Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden issued a warning.
President Joe Biden: Crime historically rises during the summer. As we emerge from this pandemic and the country opening back up again, traditional summer spike may be more pronounced than it usually would be.
Melissa: Facing pressure to respond to the rise in violent crime and homicides, the president met with a group of mayors this week, and then gave a speech outlining his agenda for addressing crime, including stricter enforcement of gun laws.
President Biden: Today, the department's announcing, as I just did, a major crackdown to stem the flow of guns used to commit violent crimes. It's zero tolerance for gun dealers who willfully violate key existing laws and regulations. I repeat zero tolerance.
Melissa: More support for violence intervention programs.
President Biden: [start of recording] These are local programs that utilize trusted messengers, community members, and leaders, to work directly with people who are most likely to commit gun crimes or become victims of gun crimes.
Melissa: Increased support for law enforcement.
President Biden: The cities experiencing an increase in gun violence, we're able to use the American Rescue Plan dollars to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime. Mayors will also be able to buy crime-fighting technologies like gunshot detection systems to better see and stop gun violence in their communities.
Melissa: See, it's on this last issue that many members of Biden's own party may have an issue. While many of the most progressive members of the Democratic Party have been calling for resources to be diverted from police departments and towards social services, the president has stood behind his views that law enforcement is a key part of the solution to keeping communities safe. As other journalists have pointed out, these calls bring to mind when President Biden attempted to address violent crime in the US as a Senator.
President Biden: This resident is very, very straightforward and simple. He knows there are two basic steps here. One step is you must take back the streets. You take back the streets by more cops, more prisons, more physical protection for the people.
Melissa: If you don't recognize his voice, that is Biden speaking on the Senate floor back in 1993, but while campaigning for president, Biden admitted the parts of the 1986 and 1994 crime bills, that he helped to write were mistakes, including mandatory minimums for drug-related offenses, which led to major racial disparities and sentencing, but now one year after last summers racial justice uprisings, Biden and other Democrats are returning to other components of those decade-old crime bills, like hiring more police officers and talking about zero tolerance.
Are these law enforcement measures doomed to fail again, and what is the political strategy here? Joining me now to answer that and more is Andrea Hedley, Assistant Professor at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy, and Visiting Scholar of Policing, Race, and Crime at the National Police Foundation. Andrea, welcome to The Takeaway.
Andrea Headley: Thank you for having me.
Melissa: Also, with us is Jonathan Allen, political reporter for NBC News. Jonathan, great to have you here as well.
Jonathan Allen: It's great to be here Dr. Harris-Perry.
Melissa: Professor Headley, I want to start with you. I just want to make sure that when we're talking about violent crime, we're all on the same page about what it is we are seeing here. We're hearing that there's a spike, can you tell me where we're seeing an increase in crime and what crime we're seeing an increase in?
Andrea: That's a great question. Specifically, we have seen an increase in homicides, gun violence more particularly, while there has been small increases in other types of violent crime, for instance, thinking about robbery, assault, it's much smaller increases. Really, when people are referring to this spike, again, it's thinking about the homicides, murders, the gun violence, but I have to caveat that with historically, we are still at a pretty low level of violent crime and murders, in particular, if we think back to the 1990s, although we are seeing this spike from 2020, in particular.
In terms of actually looking at where it's happening, while we have seen increases across the United States, we are seeing particular increases again in the big cities, in the cities that have historically been plagued by this that are under-resourced, disinvested in, large populations of color and so forth.
Melissa: Thank you. I so appreciate you putting that into context for us a little bit that we're seeing an increase now, but we're still talking about a national murder rate of about five murders per 100,000 people. Just to put that in context, COVID has killed 183 Americans per every 100,000 people. Jonathan, this is not only a crime crisis, a governing crisis, it's a political crisis for President Biden, isn't it?
Jonathan: Absolutely. There's probably nothing that's a more effective political advertisement for your opponents than a rise in crime during your term. President Trump saw the beginnings of this rising crime, the Democrats didn't really hammer him on it, but they were busy defending themselves, Biden out there saying that he wasn't going to defund and disband police departments back in the 2020 election. I think Biden has always been very attuned to the politics of crime and criminal justice, and that is as true today as it ever was, and that's, I think, why you're seeing him focus on this before Republicans get a chance to get a full head of steam going against him and portray him as the president of rising crime.
