It may have lacked the drama and high-stakes of last year's presidential election, but New Yorkers and voters in New Jersey still had to make important decisions Tuesday to elect local leaders — with one race surprisingly still too close to call going in to Wednesday morning.
New York City voters picked the city's next mayor on Tuesday, choosing to go with the Brooklyn borough president and former police captain who went into politics, over the GOP radio host and founder of the Guardian Angels.
Former New York City police captain and Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams, a Democrat, was heavily favored over Republican Curtis Sliwa in the race to become the next mayor of the biggest U.S. city.
Adams, who spent 22 years in the police department before winning a seat in the state senate, seemed all but assured of a victory Tuesday after he emerged as the winner from a crowded Democratic primary this summer in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1.
Adams becomes the city’s second Black mayor, after david Dinkins served from 1990-1993. He ran as a moderate in a crowded primary field, rejecting progressive mantras to “defund the police” and defended the stop-and-frisk police tactic. He brings a nuanced perspective on policing and crime, drawing on his experiences as a former police captain, an officer who gained early attention for speaking critically about the department he served in, and as someone who experienced police brutality as a teen.
Over nine days of early voting in the city, fewer than 170,000 New Yorkers turned out to vote. Sliwa said on Monday that the low turnout in places like Staten Island wouldn't spell bad news for him. But in the end, it was too much of an uphill battle to pull off what would have been a remarkable upset.
Sliwa ran a campaign punctuated by his penchant for stunts and his signature red beret, part of the Guardian Angels uniform. Adams frequently dismissed Sliwa as a clown and painted him as untrustworthy for having admitted he made up claims years ago about being kidnapped and of other exploits from the Guardian Angels’ patrols. Sliwa, in turn, portrayed Adams as an out-of-touch elitist who needed to spend more time in the streets with regular New Yorkers.
Across the state, New Yorkers are voting on several proposed changes to the state constitution, including two that could make it easier to vote.
One proposed constitutional change would remove a requirement that people must register to vote at least 10 days before an election.
Another change would make it possible for the legislature to make mail-in voting permanent. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has allowed any voters fearful of the virus to vote by mail, but Democrats want to make that permanent.
Before the pandemic, you had to be sick or out of town to vote with an absentee ballot.
Another ballot measure would alter New York’s process of drawing the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts. Republicans and some election rights groups say the referendum gives Democratic supermajorities too much power.
In the race to become Manhattan District Attorney, civil rights lawyer and former federal prosecutor Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, became the borough's first Black district attorney after defeating Republican attorney Thomas Kenniff. Bragg was heavily favored in a part of the city where Democrats drastically outnumber Republicans, and joins a growing wave of progressive, reform-minded prosecutors across the country.
He will succeed retiring District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and take on high-profile cases including the prosecution of former President Donald Trump’s company and its longtime finance chief on tax fraud charges.
Trump and Bragg already have history. As a top deputy to New York’s attorney general in 2018, Bragg helped oversee a lawsuit that led to the closure of Trump’s charitable foundation over allegations that he used the nonprofit to further his political and business interests.
Bragg, 48, spent the final days of his campaign participating in a rare judicial inquiry into the death of Eric Garner, whose pleas of “I can’t breathe” to police officers who hauled him to the ground in a chokehold because a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter protesters in 2014. Bragg called it the most “emotionally significant” case of his career.
Bragg campaigned partly on a promise to change the culture of the D.A.’s office. He said wants to “shrink the system,” declining to pursue many low-level offenses and look for alternatives to prosecuting small “crimes of poverty.”
In New Jersey, voters are casting ballots for governor and other statewide races. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is trying to fight off a challenge from Republican Jack Ciattarelli, a former state legislator, and the fight is much closer than most expected.
Incomplete returns showed Ciattarelli and the first-term governor were separated by about by fractions of percentage points, with just a couple thousand votes separating them out of more than 2.3 million cast.
In a speech to supporters after midnight, Murphy appeared confident he'll have the votes but stopped short of celebrating until all the ballots are counted.
"We're going to wait for every vote to be counted and that's how democracy works," he said. "We're all sorry that tonight did not yet be the celebration we want it to be. But as I said, when every vote is counted, and every vote will be counted, we hope to have a celebration."
New Jersey is something of a test case for Democrats' theory of how they can win in 2022 and beyond. Murphy fulfilled his campaign promises and was able to implement vastly expanded government funding for widespread prekindergarten and free community college — policies that Biden is struggling to get through the Democrats' razor-thin majorities in Congress. Murphy has embraced the left wing of the party and hosted Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders for a campaign rally last month.
While Ciattarelli has also tried to walk the line between energizing Trump voters and appealing to suburbanites, he faced a more daunting task than Youngkin — who went on to win in Virginia. New Jersey is a more Democratic state than Virginia — Murphy won his first election by 14 percentage points in 2018. He also had the power of incumbency on his side, unlike in Virginia, the only state in the nation that doesn't allow governors consecutive terms.
The few public polls in the race showed Murphy with a steady lead, although that lead was not apparent on Tuesday, and Murphy trailed for a good part of the evening before ballots from Democrat strongholds like Essex County were counted.
An easy win would have represented a sign of hope for Democrats that they can survive 2022 if they deliver on Biden's plans for a massive expansion of social safety net and climate change programs. But that is not what happened, as the close race — whether Ciattarelli wins or not — served as another promising indication for GOP hopes in the midterms