Scott Stringer's deep experience in New York City politics has yet to take off in the mayor's race. Could Working Families Party Approval Help?
The New York City Mayor Race is one of the most momentous political competitions of a generation, with immense challenges waiting for the winner. This is the second in a series of lead candidate profiles.
April 14, 2021
One late February morning in Tribeca, the most seasoned politician in the New York Mayor's race sat outside, fidgeting with fogged glasses as he grappled with assessing an election that seemed to slip out of his grasp.
For Scott M. Stringer every chapter of his steady rise through New York politics – as a teenager on a community planning board; become a protégé of representative Jerrold Nadler; The move from district manager to MP, to President of the Manhattan District and finally to City Administrator laid the foundation for a long-awaited mayor's offer.
He has deep experience, a number of referrals, and is almost cheering when he describes his passion for his hometown. For much of the mayoral campaign, none of this was enough to generate a surge of excitement for his candidacy, according to surveys and interviews with more than 30 activists, lawmakers, and other New York Democrats.
Mr. Stringer is working hard to change that.
"If I was a book and you were in a bookstore and saw the cover of the book, you could say, 'I'm not sure I want to read this," said Mr Stringer, framing a picture of himself with his hands Head to midline.
"My job is to get people from different backgrounds to take this book off the shelf, open the book, look at the different chapters of my career and the topics I have championed."
The 60-year-old Stringer appears to have the resources, résumé, and name recognition to do just that, and so far has only left Eric Adams, President of the Brooklyn District, behind in the funds available.
He hopes his carefully maintained political network and mood of a citywide emergency will help him attract voters motivated by both his progressive pitch and his promise of steady management skills.
On Tuesday, Mr Stringer was confirmed as the Working Families Party's first choice, which helped support his efforts to emerge as the breed's left-wing standard bearer.
However, in recent months, it was Andrew Yang who was recognized as a 2020 presidential contest celebrity who conducted polls and gave significant energy to the mayoral campaign. Mr. Stringer, who started the race as the front runner, has tried to brand Mr. Yang as a dubious supplier of "half-hearted ideas" despite dominating news media coverage.
Mr. Adams and Maya D. Wiley, a former attorney for Mayor Bill de Blasio, dismissed Mr. Stringer on several important employment memos. These candidates and others in the crowded field also compete with Mr. Stringer for the mantle of "government experience" or the title of left standard bearer.
And for all of his prominent supporters, detailed policy plans, and ambitious ideas on issues like climate and post-pandemic education, Mr. Stringer is also a white man who has spent his career advancing through traditional political institutions. The New York Democrats have chosen to raise candidates for color and political underdogs in several recent races.
Now he faces his most challenging balancing act yet, as he fights as a seasoned government official and tries to ally with the left activist.
"He's trying to thread that needle between new and old followers," Susan Kang, a member of the New York Democratic Socialists' Steering Committee, said in an interview late last month. "You know, if you're trying to make everyone happy, aren't you making anyone happy? That gave people a break."
With the approval of the Working Families Party, however, Mr. Stringer found new grounds for optimism. It was a signal to deeply progressive voters that the group believes they should band together to support Mr. Stringer's candidacy at a time of growing left-wing concern about Mr. Yang.
Mr. Stringer continues to fight for other key recommendations, including one from the United Federation of Teachers. And he is aware that many voters have only just begun to pay attention. Major debates don't start until May, and the June 22nd primary race may not crystallize until more candidates go on the air with television commercials in the final weeks of the race.
Still, a supporter recently compared Mr. Stringer to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, the election of Mr. Stringer in the 2020 presidential primary election. Like Ms. Warren, Mr. Stringer has a long list of political plans and ponders governance. But Mrs. Warren, the ally, did not win.
Mr Stringer said his campaign was planned to be "very aggressive" in the coming weeks "to remind people of my files and who I am and what I believe in and what I would do as mayor."
"I need a moment in the news," he said.
A political education
Every book about Mr. Stringer would have a common theme: He's a political animal.
Mr. Stringer was born into a politically active Jewish family and grew up in Washington Heights. His father was an attorney for Mayor Abraham Beame, his mother was elected to the city council, and his stepfather also worked in the city government.
