Citizens Union, the city’s oldest political reform group, endorsed Kathyrn Garcia for Mayor and also ranked Eric Adams and Scott Stringer as choices two and three under the new Ranked Choice Voting in use for the first time in New York City.
The organization, founded in 1897 to fight Tammany Hall, stopped at three choices, leaving two lines of its imagined ballot blank, thus taking sides in a debate about whether it is incumbent on voters to come up with the five choices they are allowed under the new system.
“This is our most consequential Mayoral election in decades and our first under ranked choice voting,” the chair of Citizens Union, Randy Mastro, said in announcing the group’s rankings on Friday, the eve of the start of early voting.
He said that after “rigorously evaluating” 7 candidates, two had risen above the rest. “We prefer Kathryn Garcia for her proven track record of successfully managing City agencies through crises. We prefer Eric Adams for his inspiring leadership and impressive agenda emphasizing public safety and economic recovery.”
Garcia outpolled Adams in Ranked Choice Voting among the Board members of Citizens Union, Mastro said. Mastro added that Citizens Union had decided to express a third place preference in the Democratic primary for Scott Stringer “for his decades of public service and pertinent experience as New York City Comptroller.”
In stopping at three choices, the reform group was, in effect, also offering an opinion on a debate about Ranked Choice Voting itself. The system is designed to allow voters to support their favorite candidate, even if that isn’t a front runner, without wasting their ballot.
Voters can list up to five choices. If their favorite candidate is eliminated their vote is moved to their second choice in a winnowing process conducted after the voting is completed. This process continues until a voter’s final choice if needed.
If their final choice is eliminated the ballot is said to be “exhausted,” which may also be a good word to describe the mental stress this has put on voters.
A ballot with fewer than five choices is likely to be exhausted sooner, and thus have no bearing on the outcome.
The New York Times a few days ago warned that exhausted ballots could have a significant impact on the final count. “Without any explanation of how their ballots translate to electoral outcomes, voters might not understand why it’s in their interest to rank the maximum number of candidates,” The Times wrote.
In endorsing only three candidates for Mayor, Citizen’s Union seemed to be following the advice of its own voter guide, ElectNYC.org, that voting was the top goal even if you did not have five candidates you were ready to vote for.
Eleanor Randolph, a journalist and director of ElectNYC.org, said the Times was right, at least in theory. “But I think we were worried more about exhausted voters than exhausted ballots,” she said. “More than anything, we want people to vote. If they go in and vote for one person, at least they’ve voted. That’s better, but the best is the full RCV — 1-5.”
ElectNYC.org is funded by the Citizens Union Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Citzens Union.
While endorsements, in general, have a limited impact on political races, they may be more significant than usual in this race, as many voters engage late and struggle to get informed about the candidates.
Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, was boosted into the top tier of candidates by the earlier endorsement of the New York Times and Daily News. Similarly, Maya Wiley, a civil right activist and former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, was helped to consolidate her position as the leading progressive candidate by the endorsement of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Queens and the Bronx.
Citizens Union Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum said the candidates were judged by their alignment with Citizens Union’s reform agenda, specifically views on ethics, election reform and police accountability; an assessment of their political and governmental skills in achieving their agenda once in office; knowledge of the needs of their constituents; and ability to wage an effective and competitive campaign.
The group also offered endorsements for Comptroller and other races.
“As we recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, the role of the Comptroller takes on added importance,” Gotbaum explained. “Our two top preferences are Brian Benjamin and Corey Johnson, in that order. Benjamin’s track record, both in the private sector and as a State Senator, will allow him to effectively serve as the City’s chief fiscal officer. And Corey Johnson’s service as Speaker of the City Council provided him experience in managing the budget process that has also prepared him for this important position.”
Gotbaum added that Citizens Union’s Board decided to express a third place preference for Brad Lander, a Brooklyn city council member, “for offering a unique perspective on what the Comptroller can do for the City.”
In Manhattan races, Citizen’s Union offered these endorsements:
Manhattan Borough President
1. Brad Hoylman
2. Mark Levine
Manhattan District Attorney
Dual preference of Alvin Bragg and Tali Farhadian Weinstein
City Council District 3 (Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Greenwich Village, West SoHo, Hudson Square, Times Square, Garment District, Flatiron, Upper West Side)
1. Erik Bottcher
City Council District 5 (Upper East Side’s Yorkville, Lenox Hill, Carnegie Hill, Roosevelt Island, Midtown East, Sutton Place, El Barrio in East Harlem)
1. Julie Menin
City Council District 6 (Central Park, Lincoln Square, Upper West Side, Clinton)
1. Gale Brewer
2. Jeffrey Omura
City Council District 7 (Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights)
1. Shaun Abreu
Mastro said Citizens Union had not endorsed in the Republican Primary because the candidates had declined to participate in the group’s assessment process.
Andrew Yang, one of the leading Democratic candidates also declined to participate in the Citizens Union review process, Gotbaum reported.