Melissa: All of those of us who live in swing states, we're bombarded with messages that a Biden America would be an unsafe America. It has been fascinating to watch how we're now talking about what's going on around violent crime. Jonathan, I'm going to come back to you on this a bit because, yes, the president is clearly attuned to this politically. Part of what he's talking about, and asking states to do and encouraging them to do is to use money from the American Rescue Plan that's already gone out to address these root causes of crime. What would that look like in practice in states and cities?
Jonathan: 1994 called and they want their crime legislation back. It's really not the same as the ' crime bill, but some of the solutions here match that. An increase in funding for police departments rather than the federal government saying, "We're going to give you money here for hiring seven police officers." Or, "We're going to give you money." In the old days it was, "We'll give you more money if you build more prisons."
That Biden has done away with, but what they're doing is saying, "Look, the money in the American Rescue Plan that went to states and local governments can be used for police," which gives Biden some protection from political attacks that he's defunding because he's, in fact, funding. Then, each of the jurisdictions can decide on their own, but the other pieces that we're seeing here are money for intervention.
Some of the things that, as this debate has evolved over time, some of the things that people who want to "defund the police" are actually asking for, which is not shifting. What they would have wanted before was to shift money from cops on the beat toward intervention programs, toward mental health counseling, those kinds of things. Instead, what this bill does is it will provide more money to hire police and also provide a lot more money for, I guess the best possible term for it is wraparound services. I always think back to 1994 and the debate over midnight basketball, I don't know if you remember that.
Melissa: Oh, I remember it very well. Yes. Actually, let's go to those two. We're going to use midnight basketball as just standard-bearer here, but Andrea, walk me through those two pieces, more cops on the beat and midnight basketball as things to resource, what does your research tell us about how additional spending on either of those two buckets impacts crime rates?
Andrea: What the research shows about policing and the impact with crime rates there is that more cops on the streets can matter for reducing crime generally. That said, we also know that police don't actually spend much of their time on crime prevention. More often their time is spent responding to calls for service, and the impacts that we do see with regards to crime reductions from police is really not consistent across all cities.
Really the cities with the largest populations of Black people don't have those same crime reduction benefits. We also know that with that comes a lot of the harms associated with policing presence. It's really about the types of strategies that they're employing when they're policing communities, are you doing stop, question, and frisking? Are you engaging in problem-solving with partnerships in the community? Those are very different approaches and so that matters. With regards to the other bucket though, thinking about while not necessarily midnight basketball specifically, but thinking about wraparound services. There is a good body of research that shows that there are so many other ways that we can also reduce crime.
There's comprehension kinds of approaches from thinking about providing social services to hospital-based intervention programs, job programs, the importance of nonprofits, and community stability overall. All of these things have been shown effective in reducing crime. For me, it's really about thinking about the trade-offs between strategies, thinking about what police are actually doing, when they're going to be hired, when they're going to be in these neighborhoods and how to reduce those harms while also really amping up the community-based interventions.
Melissa: I feel like you've laid out for us a couple of, again, big buckets or sets of ideas that are deeply complex. One is, what is it that police are actually doing during their time? What do they spend their time doing and is that connected to these actual questions of what we might think of as street violence? I think also what the midnight basketball conversation always brought to mind was a set of questions about who is committing crime?
The notion around midnight basketball, even if it was implicit is that it's young Black men who simply have nothing else to do and end up spending their time engaging in violence. Jonathan, let me come to you on this, as mayors who might be a little bit closer, obviously, to their cities and to what is happening than the federal government, how have you seen them acting relative to this spike, again, on our buckets of addressing what police are doing with their time and what young people are doing with their time?
Jonathan: They all have very different responses to this. If you live in New York, it's one response. If you live in Chicago, it's another, if you live in Detroit, it's a third. I think that they are confused or maybe confused is the wrong word, but a little bit at a loss for what it is they can do to control crime. From my reading and the professor is probably better to talk about this, but from my reading, it's not entirely clear why we have major surges and or why crime falls precipitously, but it's probably not as related to the politicians as the politicians would like to think.
