Fear of crime is once again a political issue in New York City. For the first time in years, it could be a determining factor in who will be elected their next mayor by voters.
The area code begins on Saturday in the city’s area codes. The ballots are being cast as the city emerges hopeful after a year of pandemic lockdown but also amid a disturbing spike in shootings.
The violence is still well below its all-time highs in the 1990s or even in New York in the early 2000s. But it has forced the leading Democratic candidates to weigh police reform talks with a promise not to revert to New York’s long-forgotten days as the crime capital.
“Nobody comes to New York, in our multi-billion dollar tourism industry, when three-year-old children are shot dead in Times Square,” said Eric Adams, president of the borough of Brooklyn, in a recent debate, referring to a shooting on the 8th in which a 4- year old girl and two adult women were wounded by stray bullets.
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Adams, a former police captain who also co-founded a leadership group for black officials, has risen to the top in most polls as crime and police issues have dominated recent mayor debates.
The race remains close, however, with 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, former city sanitation officer Kathryn Garcia, city inspector Scott Stringer and civil rights attorney Maya Wiley topping a field of 13 candidates on the Democratic ballot.
The last election day is June 22nd, with the top democrat in the predominantly democratic New York City with a high probability of winning the general election in November and succeeding the temporary mayor Bill de Blasio.
The Republican area code shows Curtis Sliwa, founder of the anti-crime group Guardian Angels, against Fernando Mateo, a restaurant owner and attorney for taxi drivers.
The Times Square shooting and other high profile crimes like the fatal shooting of a 10-year-old boy in Queens last weekend have raised fears of a besieged city. “Stop the bloodshed,” shouted a recent front page of the New York Post, which warned against abandoning streets to “homelessness, dirt, crime and guns” in an editorial in support of Adams.
The reality is more differentiated.
Many of the most common types of crime in the city, including robbery, burglary, and large-scale theft, remain near historic lows. In the first five months of 2021, the total number of serious crimes measured by the police was at its lowest level since comparable statistics were available in the 1990s.
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But since the spring of 2020, the number of shootings has skyrocketed.
As of June 6, there had been 181 homicides in New York City, up from 121 in the same period in 2019, a 50% increase. That is the worst start to the year since 2011.
As of June 6, at least 687 people had been shot injured or killed. Historically, that’s not bad. In 1993, more than 2,400 people were shot dead during the same period. However, this is the highest number for a winter and early spring since 2000.
A large number of voters polled in a Spectrum News NY1 / Ipsos poll published this week selected “crime or violence” as the biggest problem New York faces, with both racial injustice and police reform also making the top 10 are.
Rev. Al Sharpton, who has known most of the Democratic mayoral candidates for years, said crime is a big issue in black communities and the progressive candidates should be more open about it.
“You know, two weeks after I gave the eulogy at George Floyd’s funeral, I gave the eulogy for a one-year-old child in Brooklyn who was killed by a stray bullet in a gang fight,” Sharpton said, referring to Davell Gardner, who was shot sat in his stroller last summer. “So it’s not true that those of us who want police reform don’t want to deal with crime at the same time. And I think the progressive candidates need to get out of there more.”
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Maria Forbes, president of Clay Avenue tenants’ association in the Bronx, said crime increased in her neighborhood during the pandemic and she took taxis to avoid the subway.
“I don’t feel safe getting on the train,” said Forbes.
But Forbes, like many New Yorkers, doesn’t highlight crime or any problem as the most pressing either. Housing and education are also big issues, she said.
“There are minimum wage people who need housing, and there are six of them in a two-bedroom,” Forbes said.
The candidates differ greatly in their approach to crime.
Wiley, who competes with Stringer and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales for the votes of the most liberal New Yorkers, would cut the police budget by $ 1 billion annually and invest those funds directly in the communities hardest hit by gun violence are to their platform.
An advertisement from Wiley shows police pulling into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters last year. She says in the ad that “it is time for the NYPD to see us as deserving breathers,” a reference to the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd.
Stringer says he would save at least $ 1 billion over four years by taking steps like transferring mental health response to non-police crisis teams and cutting overtime police.
Garcia has not called for the police budget to be cut, but says the minimum age for officers should be increased from 21 to 25 and new recruits should be required to live in the city.
Yang supports police residency and increased oversight of the department, but refuses calls to disappoint the police.
“The truth is, New York City cannot afford to disappoint the police,” he warned.
Adams, who spent 22 years in the New York City Police Department, says he fell victim to police brutality as a teenager and joined the force to reform it from within.
A group founded by Adams called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care campaigned against racist profiling and for the recruitment of more colored officers.
While New York City mayor races are often unpredictable, this area code is especially difficult to predict as it will be the first election with voters classifying up to five candidates.
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The turnout, which is usually low in mayoral elections, will also play a role.
“The question is what issues are most important to voters on Primary Day,” said Susan Kang, a political scientist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Kang said crime isn’t the main problem she hears when knocking on the door for a city council candidate she supports in Queens.
“People talk to me about all sorts of things like property tax issues, street parking, public transportation,” Kang said. “Nobody says to me, ‘But what is this person going to do about crime?'”