architecture to abate climate change under the umbrella of “infrastructure”.
And boy, could we use some of that retrofitted architecture now! The United States and Canada are currently in the midst of an extreme heat wave, caused by a “heat dome” formed over the Pacific Northwest. While heat domes themselves aren’t rare, the temperatures they’re producing are practically unseen in recorded history.
While it was a breezy 95 degrees in New York City, cities on the West Coast as far north as Vancouver saw temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. Climate experts have noted that, as global temperatures have risen over 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1900, extreme climate circumstances, like the one we’re currently going through, and the one Texas saw earlier in February, and the one California goes through every year as wildfires turn the night sky orange for weeks on end, will become more frequent.
Mayor de Blasio has put out a heat advisory warning, urging New Yorkers to stay inside when possible, wear light-colored clothing, and to stay hydrated. Along with intense heat, extreme humidity will continue to bear down on the city for a few days until the heat wave subsides sometime early next week.
Yesterday, small pockets of blackouts in Brooklyn led to citywide advisory to limit the use of electronics such as microwaves, washing machines and air conditioning. When the heat finally let up and a storm system moved over the city, where it will stay for a few days, ConEd was able to get most of the power back on.
The extreme climate events that we’re witnessing are a microcosm of what the next few decades will look like, and the makeup and maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure will be crucial to combatting climate change. In New York City, there’s been perennial talks of erecting seawalls in bay areas vulnerable to flooding, but no concrete plan to establish them has come forth.
On Staten Island, wetlands that make up the majority of the West Shore are crucial to protecting lower income inland communities against flooding. Those same wetlands are currently under siege by developers like Amazon and BJ’s Wholesale. Hurricane Sandy wreaked plenty of havoc on the city. What will happen if a more powerful storm hits the city, and we haven’t taken the steps to protect our shores from extreme weather? What if, because of development on environmentally vulnerable lands, we’re even less prepared than we were in 2012?
The heat will subside, and summer will go on as usual. The senate plans to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill sometime in the next month to provide over $600 billion for improving existing physical infrastructure across the states, and President Biden plans to use reconciliation (a senatorial procedure that requires only 50 votes to pass a bill) to push forth a more aggressive tandem bill that will include provisions for tackling climate change and broadband deserts through jobs programs.
One thing I see a lot, when a candidate is clearly losing steam during a primary election, is for them to make a big stink over how televised debates don’t focus on climate change. Beto O’Rourke did it, Scott Stringer did it. While I still roll my eyes at the efficacy of this tactic, they technically aren’t wrong. If we want to stop seeing temperature records broken year after year, and keep our infrastructure from buckling under climate that it was not built to withstand, climate change is something we need to address now- not when it’s already too late.
A bit gloom and doomy, as talk about climate change always leads me to be a bit of a downer. But I also believe that we have the power to hold our politicians accountable and demand more climate-minded policy in the near future. We can demand a debate on climate policy. We can lobby important unions and political clubs to withhold their endorsements unless a candidate puts forth a substantial climate plan. We can leave dozens of calls at Cuomo’s office asking where the seawalls are.
It’s time to turn up the heat on our representatives, before the Earth turns up the heat on us.
Though polling of the Mayor’s race is a bit of a moot point now, liberal polling firm Data for Progress conducted a poll on Election Day and then weighed their findings against the unofficial results of the race posted on the night of the primary.
DfP was actually pretty spot-on with their pre-election polling, so this new poll is an interesting look into how ranked choice voting can play out as absentee ballots pour in:
Eric Adams: 32%
Maya Wiley: 22%
Kathryn Garcia: 20%
Andrew Yang: 11%
Scott Stringer: 5%
Ray McGuire: 3%
Dianne Morales: 3%
Shaun Donovan: 2%
A different candidate: 2%
That’s pretty close to what we saw on Election Day; Adams leads by nearly 10 points in the first round of counting, Yang and Stringer crater, and Wiley and Garcia managed to outperform with affluent White voters. The poll gets interesting, and gives some credence to the Board of Election’s initial RCV findings, when the poll is simulated down to the final round:
HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO A: Ranked choice voting simulation for Mayor of New York City after eliminating Kathryn Garcia:
Eric Adams: 52%
Maya Wiley: 48%
HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO B: Ranked choice voting simulation for Mayor of New York City after eliminating Maya Wiley:
Kathryn Garcia: 55%
Eric Adams: 45%
Of these two scenarios, Scenario B is far more likely; absentee ballots are likely to heavily favor Garcia, and initial RCV findings show that Garcia made herself widely popular among voters among every demographic, except perhaps working class Black voters, who stuck with Adams to the end.