Melissa: Andrea, let me come to you, as Jonathan was saying, it could be that these crime rates rising and falling have less to do with politicians than they imagine. Talk to me about what it may have to do with relative to communities. In particular, I guess I'm thinking the trauma, the loss, the distress that so many communities are feeling economically socially in the wake of the pandemic, is that part of what's going on here, or do we have any evidence about that?
Andrea Hedley: I think you really did hit it on the head and I agree totally with Jonathan's point. While we don't have clear indications of what always causes crime at a specific time point. We do know historically, and from recently that the economic instability, the devastation, the loss of connection with people, the shutting down of community-based institutions, and people feeling like they can't rely on the government during the pandemic because of a lot of the devastation that happens, has definitely had tolls on communities at large.
Then, specific neighborhoods have experienced those impacts much more than others. We do know that a lot of those community factors are related to places where we have historically seen increases in crime. There is a lot when we think about the community characteristics, but also the experiences that the community is going through and the trauma, as you say, that leads to people committing crime or engaging in criminal behavior because them not feeling they have another alternative needing to not trust criminal justice institutions and so relying on other measures or what have you.
Melissa: Jonathan, we talked a little bit here about the president. We've talked a little bit about communities and a bit about mayors, but what about Congress? They're the ones who are going to be up for reelection en-mass very soon. What have we been hearing from Dems and Republicans about how they may be thinking about this rise in violent crime impacting them politically?
Jonathan Allen: Well, you've certainly seen some efforts on Capitol Hill and they mirror what's going on with this transportation and infrastructure bill in that there's now a description of a framework and maybe at some point they'll fill in all the details in terms of policing reform and some of that side of it. What you're not hearing a lot of in Congress is what I would describe as prescriptive efforts to really address the core causes of crime and everybody's aware of it.
You'll hear Republicans, this will ramp up over time if the violent crime statistics stay where they are. They'll hit Biden for it, they'll hit the Democrats in Congress for it. Maybe at some point, the Democrats in one chamber or the other will try to pass legislation to address it so they can go home and say that they pass legislation to address it. I think largely what they look at from the federal level is are they providing the resources to the mayors and to the governors to be able to do policing and some of these community intervention steps in the ways that they would like.
I think you heard the president talk about that the other day, certainly in the stuff that administration officials were saying around his announcement that some of these programs, maybe the right way to look at it is a thousand flowers bloom or whatever. Each one will be catered to its own community and maybe they can learn something from that.
Melissa: Well, Jonathan, you named checked the infrastructure package. Okay. Do you want to just give us a quick bit on that?
Jonathan: I got myself in trouble, didn't I?
Melissa: Just give us a quick beat on that because clearly, that is the other big piece working its way through these sets of political relationships.
Jonathan: They are trying to build a route through the Alps and they've laid down a couple of bricks and perhaps have a blueprint, but they are a long way from getting an infrastructure package done, particularly with President Biden saying yesterday that he won't sign that bill unless he gets a sidecar that has all the other pieces that he wants in there in terms of climate change and money for elder and childcare. I don't think that's going to be a problem for him because if he doesn't get both bills he's not going to get one bill.
There's really little margin for error for the Democrats and right now I think you would have to look at what's going on and conclude that even if they are able to get both of them they would rely on some Republican support in the Senate to get it done and that may erode as this battle gets more pitched and as the Speaker Nancy Pelosi tries to figure out what can get through her chamber, she's only got, I think four votes she can lose and still pass bills. This is not as straightforward as an emergency supplemental spending bill to address COVID-19 vaccines, even though that carried a lot of other items in it. That was a lot easier sell, I think, than a transportation bill.
Melissa: Professor Hadley, let me come to you on this because as I'm listening to Jonathan within the connections between both the 1994 Crime Bill questions, these new questions about both infrastructure and crime and what's happening in our communities and cities. I'm just reminded that it feels like there was a time then Americans' willingness to spend in order to address root causes of our collective suffering may have been different.
I'm thinking post, or during World War II, coming out of the depression. Right now, as you're looking at our landscape, are there generational divides between how Black and brown elders and young people are thinking about both what the problem is and what the solutions are?
Andrea: I definitely think there are differences in how Black and brown people, although not a monolithic group across generations and differences examine this, but often I feel like the questions that we're asking usually just rely on policing or incarceration as the only alternative. When we examine that often we see that there are people who usually just still then favor, "Yes, we want more police. We want safer streets, et cetera." Whereas I think what we see with the younger groups is that they are really thinking beyond that question.
