City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has announced that he is bowing out of the race. Johnson said that it was getting increasingly difficult to run a campaign for mayor and juggle the demands of being speaker as the city faces huge budget deficits and other issues due to the coronavirus pandemic, all while trying to maintain his mental well-being.
Johnson has been open about his past struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, and admitted that he has been struggling with depression since May.
Johnson was considered a frontrunner in the race along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Comptroller Scott Stringer, but there are numerous other candidates who have either entered the race or are strongly considering a run.
That includes several women in what is generally a male-dominated field, including former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former mayoral legal counsel Maya Wiley, and nonprofit executive Dianne Morales.
What will make next June’s primary even more interesting is that for the first time ever, New York City voters will be using ranked-choice voting.
If you are unfamiliar with ranked-choice voting, voters rank the candidates in the order they prefer. For instance, a voter might prefer Eric Adams, who they would rank as number one, but if they can’t have Adams, would be fine with Maya Wiley, who they would rank as number two.
Voters can rank up to five candidates, but they can also just choose to vote for one person - or two or three.
Candidates have to receive over 50 percent of the vote. If no one receives over 50 percent of the vote after the first tally, the person with the lowest number of first-ranked votes is eliminated.
Whoever voted for that candidate now has their ballot awarded to their second choice. If a candidate still lacks a simple majority, the process is repeated.
It’s a new twist for voters, and also prevents a candidate in a crowded field from winning an election while possibly only garnering 25 to 30 percent of the vote.
But it is also a new twist for candidates, who will now find themselves in the position on not just appealing to voters to cast their ballot for them, but maybe making the case that if they aren’t your preferred candidate, how about maybe putting them as second or third?
In a crowded race, getting those second and third-place rankings on the ballot is going to be vitally important to winning.
We came across this quote from Besty Hodges, who in 2013 earned an upset victory for Minneapolis mayor in an election that used ranked-choice voting.
“It was a much more interesting project to figure out how to make a case for myself, and it was also a really great way to extend the conversation,” she said. “You know, making the phone calls and saying “Hi, I’m Betsy and here’s why I’m great. I’m not the first person you think is great, well how about second? Can I be your second choice?” Now, asking to be someone’s third choice is exactly like you think it is the first five or six times. After that, you realize, we’re just having a conversation and this person is still on the line.”
Ranked-choice voting could also make for some strange bedfellows among opponents.
Some candidates might be leery about urging their supporters to even consider putting another candidate as their second or third choice, perhaps thinking that might indicate they aren’t confident about their own chances of winning.
However, if a voter puts a candidate down as their first choice, their ballot will never go to another candidate as long as their top choice is still in the runoff. And encouraging your supporters to avoid ranking any other candidate might persuade your opponents to urge their supporters to not rank you on their ballots, which could hurt you in the long run.
You might also see alliances form. For instance, a campaign mailer for Stringer might suggest ranking Garcia number two, with the understanding that when Garcia sends out her own campaign literature, it will urge voters to rank Stringer as their second choice.
If you are a strong supporter of Garcia and plan to vote for her, you would likely be persuaded to take her suggestion on who to put second on the ballot, which could help Stringer if he ends up in the runoff, and vice versa for Garcia if Stringer urges his supporters to put her behind him on the ballot.
With the pandemic and all of the issues the next mayor will be inheriting, next year’s mayoral race was going to be one of the most important the city has had in a long time. Ranked-choice voting is going to add a new wrinkle.