Amid a rival’s crisis, Kathryn Garcia makes a push

By Michael Gold

In her years as a leader in New York City government, Kathryn Garcia earned a reputation as a veteran problem solver and the admiration of political insiders.

But in the months since Garcia, the city’s former sanitation commissioner, began her campaign to be the next mayor of New York, she has struggled to use that track record to capture voter interest and break through a crowded field.

With seven weeks until the Democratic primary contest and many city residents just beginning to pay close attention to the race, there may be an opportunity for Garcia to try to jump-start her campaign — and she is seizing the moment.

On Tuesday, Garcia aired her first television ad of the campaign and announced an endorsement from Loree Sutton, a former city commissioner who ended her own mayoral bid in March.

The one-two punch came just days after Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, who, like Garcia, has campaigned on his record in government, was confronted by 20-year-old allegations of sexual harassment from a former campaign worker.

The allegations against Stringer may have opened up a path for Garcia to win over voters who value experience. Stringer has vehemently denied the allegations against him, but he has nonetheless lost several key endorsements, and many candidates have called on him to drop out.

Garcia has also gained attention from remarks made by Andrew Yang, the race’s apparent front-runner, suggesting that he would welcome Garcia to serve as his No. 2 — a prospect that she has rejected with disdain.

“It definitely feels like the winds have shifted, and they are blowing into our sails,” Garcia said in an interview this week.

The new ad and Sutton’s endorsement will emphasize the message that Garcia has stuck to since kicking off her mayoral bid in December: that her pragmatic approach and experience in city government make her the person best suited to lead New York City.

“It’s not conjecture to wonder how Kathryn would operate, how she would function, how she would govern during a time of life-and-death crisis,” said Sutton, who ran on a similar message.

Before last year, Garcia had never before run for political office, but she racked up extensive experience at the city’s sanitation, finance and environmental agencies.

“She clearly knows more about government than almost anyone I know, and I know a lot of people who know a lot about government,” said Howard Wolfson, who served as a deputy mayor under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Garcia became known for being particularly effective during crises. In 2012, she helped bring the city’s water systems back online after they were knocked out by Hurricane Sandy.

During her tenure as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s sanitation commissioner, she was also deployed to temporarily oversee the troubled New York City Housing Authority in 2019. When the coronavirus swept into the city in 2020, he put her in charge of an emergency initiative to feed the needy and the homebound.

But that expertise does not appear to have resonated with voters. While polling on the race remains limited, Garcia has consistently received single-digit support.

A recent poll conducted by news channel NY1 and Ipsos found that only 29% of likely voters said they were familiar with Garcia, while 37% said they had not heard of her at all.

Still, a large percentage of city residents remain undecided in the race, and Garcia said she was confident that she could win over those voters with her record.

“They want to make a thoughtful decision,” she said. “And they are looking for expertise and experience.”

Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said she expected that the accusations against Stringer would prompt some of his supporters to reconsider his candidacy. Garcia’s campaign, she added, is well poised to scoop up some of them.

“If her campaign can just transfer some of those types of voters who say, ‘I really just want someone who knows government,’ well, she fits the mold,” Greer said.

Garcia may also pick up voters who, in the wake of the accusations against Stringer, are convinced that a woman should lead the city for the first time in its history, Greer said.

But support from Stringer’s base is far from guaranteed. He has sought to become the leading progressive candidate in the race, while Garcia has billed herself as a nonideological technocrat.

Garcia’s campaign ad doubles down on that messaging. In the 30-second spot, she stands inside a red box labeled “In case of emergency, break glass.” As she slips on a leather jacket, she mentions her record as the city’s “go-to crisis manager.”

Then, Garcia puts on a pair of safety glasses. “When there’s a crisis,” she says, “sometimes you’ve got to break glass to solve it.”

The metaphors — escaping a box, shattering the glass ceiling, the emergency response — are beyond clear.

“It is about breaking out,” Garcia said. “But there’s also this underlying message of other people are trying to define you. And I’m going to define myself.”

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