Two of the Democratic leaders in the race to become New York City’s next mayor clashed on Tuesday as an increasingly fierce campaign in the most populous US city enters its final weeks.
Andrew Yang, the technology entrepreneur who won fame as a candidate in last year’s presidential election, sparred with Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams over who was best suited to bring the city out of the coronavirus pandemic.
At a campaign event, Mr Adams, a former police officer, called his rival a “joke” who lacked the know-how to run a metropolis with 8.4 million residents.
Mr Yang hit back, calling Mr Adams a “business as usual” candidate when New Yorkers needed fresh thinking.
The two are running in the June 22 Democratic primary that will probably decide who wins the November 2 mayoral election to replace incumbent Bill de Blasio.
Republicans have won mayoral votes in the left-leaning city in the past, but that looks unlikely this year.
Recent polls show a shift away from Mr Yang, the early front-runner who benefited from name recognition gained in his 2020 presidential run.
Mr Adams and former city sanitation chief Kathryn Garcia have meanwhile clawed their way back into the close race.
Polling also suggests that centrists such as Mr Yang, Mr Adams and Ms Garcia are leading, while progressives such as Maya Wiley, a former MSNBC presenter, are not resonating with voters.
The latest PIX11 News/Emerson College poll put Ms Garcia at the front of the primary pack with 21 per cent, compared to 20 per cent for Mr Adams and 16 per cent for Mr Yang.
Ms Wiley, a former lawyer in Mr de Blasio’s administration, was at 9 per cent.
They and four other Democrats will engage in their first in-person debate on Wednesday, which is likely to focus on rising crime and radical ideas to tackle racism by cutting funds to police.
Last year, protests over police brutality, racial injustice and the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis rocked cities across the US and led to calls to defund police forces.
But New York and other cities have since had major job losses from the pandemic, strained local budgets and a national rise in crime, with a 25 per cent jump in murder for US cities in 2020.
In New York on Monday a youth, 15, was killed and eight people injured in shootings across the city.
Shootings have increased by 166 per cent, stoking fears of a return to New York’s 1980s-style crime rates.
In a campaign advertisement released on Tuesday, left-wing candidate Ms Wiley criticised the police for violence against blacks and anti-racism protesters, saying it was time to “transform” the force.
Mr Yang, Mr Adams and other moderate frontrunners have ignored such radical policies, voicing support for police and telling voters that law and order would be a priority for their administrations.
Mr Yang said police were “core” and that defunding the force was the “wrong approach”.
Democrats and Republicans will be watching to see the direction the city chooses as a bellwether for progressive politics in the era of US President Joe Biden, a centrist who largely avoided debates over Black Lives Matter protests and police funding in his campaign.