He made his campaign debut at the age of 12, volunteering for Representative Bella S. Abzug, his mother's cousin who later ran for mayor.
At the age of 16 he was won for a position as Community Planning Board. His appointment made the front page of the New York Times, and while on the board he refined a version of at least one line he still uses today: that the A train was his "lifeline." Soon he was working for Mr. Nadler and serving on his meeting staff.
"He was a little cocky," recalled Mr. Nadler. "He learned to contain it and to work very carefully with people."
Mr. Stringer, who worked as a tenant organizer, also served as a Democratic District Leader in the 1980s, building a base on the Upper West Side, where the political culture reflects a vibrant Jewish community.
Longtime watchers tend to use Yiddish phrases of affection and derision to describe him. Admirers call the more affable Mr. Stringer, a married public school father of two sons, a "human". Critics privately reject the candidate with the nasal voice as "nebulous".
New York City voters have often adopted politicians with bolder, more distinctive personalities.
Mr. Stringer, who once taught his parrot to say "Vote for Scott", is working on it.
When asked in a campaign video to share something about himself that might surprise others, Mr. Stringer insisted, "I'm really funny." After a reporter asked him to tell a joke, Mr. Stringer spent the remainder of an hour-long interview trying to to spray his remarks with cracks of wisdom.
"Scott, when he's not doing his job politically, he's actually pretty funny, he's got a great personality," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. "But I think because of his years of experience he is protected when he is doing his government work."
Mr Stringer was elected to the State Assembly in 1992 after efforts to run bars failed. In Albany, he pushed for some reforms to the State Capitol's island political culture, including requiring lawmakers to be present to cast their votes.
He pondered and gave up several options for higher office, including a mayor's offer for 2013. Instead, he ran for City Comptroller. In the biggest test of his career, he faced a late entry from Eliot Spitzer, the deeply pocketed and aggressive former governor who resigned after revelations about his involvement in a prostitution ring.
Many had expected that Mr. Spitzer would dampen Mr. Stringer. For a while he seemed to be on the right track. But Mr Stringer held his own in a brutally personal race and overcame an electoral deficit, even though Mr Spitzer clearly defeated Mr Stringer with black voters.
"We weren't just behind early, we were behind in the end," said Stringer. “I fought my way back through the debates, through the campaign, and won. For me, this positioning is what I'm used to. "
There are key differences, however: in 2013, Mr. Stringer had overwhelming support from the unions and the political establishment. Now the employment memos are more scattered.
And this breed is evolving into a pandemic. He had been cautious about personal campaigns after his mother died of complications related to Covid. Now vaccinated, he is trying to match the faster pace that some rivals, particularly Mr. Yang, have maintained for months.
As an auditor, Mr. Stringer has covered topics from housing authority exams to promoting kosher and halal food in public schools.
He also helped shut down Rikers Island and was an integral part of efforts to divest $ 4 billion to municipal fossil fuel company pension funds. He cited this initiative when asked to name the proudest achievement of his career.
People who have watched Mr. Stringer in the role say he has actively participated in the issuing of audits and reports on issues critical to the well-being of the city, while referring to a time-honored control tradition of involvement with the Mayor supports.
“Were there any contracts that got mixed up? That doesn't seem to be the case, ”said Senator John C. Liu, who preceded Mr. Stringer as inspector and has not yet spoken out in favor of the mayor's race. “Has the office conducted audits that improved the agencies' performance? I think there were. "
Overall, Mr. Liu decided: "He did a good job as a controller."
Kathryn S. Wylde, who heads the business partnership for New York City, said she believed Mr. Stringer "was brave about corporate governance, he was brave to take over the mayor."
Mr. Stringer has pushed for further disclosure of board diversity and has sharply criticized de Blasio's administration on issues ranging from affordable housing to handling pre-school contracts.
"He has done aggressive and substantial work on all of the controller's major roles," said Ms. Wylde.
For many New Yorkers, Mr. Stringer has a reputation for being a traditional Democrat. He assisted Hillary Clinton with Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race and served as a delegate for Ms. Clinton. In 2018 he supported Governor Andrew M. Cuomo opposite his progressive challenger Cynthia Nixon.
