A primary primer

Early voting starts in just over three weeks

Spring is here, vaccines are flowing, and just like the lower half of my face, Fun City has re-emerged. This week is going to be a quick(ish)-and-dirty breakdown of New York City’s upcoming primary elections.

First, the logistics: The June 22 Democratic primary will determine our next mayor, among several other important local offices, and primary voting begins in just over three weeks, on June 12. (And you must be registered to vote by May 28.)

Between the introduction of ranked-choice voting and the crowded field of mayoral candidates in all the other races, I—along with many New Yorkers—have found it challenging to get a handle on my top choice. So, here are some resources/tidbits/etc. that I’ve found to be helpful, and maybe you will too.

The mayoral race

The other city races

  • Public advocate: After winning a special election in 2019 and a general election later that year, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has to compete for his seat again.

    • Why it matters: The Public Advocate is first in line to succeed the mayor, and serves as a watchdog over city government, monitoring city agencies and investigating citizen complaints (by publishing the Worst Landlord Watch List, for example). They don’t have a vote on the City Council, but can introduce bills or co-sponsor them. They can serve up to two terms, and two former Public Advocates, including de Blasio, have gone on to become mayor.

    • Who’s running? Williams is running again, as is a “bitcoin entrepreneur” and an NYU physician. Check out a handy breakdown from Rachel Holliday Smith at The City here.

  • Borough president: Four of New York City’s five Borough Presidents—The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island—have terms ending this year, and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has to be re-elected to keep his seat, won in a special election last year.

    • Why it matters: Borough Presidents primarily serve as ambassadors and hype-men/women for their corners of the city. They don’t have a final say on land use issues such as rezonings, but can offer an advisory vote and hold public hearings during the public review process. All five borough presidents share 5 percent of the city budget, or about $4 billion, to fund local initiatives. They can introduce bills to the City Council, but they can’t vote on them. Working with City Council members, they appoint all members of Community Boards.

    • Who’s running? A lot of people. The City again has a complete list with links to their campaign websites.

  • Comptroller: Current mayoral candidate Scott Stringer has served as the city’s comptroller for the maximum two terms, since 2014.

    • Why it’s important: The comptroller audits city agencies and spending, reviews city contracts, and oversees the city’s pension fund for more than 600,000 municipal workers. And (news to me) the position might be pronounced CONTROLLER?!

    • Who’s running? Candidates include City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Park Slope City Councilmember Brad Lander. Shant Shahrigian at The Daily News breaks down some of the leading candidates’ ideas here.

  • City Council: All 51 seats have an election this year, and 35 of them are wide open.

    • Why it’s important: City Council is kind of like the Congress of New York City, but each district is represented by one member. Members are responsible for proposing and vetoing bills on all aspects of city life, from policing to the plastic bag ban. They negotiate the city’s budget, which for FY2021 totals more than $88.2 billion, and work across 38 committees to oversee city agencies and programs. The Council has a final say over zoning changes.

    • Who’s running? More than 300 candidates. See what district you’re in here, and who’s running here.

Ranked-choice voting

For the first time, New York is using ranked-choice voting in a citywide election. That means each voter gets to rank up to five candidates in the mayoral election and other municipal elections. You can practice filling out a ranked-choice ballot and see how votes are counted here. But here are some quick answers to questions you might have (can you tell I’m getting tired):

  • You can still vote for just one candidate, but if your first choice is eliminated, so is your influence on the election. The more candidates you pick, the more likely your ballot will have an impact.

  • Ranking other candidates does not affect your first choice.

  • Only rank people you’d actually want in office.


And here are some of my favorite recent photos of our outgoing mayor Doing Things, or what some are calling The Spring of Bill.