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Kathryn Garcia Makes Push in N.Y.C. Mayor’s Race Amid Rival’s Crisis

New York Times - Tue May 4 13:00

A sexual harassment allegation against Scott Stringer may open a lane in the New York City mayor’s race for Ms. Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner.

Kathryn Garcia said she hoped to appeal to voters “looking for expertise and experience.”
Credit...Hilary Swift for The New York Times

In her years as a leader in New York City government, Kathryn Garcia earned a reputation as a veteran problem solver and the admiration of political insiders.

But in the months since Ms. Garcia, the city’s former sanitation commissioner, began her campaign to be the next mayor of New York, she has struggled to use that track record to capture voter interest and break through a crowded field.

With seven weeks until the Democratic primary contest and many city residents just beginning to pay close attention to the race, there may be an opportunity for Ms. Garcia to try to jump-start her campaign — and she is seizing the moment.

On Tuesday, Ms. Garcia will air her first television ad of the campaign and announce an endorsement from Loree K. Sutton, a former city commissioner who ended her own mayoral bid in March.

The one-two punch comes just days after Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, who, like Ms. Garcia, has campaigned on his record in government, was confronted by 20-year-old allegations of sexual harassment from a former campaign worker.

The allegations against Mr. Stringer may have opened up a path for Ms. Garcia to win over voters who value experience. Mr. Stringer has vehemently denied the allegations against him, but he has nonetheless lost several key endorsements, and many candidates have called on him to drop out.

Ms. Garcia has also gained attention from remarks made by Andrew Yang, the race’s apparent front-runner, suggesting that he would welcome Ms. Garcia to serve as his No. 2 — a prospect that she has rejected with disdain.

“It definitely feels like the winds have shifted, and they are blowing into our sails,” Ms. Garcia said in an interview this week.

The new ad and Ms. Sutton’s endorsement will emphasize the message that Ms. Garcia has stuck to since kicking off her mayoral bid in December: that her pragmatic approach and experience in city government make her the person best suited to lead New York City.

“It’s not conjecture to wonder how Kathryn would operate, how she would function, how she would govern during a time of life-and-death crisis,” Ms. Sutton, who ran on a similar message, said.

Before last year, Ms. Garcia had never before run for political office, but she racked up extensive experience at the city’s sanitation, finance and environmental agencies.

“She clearly knows more about government than almost anyone I know, and I know a lot of people who know a lot about government,” said Howard Wolfson, who served as a deputy mayor under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Ms. Garcia became known for being particularly effective during crises. In 2012, she helped bring the city’s water systems back online after they were knocked out by Hurricane Sandy.

Image

Ms. Garcia, center, at a recent volunteer cleanup event.
Credit...Hilary Swift for The New York Times

During her tenure as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s sanitation commissioner, she was also deployed to temporarily oversee the troubled New York City Housing Authority in 2019. When the coronavirus swept into the city, he put her in charge of an emergency initiative to feed the needy and the homebound.

But that expertise does not appear to have resonated with voters. While polling on the race remains limited, Ms. Garcia has consistently received single-digit support.

A recent poll conducted by the news channel NY1 and Ipsos found that only 29 percent of likely voters said they were familiar with Ms. Garcia, while 37 percent said they had not heard of her at all.

Still, a large percentage of city residents remain undecided in the race, and Ms. Garcia said she was confident that she could win over those voters with her record.

“They want to make a thoughtful decision,” she said. “And they are looking for expertise and experience.”

Christina M. Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said she expected that the accusations against Mr. Stringer would prompt some of his supporters to reconsider his candidacy. Ms. Garcia’s campaign, she added, is well poised to scoop up some of them.

“If her campaign can just transfer some of those types of voters who say ‘I really just want someone who knows government’ — well, she fits the mold,” Dr. Greer said.

Ms. Garcia may also pick up voters who, in the wake of the accusations against Mr. Stringer, are convinced that a woman should lead the city for the first time in its history, Dr. Greer said.

But support from Mr. Stringer’s base is far from guaranteed. He has sought to become the leading progressive candidate in the race, while Ms. Garcia has billed herself as a nonideological technocrat.

Ms. Garcia’s campaign ad doubles down on that messaging. In the 30-second spot, she stands inside a red box labeled “in case of emergency, break glass.” As she slips on a leather jacket, she mentions her record as the city’s “go-to crisis manager.”

Then, Ms. Garcia puts on a pair of safety glasses. “When there’s a crisis,” she says, “sometimes you’ve got to break glass to solve it.”

The metaphors — escaping a box, shattering the glass ceiling, the emergency response — are beyond clear.

“It is about breaking out,” Ms. Garcia acknowledged. “But there’s also this underlying message of other people are trying to define you. And I’m going to define myself.”

Dana Rubinstein contributed reporting.