Mr. Stringer has since called for Mr. Cuomo's resignation on charges of sexual harassment.
A progressive bet
Last September, a group of New York’s leading left-wing lawmakers, including many women and colored people, gathered in Inwood Hill Park to cheer Mr. Stringer's announcement for the mayor.
It was a scene that was years in the making.
In early 2018, Alessandra Biaggi and Jessica Ramos were political strangers trying to overthrow powerful moderate members of the Senate. Mr. Stringer heard Mrs. Biaggi over a side of pickles at the Riverdale Diner; Ms. Ramos of Queens sought his drinks assistance in Albany.
He became an early advocate of several insurgent progressives and cultivated real relationships through strategy meetings, phone calls, and meals. Those endorsements were an uncertain political bet at the time.
They seemed to have paid off last fall: when he announced his mayoral campaign, he was flanked by a diverse group of progressive lawmakers – including Senators Biaggi and Ramos – who represent the party's future to their admirers.
It is less clear whether their endorsements will lead to grassroots enthusiasm for Mr Stringer among voters who are skeptical of his leftist good faith.
In his presidential race in 2005, a rival ran an ad criticizing Mr. Stringer for taking real estate developer money at a time when the city's traditional electricity providers were looking for receptive politicians (then-mayor, billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg). no donations accepted). It was only more recently that he said he would stop taking money from big developers as prominent progressives highlighted the problem.
He has become a harsh critic of segregated schools and has definitely said that he wants to remove the entrance exam that determines access to the best high schools in town, which some critics believe is perpetuating racial inequality. In recent years, however, it has not usually been associated with major integration efforts.
And he feels uncomfortable discussing aspects of the police debate.
Amid protests against the murder of George Floyd, Mr Stringer said it was time to disappoint the police.
But Mr. Stringer no longer emphasizes the demand for "Defund", a term associated with a particular movement – another reminder that he is not fully part of left activists. When asked whether he believed the sentence was divisive, Mr. Stringer did not answer directly.
"I used it," he said. "I don't think you should be judged by one word or another. And I believe if you want to talk about these subjects you must be ready to work out a plan."
He has proposed a $ 1.1 billion police reallocation over a four-year period and has been more specific than some of his rivals on the matter, though Dianne Morales, perhaps the most left-wing candidate in the race, is wide has called for more and has called for cuts of $ 3 billion from the police budget.
No saga illustrates Mr. Stringer's political tightrope act better than his 2019 endorsement in the Queens District Attorney Race. His embrace of New York Democratic Socialist election, Tiffany L. Cabán, to Melinda Katz, a congregation colleague who narrowly won, roused progressive activists but stunned old allies.
Critics speaking to him at the time said Mr. Stringer had privately described New Yorkers as left-moving, and they sensed that he wanted to embrace that shift. Mr Stringer said he believed Ms. Cabán, who is now running for the city council, was the more qualified candidate, but he also sounded irritated when he pressed on his decision in an interview with a Jewish outlet, which irritated some activists.
"Scott, you know, seemed to have changed some of his positions over the years," said Representative Gregory Meeks, chairman of the Queens Democrats. "That got him in trouble, at least in Queens County, which I can speak to."
Competence over ideology?
From Mr. Stringer's earliest days in politics, he learned to think strategically about relationships.
He has kept communication with business leaders, and his central message that he will be prepared to “get hell out of town” from day one is not ideological.
Ms. Wylde said that some business leaders "know him to be a steady hand".
"If I think he's completely out of hand, we have a conversation," she added.
A ranked election that allows voters to support up to five candidates will test Mr. Stringer's political abilities like never before.
Even if he's not the favorite of deeply progressive voters, he hopes to be their second choice. This could also work with moderates who see him as a manager rather than an arsonist. But first he has to consolidate his reputation as a top candidate in the final straight of the race.
Mr. Stringer knows that he still has a lot to do.
In a campaign video he made to introduce himself to voters, he said his favorite film was "The Candidate," a 1972 film that traces the arc of a dazzling young candidate, played by Robert Redford, who has little understanding of had the government process.
He has little in common with Mr. Redford's character. But Mr. Stringer also has to prove that he can win.