By Joseph Ax and Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Voters in New York City headed to the polls on Tuesday to select Democratic and Republican nominees for mayor, following a campaign dominated by debate over public safety as the city recovers from the pandemic and confronts a surge in shootings.
The winner of the crowded Democratic contest, who may not be known until mid-July, will be a heavy favorite to succeed term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio in November’s general election. Democratic registered voters outnumber Republican voters by more than a six-to-one ratio, state data shows.
The next mayor will confront deep challenges, including wealth inequality, police accountability, a lack of affordable housing and a struggling tourism industry in the United States’ most populous city.
The leading Democratic contenders include Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former sanitation chief Kathryn Garcia, civil rights lawyer and former MSNBC analyst Maya Wiley, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The election will be the first mayoral primary to use ranked-choice voting, in which voters rank up to five candidates in order of preference, adding a layer of uncertainty to the race.
At a polling station in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, voters generally welcomed the new system, though some conceded they felt pressure to do more homework than usual to reach five choices.
“Once you sit and down and read everything, then it’s actually pretty easy,” said Meg Vasu, a 30-year-old attorney.
She ranked Wiley first after coming away impressed by her performance in the mayoral debates.
“I felt that she was the best progressive choice for the city,” Vasu said.
Michael Hartman, a 41-year-old lawyer, said he ranked Garcia first, in part based on endorsements by the New York Times and the New York Daily News.
“I think she is the most competent candidate,” he said. “She has tremendous depth of experience.”
Like some other voters, he approached his ballot strategically, ranking Wiley but leaving off Adams and Yang, whom he disliked as candidates.
Voters also will choose from eight Democratic candidates seeking to replace retiring Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. The nominee, who will be all but guaranteed to win November’s general election, would inherit Vance’s criminal probe into former President Donald Trump’s business empire.
Adams, who put addressing crime at the center of his campaign, has led most recent opinion polls, displacing Yang as the front-runner. Garcia, who has run a technocratic campaign focused on her long government experience, is also within striking distance.
All three are considered more moderate and have called for increased police resources.
Wiley, a liberal, has proposed cutting $1 billion from the nearly $6 billion NYPD budget, redirecting the funding instead to other services, such as mental health counseling.
She has emerged as the preferred candidate for progressive groups, after the liberal Stringer lost numerous endorsements following two sexual misconduct allegations. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Almost all of the top candidates would make history: Adams as the city’s second Black mayor, Yang as the first Asian-American mayor, Garcia as the first female mayor and Wiley as the first Black female mayor.
Polls close at 9 p.m. ET (0100 GMT on Wednesday). Preliminary results showing voters’ first-choice votes are expected sometime after that, but barring a surprise outcome in which one candidates exceeds 50% of first-choice votes, tallying the final results will likely take weeks.
The Board of Elections intends to announce the first round of results from its tabulation of in-person votes on June 29 and plans to release a second round that includes some absentee ballots a week later. Final results are expected the week of July 12, after the deadline for voters to fix, or “cure,” deficient ballots has passed.
The use of ranked-choice voting, which incentivizes candidates to ask rivals’ supporters to rank them highly as well, prompted an unusual sight over the race’s final weekend: Yang and Garcia campaigned together on Saturday and Sunday in an apparent effort to blunt Adams’ rising momentum.
Yang encouraged his supporters to rank Garcia as their second choice; Garcia stopped short of doing so but offered praise for Yang’s campaign.
In the Republican primary election, Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels civilian patrol group, is running against Fernando Mateo, a businessman who created the “Toys for Guns” program in the 1990s.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Jonathan AllenEditing by Colleen Jenkins, Aurora Ellis and Jonathan Oatis)