Incumbent New York City mayors are hard to beat. They have widespread name recognition and vast patronage powers that reach into every corner of the city. They can hoover up campaign donations from both well-heeled business interests and municipal labor unions that want to stay on Hizzoner’s good side. If progressives don’t want to spend eight years watching Eric Adams cater to the cops and the 1% while the rest of our city government withers, they would do well to coalesce around a viable alternative in advance of 2025 when Adams is up for re-election. But first someone has to step up.
Most mayoral aspirants will be inclined to wait until Adams is term-limited in 2029. But there are several good reasons to run sooner instead of later. First, Adams squeaked out a narrow victory in 2021 and his approval numbers continue to languish in the mid-30s. Secondly, Adams has no real accomplishments to point to and is best known to many for his busy nightlife. And third, breaking out of a jam-packed field in 2029 will be at least as challenging for a candidate as jumping the line and going toe-to-toe with the incumbent in 2025.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will run for president someday. At least that’s the conventional wisdom about the bartender-turned-congresswoman whose upset victory in 2018 made her an overnight political sensation. As a mayoral candidate, Ocasio-Cortez’s charisma, organizing skills and small dollar fundraising juggernaut would serve her well. She would be NYC’s first female mayor, and the prospect of having such a high-profile politician leading the city would flatter New Yorkers who love to see their city take center stage. It would also be an opportunity for AOC to show she can not only talk a good game but can govern effectively in a high-pressure environment.
While being mayor of New York City comes with a large spotlight, the day-to-day details of governing the city — wooing neighborhood power brokers; ensuring essential services are delivered; bargaining with municipal unions over their next contracts; overseeing a police department accustomed to acting as a law unto itself — can be quite parochial and unlikely to impress future early state voters in South Carolina and New Hampshire. Every modern New York City mayor (Lindsey, Koch, Giuliani, Bloomberg and De Blasio) who has sought higher office has flopped badly. It’s unlikely we’ll see a Mayor AOC try to break the curse.
Ocasio-Cortez’s fellow Squad member Jamaal Bowman founded and led a well-regarded Bronx middle school for 10 years. In 2020, he defeated a 16-term incumbent to win his congressional seat which encompasses parts of the Bronx and the suburbs north of the city.
Like AOC, Bowman as a mayoral candidate would rack up progressive political endorsements. His association with the Squad would ensure a large small-dollar fundraising haul. A happy warrior on the campaign trail, Bowman is capable of building a broad, citywide multi-racial alliance.
As a Black man from a similarly humble background as the mayor, Bowman could make inroads with Adams’ core base of support among working- class Black people. He could also derail a rhetorical strategy Adams is likely to resort to — claiming that a vote against him is an act of anti-Black racism that repeats the injustice that was done to David Dinkins, the only mayor since 1977 to not win reelection to a second term — Dinkins, who was Black, narrowly lost to Rudy Giuliani in 1993 one year after Giuliani egged on a racist police riot outside City Hall by thousands of drunken white cops who were furious with Dinkins.
Bowman lives in Yonkers with his wife and three kids so residency could be an issue. On the other hand, Adams ran for mayor while living in Fort Lee, New Jersey with his girlfriend. At the end of the day, Bowman may not want to be mayor for the same reasons that would discourage AOC. With his proven ability to win votes in the city and the suburbs, he would be a formidable candidate to primary Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2026. Of the two positions — mayor and governor — the latter has far more power.
NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has already won citywide office, assembling a coalition that spans both older Black voters and younger white progressives. He would have been the frontrunner to succeed Bill de Blasio if he had entered the 2021 mayoral race. Instead, he challenged Gov. Kathy Hochul from the left in the 2022 Democratic primary and lost by more than 40 points. Maybe Williams will be restless for a promotion by 2025. But given that he wouldn’t run for mayor when the position was his for the taking, it’s hard to see him running for it as an underdog against a fellow Brooklyn Democrat.
