The race for the mayoralty of New York City is one of the most important political contests in a generation, and the winner faces an enormous challenge. This article is the second in a series of profiles of key candidates.
14. April 2021
On that late February morning in TriBeCa, the most experienced politician in the race for the mayoralty of New York sat outside, fogged glasses at the ready for the election, which seemed to be slipping further and further out of his sight.
For Scott M. Stringer, each step in his steady ascent in New York politics – as a teenager he was a member of the Community Planning Board, became a protégé of Congressman Jerrold Nadler, went from borough president to state assemblyman to Manhattan borough president to city comptroller – set the stage for his long-awaited election as mayor.
He has a lot of experience, boasts many supporters and is elated when describing his passion for his hometown. According to polls and interviews with more than 30 activists, legislators and other Democrats in New York, the mayor’s campaign has not been enough to build enthusiasm for his candidacy.
Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Stringer is working hard to change that.
If I were a book and you were in a bookstore and saw a book cover, you would say: I don’t know if I want to read this, said Mr…. Stringer frames his image with his hands and extends it from his head to his midline.
It’s my job to have people from all walks of life take that book out of the closet, open it up and look at the different chapters of my career and the things I’ve worked for.
Mr. Stringer, 60, appears to have the resources, resume and name recognition to do so, while only Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is currently available.
He hopes that his carefully cultivated political network and the atmosphere of a citywide emergency will help him attract voters motivated by both his progressive message and the promise of expertise in sustainable management.
M. Stringer was the first candidate of the Working Families Caucus on Tuesday, making him the standard-bearer for the leftist race.
In recent months, however, it was Andrew Young, accepted as a celebrity in the 2020 presidential race, who was leading the polls and putting a lot of energy into the mayor’s campaign. Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Mr. Stringer, who started the race as the favorite, called Mr. Klaus the candidate of the year. Young as an unserious advocate of unserious ideas, even as he dominates media coverage.
Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Adams and Maya D. Wiley, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, suggested Mr. Stringer for a few big jobs. These candidates, and others in a crowded field, are also vying with Mr. Stringer for the mantle of government experience or the title of standard-bearer for the left.
And despite all his celebrity endorsements, detailed policy plans and ambitious ideas on topics like climate and post-pandemic education, Stringer is also a white man who has spent his career in the ranks of traditional political institutions. New York Democrats have chosen candidates of color and political outsiders in several elections in recent years.
Now he faces his most difficult balancing act: campaigning like a seasoned public servant while trying to ally himself with a left-wing activist.
He is trying to bridge the gap between new and old supporters, Susan Kang, a member of the steering committee of the New York Democratic Socialist Party, said in an interview late last month. You know that if you try to make everyone happy, you’re not going to make anyone happy? That’s what got people thinking.
Yet Stringer, with the support of the family work group, found a new reason for optimism. For very progressive voters, it signaled that the group felt they should support Mr. Stringer’s candidacy at a time when the left is increasingly concerned about Mr. Stringer. Young people are joining forces.
Mr. Stringer still disagrees with other important proposals, including those of the United Federation of Teachers. And he knows that many voters are just starting to pay attention. The big debate doesn’t start until May, and the primary on the 22nd. June may not be up until more candidates make TV ads in the final weeks of the race.
One supporter, however, compared Mr. Stringer to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Stringer’s pick for the 2020 presidential primary. Like Ms. Warren, Mr. Stringer has a long list of political projects and a thoughtful approach to governance. But Ms. Warren, an ally, noted, did not win.
Stringer said his campaign is planned for the next few weeks as a very aggressive campaign reminding people of my record, who I am, what I believe in and what I will do as mayor.
I need a message, he said.
Any book written about Mr Stringer will have a common theme: It’s a political animal.
Mr. Stringer, who was born into a politically active Jewish family, grew up in Washington Heights. His father was an advisor to Mayor Abraham Beame, his mother was elected to the city council, and his stepfather also worked in the city government.