If this poll is to be believed (and it’s a hypothetical scenario weighed against the real results of the Election, so take it with a grain of salt), then Garcia’s pact with Yang really did pay off; Adams’ greatest strength going into the final round of counting was his large crossover with Yang voters, who tended to be more moderate and less informed about the primary than Garcia or Wiley voters.
By siphoning off enough second choice votes from Adams on ballots ranking Yang first, and maintaining a healthy lead of second choice rankings from Wiley voters, Garcia’s put herself in a very competitive position against Adams, even if she’s down 12% in the first round.
Garcia is a candidate made for a competitive ranked choice election: smart, uncontroversial, moderate and vague on policy. Adams, on the other hand, put together a coalition to win enough first ranked votes to put him over the top in the first round of counting, which would have been a winning strategy in 2013.
However, though NYC is still very much a coalition town, it’s harder for candidates to run a scorched Earth campaign in the same way that Adams did and still hold a lead into the final round of a ranked choice vote.
Inside Decades of Nepotism and Bungling at the N.Y.C. Board of Election, by Brian M. Rosenthal and Michael Rothfield
Just putting this here for no reason.
City Starts Kicking Thousands of Homeless People from Hotels Back to Shelters, by Rachel Holliday Smith
With the pandemic in the rearview mirror (for now), emergency measures on housing the homeless are beginning to expire, though it’s unclear if the old way of handling things is going to work out in a post-pandemic New York.
A look into the de Blasio administration’s push to get all public schools fully open in the fall, despite difficult negotiations with the UFT.
It’s not a great week to be a Giuliani. Though this straw poll conducted among party leaders doesn’t bear any electoral consequences, it seems that the New York GOP machine has decided to throw 100% of its support to Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin in the 2022 Republican Primary for Governor, and eventually in a general election against an embattled Governor Cuomo, who is (as of right now) planning to pursue a fourth term.
Newly Reported Cases (6/24–7/1): 182 avg. daily cases (-25%)
Newly Reported Hospitalizations: 471 avg. hospitalized patients (-23%)
COVID-19 cases continue to fall throughout the city, but epidemiologists and state medical officials have been sounding the alarm on the new Delta Variant of the coronavirus, which is supposedly much stronger against the defenses of weaker vaccines and has a higher rate of transmission than the Alpha variant, which made up most of COVID infections in the U.S. throughout 2020. A new report suggests that 25% of new COVID cases in NYC, though 25% of 182 cases isn’t a lot, are infections from the Delta variant.
That’s a big uptick from 10% of new cases last month, which suggests the Delta Strain is moving quickly through New York City, and is laser targeting unvaccinated people. While the lack of infections of vaccinated people is good news for U.S. vaccine manufacturers, as it seems that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are stronger against the Delta variant than the U.K.’s Astro-Zeneca vaccine, it poses a new risk to unvaccinated people and under vaccinated communities.
Dr. Dave Chokshi, a fellow you’ve definitely seen on TV telling you about the ins and outs of the COVID vaccines, put out a statement during a press briefing with Mayor de Blasio that seems pretty urgent in contrast to his usual laidback demeanor:
“For my fellow New Yorkers who have been waiting to figure out whether or not to get vaccinated, if you’ve been on the fence, my message is very simple, your wait is over, and now is the best time to get vaccinated.”
Brooklyn: 44% fully vaccinated (+1), 55% adults vaccinated (+1)
The Bronx: 42% fully vaccinated (+2), 53% adults vaccinated (+1)
Manhattan: 62% fully vaccinated (+2), 70% adults vaccinated (+2)
Staten Island: 47% fully vaccinated (+1), 59% adults vaccinated (+2)
Queens: 56% fully vaccinated (+2), 68% adults vaccinated (+3)
As of Tuesday, June 30th, a majority of New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which, from a scientific perspective, is kind of arbitrary, but is worth celebrating nonetheless. Though easy access to the vaccine has been available in New York City since April, vaccinating people in impoverished zip codes and neighborhoods with large populations of non-English speakers has proven to be pretty difficult.
Of course, there are still challenges facing the city to vaccinate more people lower income zip codes, namely in the Bronx and eastern Brooklyn, where vaccine education isn’t as widespread and vaccine hesitancy is the highest in the city. A recent Pew Research poll found that 50% of Americans who primarily speak Spanish are reluctant to take the vaccine, either because they believe they’ll receive a surprise bill for the vaccine or the side effects of the vaccine will cause them to miss work.
