NEW YORK – Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough president and a former police captain, was in the lead Wednesday to be New York City's next mayor. But even though voting is done, the race is far from over.
It may take several weeks to find out who won the Democratic primary for mayor, with absentee ballots still trickling in and a new ranked-choice voting system allowing New Yorkers to list their top five preferences for mayor.
No candidate won an outright majority in the election Tuesday, so the ranked choice preferences of voters will now be redistributed as the candidates with the fewest number of votes are eliminated in a series of rounds.
Speaking to his supporters Tuesday night, Adams acknowledged the ranked-choice process would still need to play out but reveled in his early lead.
“We know that there’s going to be twos and threes and fours," he said. "But there’s something else we know. We know that New York City said, ‘Our first choice is Eric Adams.’”
Meanwhile, onetime front-runner Andrew Yang conceded the race Tuesday night after initial results had him in fourth.
The city's Board of Elections is expected to release the first batch of ranked-choice votes next Tuesday, calculating only the preferences of early and in-person voters.
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After the counting of absentee ballots begins, the next round of ranked-choice preferences, including those mail-in votes, is expected to be released July 6.
Common Cause/NY, an advocacy group that supports the ranked-choice system, said it's likely that complete results won't be known until July 12.
"Democracy takes time, and every vote counts. Accurate and fair election results are worth waiting for," Susan Lerner, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
Who is Eric Adams? And who are the other NYC mayoral candidates?
Adams commanded 31.7% of voters' first choice preferences in the results released from Tuesday and early voting. Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, was in second with 22.2%. Former sanitation department head Kathryn Garcia had 19.5% in third. And Yang, the entrepreneur riding the momentum of his 2020 presidential run into the mayor's race, sat in fourth with 11.7%.
Adams, 60, made public safety his campaign's central message at a time when the city has seen an uptick in crime. He's also been an advocate for police reform in the past and promised to address racial inequities in the city.
Though briefly registered as a Republican in the 1990s, Adams was first elected to the New York Senate in 2006. He became Brooklyn Borough president in 2013. He would be the city's second Black mayor.
Born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and raised in South Jamaica, Queens, Adams grew up in a working-class household and, as a teen, was beaten while in police custody, sparking his desire to become a police officer and change the department from within.
In 1995, he formed 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an advocacy group that sought to fight racial profiling and police brutality while restoring trust among Black residents.
Bruce Berg, a political science professor at Fordham University who specializes in New York City politics, said Adams, a "homegrown" candidate, gained credibility from both his police and political background.
As a former police officer and someone who understands the Black community's suspicion of police, he doesn't want police to leave, but rather "engage in true community policing," said Michael Hendrix, director of state and local policy at the Manhattan Institute.
Adams faced criticism on the campaign trail after a POLITICO report detailed discrepancies in his campaign and real estate records. Opponents accused him of misusing his government office building as a campaign office and actually living in New Jersey. Adams denied both allegations.
His primary rival during the race was Yang, whom the day before the election Adams called a "fraud" and "liar."
Yang was seen as the race's front-runner for months, but started to lag in polling in the past several weeks. He also made public safety a central message to his platform, while seeking to incorporate ideas he ran on for president, such as a version of universal basic income.
But he suffered a number of key gaffes that his rivals used as campaign fodder, such as admitting to leaving the city for the Hudson Valley in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and having never voted in a New York City mayoral election before.
Yang fought back, especially after he drew jabs for saying the Times Square subway station was his favorite. His campaign cast attacks that he wasn't a "true" New Yorker as racist, and he sought to shed light on a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes in the city.
Wiley emerged as the liberal favorite in the race after two other candidates' campaigns faced setbacks. She won the backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and other left-leaning politicians in the city.
Her platform included policies such as investing in public housing, financing a stipend for child and elder care, and diverting police funding to schools and mental health and homelessness services.
Kathryn Garcia leaned into her government experience in her campaign. She advocated for increasing policing in some areas of the city to fight crime while making climate change a key part of her campaign.
Before winning The New York Times and New York Daily News endorsements, she garnered little attention, but surged in polling as the race reached its end. In the final weekend of the campaign, she and Yang rallied together to promote-ranked voting. However, while Yang backed her as his No. 2, Garcia didn't reciprocate.
How does ranked choice voting work? And why does New York City have it?
Democratic voters could select their top five preferences for mayor out of a crowded field that featured eight major candidates.
If one person had won a majority in the first round, they would have won the nomination. Since that didn't happen, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes was eliminated, and the preferences of the ballots listing them as first are redistributed. The process continues until two candidates are left, and the person with the most votes wins.
Ranked choice systems have been used in other cities, such as Oakland, California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. The change in New York is due to a 2019 ballot initiative to enact ranked voting for primaries and special elections.
Advocates say ranked voting better captures voters' preferences and can be less costly than runoff elections. It's also believed to lead to less nasty campaigning and more alliances, though the New York City race featured plenty of jabs and few candidates cross-endorsing.
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But the process has been criticized as being confusing to some voters, who may not rank five candidates, leading to their ballots being "exhausted" if all of their preferences are eliminated.
"It's our first time. We have no experience, no major cities like us have had any experience in this," said Sid Davidoff, a senior adviser to former Mayor John Lindsay. "That'll be the conversation. More than who's elected mayor, how they got elected will be the conversation after it's over."
What about the other races in New York City?
Facing the Democratic winner in November will be Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, who won the Republican primary Tuesday.
Democratic voters far outnumber Republicans in the city, and Sliwa is not expected to stand much of a chance against any Democratic candidate. He was endorsed by former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
In two other citywide elections, progressive candidates fared better. Incumbent Public Advocate Jumaane Williams appeared to cruise to reelection, while Brad Lander was leading the pack in the race for comptroller. That race also uses ranked voting; City Council Speaker Corey Johnson trailed Lander in second.
In the much-watched Manhattan district attorney race, former federal prosecutor Alvin Bragg was leading Tali Farhadian Weinstein, also a former federal prosecutor.
The winner of that race, which is not using ranked voting, will take over for Cyrus Vance, the longtime New York City prosecutor whose office is currently overseeing an investigation into former President Donald Trump and the Trump family's businesses.
Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Eric Adams leads NYC mayoral election in early ranked choice results