At the age of 12, he began his election campaign as a volunteer for MP Bella S. Abzug, his mother’s cousin who was running for mayor.
At the age of 16 he was appointed to a local planning committee. His appointment made the front page of the New York Times, and while he was on board, he contributed at least one version of a phrase he still uses today: that the A train was his lifeline. Soon he was working for Mr. Nadler and was part of his editorial team.
He was a bit cheeky, Mr. B. recalls. Nadler. He learned to contain it and work very carefully with people.
Stringer, who was a tenant organizer, also worked as a Democratic district leader in the 1980s, building a base in the Upper West Side, where the political culture reflects a vibrant Jewish community.
Longtime observers tend to use Yiddish expressions of affection and derision to describe him. Fans call the affable Mr. Stringer, married with two sons, a man. Critics secretly call the curious candidate a snake.
New York voters have often embraced bolder politicians.
Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Stringer, who taught his parrot to say Vote Scott, is working on it.
In a campaign video, he is asked to say something about himself that might surprise others, but Mr. Stringer insists: I’m very funny. After a reporter asked him to tell a joke, Stringer spent the rest of the hour of the interview sprinkling his remarks with words of wisdom.
Scott, when he’s not doing his political work, is actually pretty funny, he has a great personality, said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. But I think his years of experience have given him a lot of restraint in performing his governmental function.
Mr. Stringer was elected to the State Assembly in 1992 after an unsuccessful candidacy for the bar. In Albany, he pushed for certain reforms to the insular political culture of the Capitol, such as requiring legislators to be present at votes.
He considered and rejected several options for higher office, including his candidacy for mayor in 2013. Instead, he ran for city council. In the biggest test of his career, he faced the late nomination of Eliot Spitzer, a profound and aggressive former governor who resigned after revelations about his involvement in a prostitution gang.
Many expected Mr. Spitzer to have missed Mr. Stringer. For a while it seemed to be going in the right direction. But Mr. Stringer held out in a tough personal race and overcame a vote deficit, although Mr. Spitzer defeated Mr. Stringer by a significant margin among black voters.
We didn’t just fall behind at the beginning, we fell behind at the end, Stringer said. I fought during the debates, during the campaign, and I won. So for me, this positioning is what I’m used to.
But there are crucial differences: In 2013, Stringer received overwhelming support from unions and the political establishment. The work orientations are now more spread out.
And this race is becoming a pandemic. He was wary of personal agitation after his mother died of Covid-related complications. Now that he’s been inoculated, he’s trying to keep up with the breakneck pace that some competitors, including Mr. Young, have been maintaining for months.
As an auditor, Mr. Stringer has handled issues ranging from audits of housing authorities to the promotion of kosher and halal foods in public schools.
He also supported the closure of Rikers Island and played a key role in the effort to divert $4 billion of the city’s pension funds away from fossil fuel companies; he cited this initiative when asked about the proudest achievement of his career.
Those who have observed Mr. Stringer in that role say he has been heavily involved in issuing audits and reports on issues important to the city’s well-being, while maintaining an established tradition of confrontation with the mayor.
Did you miss any contracts? That doesn’t appear to be the case, said state Senator John C. Liu, who preceded Mr. Stringer as comptroller and has yet to receive support in the mayoral race. Has the agency conducted audits that have improved its performance? I think they were.
In general, Mr. Liu decided: He did a great job as a controller.
Catherine S. Wild, who heads the New York City Business Partnership, said she thought Mr. Stringer had shown courage by standing up to the mayor.
Stringer has called for more openness about diversity on the board and has been highly critical of the De Blasio administration on issues ranging from affordable housing to compliance with contracts with preschools.
He aggressively and essentially performed all of the important duties of an inspector, Wilde said.
To many New Yorkers, Stringer has a reputation for being a traditional Democrat. He endorsed Hillary Clinton for Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race and served as a delegate for Clinton. In 2018, he supported Governor Andrew M. Cuomo against his progressive challenger, Cynthia Nixon.