Can we really envision something that we haven't had in the past? I think that's really where the differences come in, but the similarity is that everyone wants safety, everyone wants community safety and it's just about trying to provide the best alternative for it for the community that's seeking that.
Melissa: Andrea Hedley is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and Visiting Scholar of Policing, Race, and Crime at the National Police Foundation. Jonathan Allen, a political reporter for NBC News. Thank you both for joining me. Thank you.
Jonathan: Thank you.
Andrea: Thank you. [music]
Melissa: On Thursday President Joe Biden visited Raleigh, North Carolina, as part of his administration's push to restart the nation's stalled vaccination efforts.
President Biden: Over 150 million Americans have gotten fully vaccinated and they're safe and protected now, including against the delta variant. They're getting back to living their lives and spending time with their loved ones, but we need more people to get fully vaccinated to finish the job, that's why I'm here.
Melissa: In recent weeks, North Carolina and other states across the US have experienced a meaningful decline in overall vaccination rates. Only 52% of adults in North Carolina are fully vaccinated, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services. I'm one of them. Whoo-hoo. Now, as part of his visit, President Biden toward mobile vaccination units and met with frontline workers and volunteers working to get their communities vaccinated. For more on this, we're joined now by one of the people doing this work in North Carolina. Eliazar Posada is the acting president and CEO of EL CENTRO HISPANO. Eliazar welcome to the show.
Eliazar Posada: Hi, thank you so much for having me, and congrats on getting your vaccine.
Melissa: Listen, I have to say, I was genuinely a little nervous before I had it, but my husband decided to do it and I was like, "Well, we've been down this whole pandemic road together. Let's go," but the sense of relief I had, the moment that I had the first shot was really-- I was surprised by how much better I felt in terms of being able to go out and do things. What is the reluctance that you're hearing from folks? Or is it about reluctance?
Eliazar: Yes, what we hear a lot in our community is not so much hesitancy around the science, but about the institutions that are given this vaccine. A lot of our community members, primarily the Hispanic and immigrant community members that we serve have questions about where's their information going, "Is taking this vaccine going to affect me in any way?" Primarily those who may not be citizens of the country. That's a lot of the hesitancy we've heard, not so much science, but the institutions.
Melissa: It's such a good point though that those are actually well-placed fears and concerns from a community where, actually, the state government, the federal government, many local law enforcement have not exactly built trust in recent years.
Eliazar: They haven't and we just ended four years of very traumatic experiences and rhetoric against our community, not including the years before that, that North Carolina has been trying to pass anti-immigrant legislation. It's no doubt that our community has a lot of fear and distrust against governments. That's where organizations likely to come into play. We know our community, the community knows us and we can really build that trust around folks and educate because that's really where all this eccentricity lies, is who has this and how do I know that it's safe for me?
Melissa: And yet this is also the community that has been hardest hit here in North Carolina.
Eliazar Posada: It has. Our community members have been on the front lines. From the very beginning of this pandemic, a lot of the information was not given out in a language that our community can understand. It's one thing to have something in Spanish is another complete thing to have something culturally appropriate in a language that folks can read, understand, and specifically those who are still going out every single day working to make sure that everyone who's staying at home is able to stay at home.
This is why we have been pushing so hard, not just for equitable information at the beginning, testing that's placed in places where our community can access, but now in this vaccine, taking the vaccine to their neighborhoods, to the mobile home parks, your apartment complexes, because we need to go to our community.
Melissa: I feel like I want to just go yell from the rooftops, putting it in Google translate for Spanish is not the same thing as having relevant information and spokespeople. Talk to me about what it is that your organization is doing that makes this information relevant.
Eliazar: Yes, please yell that out as loud as you can and we've been trying to do that for decades. One of the things that we've been doing is getting the information, of course, from the CDC and all of the trusted folks who help, the scientists, the ones that actually know, and working with our community members to make it into digestible pieces of information.