On a national level, it looks like President Biden won’t hit his goal of getting 70% of American adults vaccinated by July 4th. National vaccination rates are as low as they’ve ever been, as the number of Americans receiving their first shot has declined from nearly 4 million a day in mid-April to around 800,000 a day last week.
By July 4th, around 67–68% of American adults will have received a dose of the vaccine. Not too far off, and you could imagine that if the Johnson & Johnson debacle hadn’t been handled so badly back in April, we may have already hit that 70% mark.
New York, and other states in the North East, have already blown past the magic 70% number, but the Acela Corridor isn’t a walled-off nation-state (not yet, at least), and the risk of infection from foreign countries or tourists from less vaccinated states still lingers.
As of July 1st, 2021, courtesy of the New York Times
ON THE GROUND- Washington Square Park… again
Two weeks ago, we looked into the NYPD’s siege on rowdy parkgoers at Washington Square Park, and why the NYPD seemed to be enforcing a curfew that they themselves had set up- something they aren’t allowed to do.
Since that edition went out, a bit more information onto exactly who put in the call to NYPD HQ to enact a mobilization on WSP has come to light, but a worrying clash between a heavily mobilized NYPD and parkgoers during Sunday’s Pride events highlight the lingering and dangerous effects of an opaque and bureaucratic process that gives the NYPD a license to do pretty much whatever it wants with no oversight.
At around 4 PM, well before the 10 PM curfew set by the NYPD and the Parks Enforcement Patrol, multiple NYPD units descended upon New Yorkers celebrating Pride, arresting 8 individuals and pepper spraying dozens more as individual scuffles broke out between officers and those in the park.
There doesn’t seem to have been an inciting incident that caused the NYPD to get a call into Washington Square Park, but since they’ve essentially been occupying the park since late May to enforce a 10 PM curfew, there may not have needed to be a specific reason for the NYPD to come into the park. There did not appear to be any public safety risk in the park, and videos taken before the NYPD’s arrival show a peaceful, if vibrant and loud, park filled with young people celebrating Pride. One would assume that the NYPD was, ostensibly, there to respond to noise complaints, disorderly conduct and public indecency.
The NYPD brutalizing queer people in the West Village because of charges of “public indecency” is almost too ironic, because that’s precisely the circumstances that led to the riots at the Stonewall Inn 52 years ago, which began NYC Pride as we know it.
I’m returning to Washington Square Park and this story because it presents the reality of police interactions with the community in the year after the “Defund” movement hit its peak; major headlines detailing the state of the police discuss how the police across the country are disillusioned, hanging up their badges, and some prominent politicos in New York City (including former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton) have made the outrageous claim that the police have already been defunded (they have not).
The truth is, very little has changed. There are more police officers, mainly senior officers, quitting their jobs relative to past years, and violent crime has risen in New York City relative to the last few years, which saw record low crime. In the grand scheme of things, however, crime is nowhere near the extraordinary level that it was at even 25 years ago, and the NYPD is still the largest police force in the country. And the unwarranted violence on protestors (or, in Washington Square Park, people just loudly hanging around public spaces) looks the same as it did last year.
It’s also worth noting that the NYPD, by their own admission, is using their display of power in WSP to set a citywide example- from the Gothamist, which first reported that the NYPD was enforcing a curfew without permission from the Mayor’s office: “One officer told Gothamist the action was meant as a preemptive measure to quash protests or riots that might follow last summer’s disorder.”
It’s likely that we wouldn’t have seen mass arrests and pepper spraying of peaceful Pride celebrators in Washington Square Park had the handling of the Washington Square Park curfew been more transparent, and the Mayor’s office taken some responsibility over its police force. Mayor de Blasio has been completely uninvolved in talks of deescalating the ongoing violence in Washington Square Park, demurring when asked for comment over the NYPD’s actions during Pride:
“A couple of things in Washington Square Park could have been handled better, should have been handled better,” de Blasio said.
There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance to handle when you see on TV that, because of the “Defund the Police” movement, the state of policing and public safety is at its lowest in decades while looking to the streets and seeing that not a dollar has been removed from the NYPD’s budget and that officers are still enacting unwarranted violence against nonviolent New Yorkers.
Each of the candidates running for Mayor has promised some kind of police reform. They should start by getting a handle on their police commissioner and making sure they’re never out of the loop, and should displays of excessive force continue throughout the city, they should have more planned than a few noncommittal words to the media.
Thanks for reading this edition of The Newsletter That Never Sleeps. If you have any feedback, leads, stories, or just want to reach out, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @kieranian_ on Twitter.