This week in US politics: New York’s mayoral race holds clues about the future Democratic agenda

This week in US politics: New York’s mayoral race holds clues about the future Democratic agenda
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Welcome to your weekly run-down of all the big news, strange rules and interesting happenings from the world of US politics.

Nota bene: No wrap for the next two weeks as we sneak in some vacation time. We can’t promise souvenirs upon our return, but we know from experience that our capacity for clever lines goes up after these little breaks. 

Most Americans are still reaching for paracetamol and Gatorade, nursing that stress hangover from the 2020 election. But there’s one bunch that’s up and alert, preparing for a highly consequential trip to the ballot box.

Maybe it’s only fitting that they’re in the city that never sleeps.

New York’s mayoral race is one to watch for clues about the future of US politics. With 8.5 million citizens, the most populous city in the nation is a testing ground for national policy themes like pandemic re-opening, police reform, and economic equality.

Groups of people sit on the grass in Central Park in New York
Like the rest of the US, New York is emerging from coronavirus restrictions as vaccination rates soar.(Reuters: Caitlin Ochs)

And as one of the biggest political stages in the country, New York produces political stars who often rise to national prominence.

You might have heard of a certain New York-raised real estate magnate who went on to win the White House? Or a House representative from New York’s 14th district who’s better known by her three-letter acronym than most other Democrats?

Nowadays, the city is fiercely left-leaning (76 per cent voted for Biden in 2020). That means the whole mayoral contest is likely to be decided by the Democratic primary elections on June 22, well before the general election happens in November.

The current Mayor, Democrat Bill de Blasio, has reached his term limit, and the lack of an incumbent has drawn a cavalcade of candidates to the race — 15 to be exact.

The ones topping polls are worth keeping an eye on. Here’s a few names to know:

1) Andrew Yang

Yang ran a plucky underdog campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, getting more support and donations than the pundits predicted. He then stayed in the national conversation as a media commentator as the rest of the race played out.

The former tech executive is bringing the same internet-savvy campaign tactics (where no headline is a bad one) and discuss-at-the-bar ideas, like universal basic income, to this race. The polls suggest it’s working better at the local level.

2) Eric Adams

The other frontrunner is a former police officer and current Brooklyn Borough President.

Adams is running in the moderate lane of this race (he was once a registered Republican but told reporters he’d actually always voted for Democrats) and wants to bring self-professed “blue collar” values to a city that’s gentrifying faster than the Lamborghinis double-parked on Madison Avenue.

Think of him as a pseudo-Biden, trying to court working class and older minority voters.

Brooklyn Borough President and New York City mayoral candidate Eric Adams speaks
Eric Adams has been closing the gap on Andrew Yang as polling day approaches.(Reuters: Andrew Kelly)

Other candidates worth watching are 3) the New York Times-endorsed, former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and 4) Maya Willey, a former counsel to de Blasio who’s got the backing of powerhouse progressives.

One more thing to note on this race: New York City will use a form of voting we’re extremely familiar with here in Australia (no, it’s not drawing unmentionables on your ballot or munching up a democracy sausage).

Ranked-choice voting — numbering a box for up to five candidates in this race — is making its New York debut, and it’s got pollsters in a tizzy.

Experts told us last year that meaningful change towards de-polarising the US election system would start in big, influential states, then spread.

Like the song says: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

Big story of the week

This week marked a full year since George Floyd’s death shook up the world’s conversation around racial justice. Across the US, the anniversary had activists gathering and Americans asking: what’s changed?

The George Floyd Justice In Policing Act — the federal government’s intended answer — is still caught up in partisan negotiations.

A shop called 'Cup Foods' with flowers outside the entrance
George Floyd was killed outside this convenience store after a worker called police claiming he was using counterfeit money. (ABC News: Emily Olson)

Some cities — including the site of Floyd’s murder, Minneapolis — are joining a trend towards removing police from “enforcement-heavy” activities like traffic stops for expired registration tags or seatbelt offences.

But violence in Minneapolis is proving a mainstay. A record 27 homicides have occurred in 2021 so far, reflecting a wave of increased crime across America in the wake of the pandemic.

When it comes to Floyd’s legacy, it can be hard to pick out a clear thread, let alone one Americans agree on. For more on this complex issue, head here for analysis from ABC North America correspondent Greg Jennett.Last week in US PoliticsAn Arizona ballot recount makes US democracy look like a circus, but it’s also ground zero for a Republican election strategy. Read more

World’s Greatest Deliberative Body

It’s hard not to read this like a symbolic moment: Four months after the January 6 Capitol riot, the 2,000 remaining National Guard troops stationed in Washington DC are returning home.

The number had dwindled from 26,000 at its peak, slowly decreasing as fencing around the city came down and the threat of violence cooled.

Yet, that threat isn’t completely gone, and the damage done during the riot hasn’t fully been repaired — we mean that literally and metaphorically.

People climbing up a wall leading to the US Capitol building
The US Capitol was besieged by Trump supporters angry about the former president’s loss(AP: Jose Luis Magana)

Because here’s another moment that feels symbolic: The creation of an independent probe into the riot became the first legislative item that prompted Senate Republicans to use their filibuster powers.

The oft-misunderstood political move (head here if you’re catching up) has surfaced plenty of times during these first four months of Congress’s session, but only as a threat.

The Republican opposition to the probe seems like yet another measure of the party’s internal strife over how to move on from Donald Trump (or, you know, not move on).

Racking up some filibuster headlines now is a good way to avoid racking up some Trump headlines later.

On the next episode

US president Biden shakes Russian President Putin's hand at a meeting in Moscow in 2011
Joe Biden’s first international trip will feature a sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Reuters: Alexander Natruskin/File photo)

According to both candidate Biden and President Biden, Russia is America’s greatest threat to security and global diplomacy.

So maybe it’s no surprise that Biden is using his first international trip as President to meet face-to-face with Vladimir Putin at the Geneva Summit next month.

The White House says it hopes the talks will help build a “stable and predictable” relationship with the Kremlin, but it’s a fine line to walk.

Biden levied sanctions against Russia three times in the first two months of his presidency, speaking out against interference in the past two presidential elections, a cyber attack involving nine US agencies and the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The only thing that feels certain is that Biden won’t take the same approach of his predecessor.

The meet-up is scheduled for June 16.

Also on the next episode (but actually like 10 episodes from now)

Biden ordered US intelligence agencies to spend the next 90 days investigating the origins of a virus that’s killed nearly 600,000 Americans.

The optics frame Biden as at least open to a theory that China leaked coronavirus from a lab — something Trump said repeatedly. 

Australia joined the US and other nations in putting pressure on the World Health Organization to investigate more thoroughly, too.

It’s not entirely dramatic to say that until the world gets a clear answer, global diplomacy hangs in the balance.


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