We've launched a full campaign, NCO [unintelligible 00:24:51] that breaks down all this information, everything from the recommendations to the information around testing and the information now on the vaccines and the three different ones and putting again in language that our community can understand. That's bringing in folks who may or may not graduate high school or middle school in their own home countries, but they've been able to learn something and also using these PSA's and radio stations where our community is listening to. [unintelligible 00:25:21] some of those local radio stations and doing PSAs in Spanish around information that is accurate.
Melissa: I had a sort of extended conversation with an African-American gentleman in his 50s yesterday and he was asking me, was I vaccinated? He was someone who works directly with the public and he kept telling me that he was afraid and that he was genuinely nervous about what would happen to his body. I now know way too much about his medical history because he told me everything about how frequently he's been sick or not been sick and I felt helpless because it did like he was expressing genuine fear. How do we overcome fear like that?
Eliazar: One of the big things that we've done is involve some of the doctors at higher levels here in the counties that also speak Spanish or Hispanic or Latinx and have them come on board to a Facebook live or come with us to one of the community outreaches so they can have deeper conversations with folks because in our community we value not just intelligence, but we know there's a certain level of standing that comes with being a doctor in Latinx communities. We have someone who's like, "I studied this, I went to school for this. I got you. Here's the reality of the situation."
Talking to them person-to-person as a community member, not as a scientific symposium on mRNA or whatever, but having those real conversations with people is where it stands. Of course, our community health workers are trained on almost everything when it comes to the vaccine, but we still bring in those medical professionals that our community can recognize for those deeper conversations. Facebook lives have been a godsend.
Melissa: What about President Biden? Here he was in our state. Does that make a difference? Does that carry weight with community?
Eliazar: I can tell you from the moment we posted some of these pictures and let folks know that the president was here and shared some of his remarks with our community members, those posts have blown up. Part of what we see is, again, folks recognizing that things are not going to change from one moment to the next.
Not everyone is going to feel comfortable attending or going into a government building, but seeing the president and the administration taking steps forward to build trust, to talk about the importance of reaching communities of color and Latinx and immigrant communities, talking about putting resources into this movement really of getting people vaccinated goes a long way.
I've received a lot of messages from folks who know me around the area, who are impressed and while they know that there's a lot of work to be done, there's still a lot of other things like an immigration reform and dealing with a lot of other issues that are important to our community. Having a president that takes time, shows up, and talks about the importance of our community is a milestone compared to what they've seen before.
Melissa: Eliazar Posada is the acting president and CEO of EL CENTRO HISPANO. Eliazar, thank you so much for joining us.
Eliazar: Thank you so much for having me.
Melissa: This past Tuesday, New York City voters cast their ballots in the much-anticipated Democratic primary for mayor. While a general election is still months away, the winner of the Democratic primary is expected to come out on top in November. Right now, Eric Adams, former NYPD officer, and Brooklyn Borough President is the front runner, followed by progressive activists and attorney Maya Wiley in second and former sanitation commissioner, Kathryn Garcia in third.
I just want to note right here for the sake of full transparency, that before beginning my work as guest host for The Takeaway this summer, I publicly supported my friend and colleague Maya Wiley in this race. Now, the reason that we're waiting on a winner, ranked-choice voting. In fact, a winner isn't expected to be announced before July 12th. We're going to dive into that and so much more with the unofficial mayor of New York City himself, Brian Lehrer, host of WNYC, the Brian Lehrer Show. Brian, I am so happy to have you with us.
Brian Lehrer: Thank you for asking me. I'm so pleased to be with you, Melissa.
Melissa: I'll just say this perhaps also in the spirit of transparency, that there was a great deal of cheering and excitement here on The Takeawayteam when we learned that you were going to be joining us.
Brian: Well, I'm not the unofficial mayor of anything, I'll just say that. Just happy to be here.
Melissa: Much of the money for candidates for this race actually came from mega-donors outside of New York City, and that many of those best-funded candidates had single-digit showings in this crowded primary. I'm wondering, why is it that so many non-New Yorkers care about the NYC mayor's race, and what is it they apparently don't understand about it?
Brian: In my personal opinion, it was outrageous some of the funding that was coming into this campaign. You're right, it wound up being mostly for candidates who did not do well at all. Shaun Donovan, former HUD Secretary under President Obama donated or got donated $2 million from his father, at one point. Another candidate, Ray McGuire, who was a City Group Vice President raised all kinds of money from outside or had independent expenditures on his behalf from all kinds of people outside, including most notably from the head of the Hess Oil company.