Stringer has since called for Cuomo’s resignation over allegations of sexual harassment.
Last September, a group of prominent left-wing New York legislators, including many women and people of color, gathered in Inwood Hill Park to hear Mr. Stringer applaud his announcement for mayor.
Those were the years of the stage.
In early 2018, Alessandra Biaggi and Jessica Ramos were political unknowns trying to depose powerful moderate members of the state Senate. Mr. Stringer listened to Ms. Biaggi over pickles at the Riverdale Diner; Ms. Ramos, from Queens, asked for her support over drinks in Albany.
He became an early advocate for several rebellions and cultivated sincere relationships through strategy sessions, phone calls and meals. At the time, this aid was an uncertain political gamble.
Last fall, they seem to have borne fruit: When he announced his campaign for mayor, he received support from a diverse group of progressive legislators, including state Senators Biaggi and Ramos, who their admirers say represent the future of the party.
Less clear is whether their support will turn into enthusiasm for Mr. Stringer among voters skeptical of his leftist bona fides.
During the 2005 presidential campaign, a rival criticized Mr. Stringer for accepting money from developers while traditional city donors were looking for open-minded politicians (then-Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, did not accept donations). Just recently, he said he would no longer take money from big developers when prominent progressives pointed out the problem to him.
He has become a fierce critic of segregated schools and has said definitively that he wants to abolish the entrance exams that determine admission to the best urban high schools and which some critics say perpetuate racial inequality. But in recent years it has generally not been associated with major integration efforts.
And he seems uncomfortable discussing aspects of the police debate.
During the outcry over the murder of George Floyd, Stringer said it was time to de-escalate the police situation.
But Mr. Stringer no longer emphasizes the call to norm, a term associated with a particular movement – another reminder that he is not a purely left-wing activist. Asked if he found the phrase controversial, Stringer didn’t want to answer directly.
I used it, he said. I don’t think you should be judged by this or that word. And I think when you talk about these issues, you have to be prepared to present a plan.
He proposed $1.1 billion in police funding over a four-year period and was more specific on the issue than some of his competitors, although Diana Morales, perhaps the most left-wing candidate in the race, went much further, calling for $3 billion in cuts to the police budget.
No saga better illustrates Mr. Stringer’s political dealings than his support in the race for Queens’ OM in 2019. His support for Tiffany L. Cabana, the Democratic socialist from New York who favored Melinda Katz, a colleague from his Assembly days who narrowly won, delighted progressive activists but baffled his former allies.
Critics who spoke with him at the time say Mr. Stringer privately described New Yorkers as left-wing, and they felt he wanted to embrace that change. Mr. Stringer said he thought Ms. Caban, who is currently running for City Council, was a more qualified candidate, but he also seemed nonchalant when challenged on his decision in an interview with the Jewish Department, much to the chagrin of some activists.
Scott, you know, seems to have changed some of his views over the years, said Rep. Gregory Meeks, the Democratic chairman from Queens. It has caused him, at least in Queens County that I can speak to, some difficulty.
Since his early days in politics, Stringer has learned to think strategically about relationships.
He has spoken to business leaders and his main message, that he would be prepared to cause a stir from day one, is not ideological.
Wild said some business leaders know him as a steady hand.
If I think this is getting completely out of hand, we will have a conversation, she added.
Priority votes, in which voters can support up to five candidates, give Mr… Test Stringer’s political skills like never before.
Even though he is not the favorite of the very progressive voters, he hopes to be their second choice. He can also work with moderates who see him as a manager rather than a warmonger. But first he must establish his reputation as a leading candidate in the home race.
Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Stringer knows he has important work to do.
In a campaign video he made to introduce himself to voters, he said his favorite movie was The Candidate, a 1972 film about a dazzling young candidate, played by Robert Redford, who misunderstands the governmental process.
It has little to do with the character of Mr. Redford in common. But Mr Stringer must also prove he can win.
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