This affable Park Slope progressive upset Council Speaker Corey Johnson to win an open contest for City Comptroller in 2021. As Comptroller, he has wide powers to investigate the workings of the mayor’s administration. To date, he hasn’t been nearly as aggressive in going after the mayor as his predecessor Scott Stringer was with De Blasio. In the end, it’s hard to see Lander wanting to spend months being denounced as racist for primarying Adams in 2025 when he can wait and try his luck in 2029.
State Senator Jessica Ramos
This former de Blasio aide rode the 2018 Blue Wave to an upset victory over a conservative Democratic incumbent in her Western Queens district. She then helped move the State Senate decisively to the left after decades of inertia. Ramos chairs the Senate Labor Committee and is close with many unions. She’s an energetic fundraiser who has endorsed in local races across the city in the past couple of cycles.
She clearly has ambitions to move up, but to what? If/when AOC runs for higher office, Ramos would be a leading contender to claim her congressional seat. Ramos could also bide her time until 2029 when Adams would be term-limited.
However, Ramos refused to patiently wait “her turn” when she prevailed in 2018. If she jumped into the mayor’s race against Adams in 2025, she could coalesce an alliance of progressives who have had enough of Adams’ pro-1% policies as well as more identity-focused liberals who want to see New York City elect its first woman mayor. Ramos could also mobilize Hispanic voters in a city where they are the second largest racial group but hold no citywide office. A factor that could deter Ramos is that unions almost always endorse incumbents. If that turns out to be the case with Adams, would she run for mayor against the wishes of some of her closest political allies?
I’m putting the cart even further in front of the horse here, but if progressives want to mount a strong primary challenge against Hochul (and a decrepit state party establishment) in 2026, a Bowman-Ramos ticket would be dynamite.
Ron Kim may be the single most courageous state legislator in Albany. When most of his colleagues were still cowering in the shadow of King Cuomo, this Queens Assemblymember publicly called out the governor for his role in sending COVID-infected hospital patients to nursing homes during the first wave of the pandemic. Cuomo’s decision led to the deaths of as many as 15,000 elderly New Yorkers. In addition to hastening the downfall of a tyrannical governor, Kim has also wrangled with politically powerful forces in the Chinese-American community who have subjected thousands of home health-care attendants to years of abusive labor practices and rampant wage theft. Kim ran for Public Advocate once before in the 2019 special election to fill an open seat left by Leticia James when she became New York Attorney General and would be a natural fit for that position. But, if there’s a void to be filled in the 2025 mayoral race, this fearless public servant would stand in sharp contrast to an incumbent mayor who has catered to all the worst elements in New York City politics.
For Democrats, who have watched Asian voters suddenly swing toward the Republicans since 2020, electing the city’s first Asian mayor would help bring this fast-growing and once-dependable bloc of voters back into the fold.
The New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America has won seven state legislative seats and two spots on City Council since 2018 by targeting favorable districts it can swarm with volunteer canvassers. Running a mayoral candidate would be a radical departure. A DSA candidate would be heavily outspent and likely have a harder time coalescing the full gamut of progressive endorsements. The upside of diving into a David vs. Goliath mayoral contest is that, win or lose, a DSA candidate would be able to grab the spotlight that comes with a mayoral race and use it to spread their vision of a socialist New York.
All of DSA’s electeds have all shown a deep commitment to public service and to using their positions as bully pulpits for building a socialist movement. Perhaps the one best suited to run against Adams is State Senator Jabari Brisport, former public-school teacher like Chicago’s Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson. Brisport, who would be New York’s first openly-gay mayor, is a gifted public speaker and a proven vote getter. He defeated a machine-backed incumbent legislator by 22 points to win his Brooklyn Senate seat in 2020. He defeated an Adams-backed primary challenger by 50 points in 2022. He would also be effective at defusing Adams’ racial demagoguery and challenging the Mayor to defend his meager record.