There was big oil money in this campaign. You're right, Shaun Donovan and Ray McGuire did not do well at all. Money does not always buy success in politics, I think we're both happy to say.
Melissa: Let's just back up say four months. If I came to you four months ago and said, "Give me a sense of where you think this race is going? What it is that's on the minds of New Yorkers, and therefore, which candidates you might think would be in the top three," would it have been these three?
Brian: Yes, it probably would have been these three. I think there's been a tension in the race between whether this is more of a social justice moment or more of a gun violence problem moment in New York City, and the city seems to have chosen a gun violence problem moment. I don't think it's surprising that Eric Adams is in the lead at this point. He's been well known in the city since the 1990s, first as a reformer within the police department, and then as a New York State Senator, and for the last eight years, the Brooklyn Borough President.
He was a frontline candidate, to begin with, and he ran a very smart campaign portraying himself as the missing link between pro-police politics and criminal justice reform politics, and Maya Wiley, the civil rights attorney, and well known around the country for her many appearances on MSNBC, not surprising to me that she's coming in second.
Melissa: Let's dig into this question around police reform and Eric Adams becoming this-- it's the nice language, the missing link. Given what we know about where we are as a country, as a state, as a city, is this a message that will hold?
Brian: I think that's going to be maybe the most interesting question if Eric Adams is, in fact, elected, and only time will tell. As the poll showed crime emerging as the leading issue, he built his campaign very much around no defunding the police and getting ready to crack down on guns on the street. On a personal level, he campaigned very much on his own story along those lines, being a police misconduct victim as a young person himself, but also losing people close to him to civilian crime. He ran as the missing link, the working-class candidate of essential workers, and he seems to have done extremely well in the most Black and Brown neighborhoods of the city.
In fact, in national politics, Democrat versus Republican, we're a country largely divided by race nationally, I think it's accurate to say in New York where almost everyone is a Democrat, I think we're a city divided by age. The Marist Poll taken shortly before the election found Adams winning comfortably among people over 45, but Wiley winning among people under 45, and Adams only coming in third. That seemed to cross racial lines.
Melissa: How did race show up in this campaign?
Brian: Race always shows up in campaigns even though people sometimes like to say race shouldn't show up in campaigns and there shouldn't be racial appeals. If you look at the history of New York City, back when the dominant voting groups were Irish and Italian and Jewish, there were always the Irish candidate, the Jewish candidate, the Italian candidate, who would get more votes from their groups than any other group. One thing interesting early in the race was the early emergence of Andrew Yang, who, of course, is Asian American. As an early front-runner, he faded as the campaign went on, but there was a potential historic first there as an Asian American mayor, potentially.
Certainly, he seems to have gotten a big turnout and a big concentration of votes from Asian American New Yorkers. People are very aware that 30% or so, probably the largest share of any individual group of primary voters is Black. There was a lot of appeal to what people thought would be Black people's interest, and that's where the divide on police reform came in. Again, by age, both Maya Wiley and Eric Adams were very much trying to make an appeal as an authentic Black candidate. For the moment, at least, until all these ranked-choice voting kicks in, Eric Adams won that debate.
Melissa: Brian, let's talk about ranked-choice voting. This is part of the reason that we don't know yet who's won this primary.
Brian: Correct. They're saying probably the week of July 12 is when we'll know because of various rounds of ranked-choice and absentee ballot counting. This is a complicated process by which of the 13, and believe it or not, there were 13 candidates on the ballot for the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York. Each one has to get eliminated one by one by one, the one who comes in 13th gets eliminated first, the people who voted for that candidate, their second choice, third choice, fourth choice, then get distributed, and they're going to go through 13 rounds of that before they have an ultimate winner, it seems.
Melissa: Talk about how that affected the actual campaigning because it was an interesting "vote for me second, that you only see in a ranked-choice voting situation.
Brian: That's right. One benefit of ranked-choice voting is that it's supposed to result in a less polarized and more issue-oriented campaign as candidates try to remain acceptable as a second or third choice to voters who don't choose them first. We did see some of that, especially a final week alliance between Andrew Yang and candidate Catherine Garcia that could still potentially wind up in Garcia who came in third getting so many second-place votes from Yang's supporters that she catches up with Eric Adams if he didn't get enough second-place votes.
Melissa: It is meant to focus in on issues, it's supposed to allow folks to have both a strategic vote and what we might think of as voting their heart's desire, but isn't it also possible that the ultimate candidate that emerges is someone that very few had as their first choice?
Brian: Yes, but that would happen anyway in this crowded field if the current percentages hold up once the absentee ballot trove is counted. Adams is in first place, but he only got about 32% of the vote. Somehow you have to get to 50% to have an ultimate winner. Under the old system, if nobody got more than 50%, the top two finishers would have a runoff election, and turnout for these runoff elections has tended historically to be really low as average citizens lost interest and only the most politicized people would go back to the polls another time and choose their nominee.
This way, supporters of ranked-choice voting say, everybody who votes in the primary and, for example, votes their heart for a lower down candidate first, but then puts a more realistic choice second or a third gets a say in who the ultimate winner is, even if they weren't your first choice just by showing up to vote one time.
Melissa: This was the first time that ranked-choice voting was used in New York City in decades, and I'm wondering, here we are in the midst of multiple public education campaigns, including vaccination and all of these other things. Were the callers to your show, for example, well informed about how it worked before the election?
Brian: Well, the callers to my show tend to be the politically obsessed, and so they tended to be pretty well informed, but critics say when you look at the population overall, it's confusing, and because since the computer crunches the ranked-choice numbers, eventually to get to a winner by pressing a computer button and watching the numbers spin, critics say it could make voters suspicious of how the system might be getting manipulated in this era of people being suspicious of government.
There's that suspicion or there's that criticism of ranked-choice voting.
Yes, a lot of people were confused, but when you come right down to it, it's not all that complicated. People get to list up to five candidates in their order of preference. If your first choice candidate gets eliminated, your next choices get distributed in a ranked-choice pattern like we described before. It's not that complicated. Ultimately, it's pick your favorite one, pick your second favorite one down through five, if you go that far.
Melissa: We know that voters were telling pollsters and in a variety of other kinds of public communications, they were saying that the issue at the top of the list for them is gun violence or as you were saying that they were framing increased violent crime as a gun violence problem. What else is on the minds of New Yorkers? What is it there they're going to use to judge the quality of their next mayor?
Brian: Well, I said earlier that there was this kind of choice between whether it's a social justice moment or a crackdown on crime moment. Eric Adams is trying to be the missing link candidate between the two. Wiley emphasized social justice over crime and is running second. Interesting to me to the question you asked is that here we are a city with a 10% unemployment rate still after COVID, much higher than the national average and nobody ran centrally on economic recovery or really economic justice in the long term.
The media narrative got flattened in my opinion into this crime versus police reform story. The longer-term economic injustices, the longer-term economic disparities in this city that helped get Bill de Blasio elected eight years ago got shut out of the media narrative, and a lot of the candidates' mouths because they realized everybody wanted to hear about crime. I think that's a shame.
Melissa: Of course, we know that those economic justice issues are often profoundly connected to issues of crime. Even talking about crime ought to be bringing us back to conversations about economic justice.
Brian: That's right. That's the reformers' argument. That's certainly Maya Wiley's argument. That yes, we have to do something about the spike in gun violence, which is real, but if we just focus on the short term, we're just going to continue the cycle of mass incarceration that's been going on for 30 years. She was hoping to find a new way and to be fair to Eric Adams, he still says he is hoping to find a new way to crack down in the short term, but also not lose sight of the root causes of crime. They do have so much to do with economic injustice.
Melissa: Brian Lehrer is the host of WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show. Brian, thank you again for joining us.
Brian: My pleasure.
Melissa: That's all we have for you all today. We really appreciate you tuning in and now shout out to the hardworking team that puts this show together. Our producers are Ethan Oberman, Meg Dalton, Patricia Yacob, and José Olivares. Our line producer is Jackie Martin. Our senior producer is Amber Hall. [unintelliglble 00:43:53] Sandra and Milton Ruiz are our board ops. Vince Fairchild is our director. Jay Cowit is our sound designer and Polly Irungu is our digital editor. David Gebel is our executive assistant and Lee Hill is our executive producer. Thanks so much for listening. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega and this is The Takeaway.
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