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After a Fiery N.Y.C. Mayoral Debate, Who’s Ahead? Who Knows?

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Not long into New York City’s second Democratic mayoral debate last night, the candidates were asked how they would handle reopening after more than a year of coronavirus lockdown.

Some of the relatively centrist hopefuls, like Andrew Yang and Eric Adams, said they would prioritize confronting crime, which has risen in New York over the course of the pandemic. The more progressive candidates, including Maya Wiley and Scott Stringer, argued for less emphasis on policing and a greater focus on affordable housing and youth employment.

But beyond specific policy differences, there was a more immediate question for the candidates to confront: how to make up for lost time on the campaign trail, now that the city is finally moving toward a full reopening.

The prevailing strategy was to attack, often in personal terms. But with the candidates locked in combat, none seemed to fully break away from the pack.

“A lot of the substance was repetitious: Everybody was saying we have to help small businesses, everybody was saying that we have to get the guns off the street,” Michael Krasner, a professor of political science at Queens College and co-director of the Taft Institute for Government, said in an interview.

“I didn’t feel like anybody had such a compelling idea or policy proposal that it would make a big impression on undecided voters,” he added. “That made it harder for people to see distinctions.”

The June 22 primary is less than three weeks away, and early voting starts in just nine days, but the race remains suspended in midair. In a Fontas/Core Decision Analytics poll released last week, no candidate was the first-choice pick of even one in five likely voters. More than that — 26 percent — said they were entirely undecided. (And even that came only after respondents were pushed to name a choice: On first blush, 50 percent of likely voters said they hadn’t settled on a top candidate.)

The relatively large field, peopled by a mix of longtime public officials and relative newcomers, is complicated further by a ranked-choice voting system, new this year, which makes it difficult to determine who really has the upper hand. And the pandemic has put a damper on traditional campaigning: Only in recent weeks have candidate sightings on the streets of New York become commonplace, as the race hits the homestretch.

Though long considered the front-runner, Yang has recently been buffeted by attacks from other candidates and by lingering questions about his qualifications, while two fellow centrists — Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, and Kathryn Garcia, the former city sanitation commissioner — have risen in recent polls.

Onstage last night, Adams painted Yang as out of touch with the city. “You started discovering violence when you were running for mayor,” he said. “You started discovering the homeless crisis when you were running for mayor.”

Yang shot back, accusing Adams of shady fund-raising practices. “We all know that you’ve been investigated for corruption everywhere you’ve gone,” Yang said. (No charges have been brought against Adams, though some of his political dealings have drawn public scrutiny.)

Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, was even more pointed — dinging Yang and Adams in the same breath. “You’re both right: You both shouldn’t be mayor,” he said. On the topic of public schools, Stringer accused Yang and Adams of “taking millions of dollars from Republican billionaires who want to privatize the school system.”

On a night of fierce attacks, Stringer put in a strong showing, Krasner said. But he arguably had the most to prove of any candidate, after his campaign — which had begun strongly, thanks to his relatively high name recognition and endorsements from major progressive groups and labor unions — nearly tanked when a former campaign worker accused him of sexual misconduct.

Krasner said that the ranked-choice system could help Stringer — particularly among voters who are hesitant to put a scandal-plagued candidate at the top of their ticket. “A lot of people are going to see him as an appealing No. 2,” Krasner said. “He comes across as a competent progressive.”

Wiley has emerged as the only candidate on the progressive wing not enmeshed in scandal, after the campaign of Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, was hit with allegations of blocking her former campaign staff members from unionizing, leading to a number of departures last month.

Morales tried last night to clear a path for herself in the left lane, and went further than Wiley or Stringer on calls to reallocate police funding. She reiterated her pledge to redirect $3 billion from the Police Department’s budget toward crime prevention and community investment. Wiley and Stringer have each set a target of trimming $1 billion from the police budget.

The more centrist candidates took a different approach. Yang stated unequivocally, “The defunding of police is not the right approach for New York City.”

And Adams, a former police officer, emphasized the need to confront crime with effective policing. “We must be safe, and then on that platform we can build our economy the right way,” he said, even as he sought to turn back opponents’ attacks on his past support for stop-and-frisk tactics.

Garcia has risen into the double digits in recent polls, thanks in part to editorial endorsements from The Times and The New York Daily News that have focused on what had been a relatively low-profile campaign. Last night she framed herself as a savvy technocrat, calling herself “the only candidate up here who can deliver on every promise she makes.”

But she was the rare candidate onstage who rarely went on the attack, and she struggled to explain, when challenged by her opponents, why she had left the de Blasio administration in the middle of the pandemic.

“She certainly seemed confident,” Krasner said, but he added, “I didn’t think she gained any ground.”

Also onstage were Ray McGuire, a former Citigroup executive, and Shaun Donovan, who served as secretary of housing and urban development under President Barack Obama. Each positioned himself as an agent of change.

In his opening remarks, Donovan promised “a change from the political status quo of the last eight years,” saying he “would lead New York in a new and better direction.”

McGuire offered a poetic variation on the same theme, pointing out that most of his opponents had spent years in public office. “This is a bad movie, playing out at City Hall, with the same characters,” he said. “We simply cannot afford a disastrous sequel. Make the change, hope for the change.”

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Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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One woman killed and three people injured as vehicle rams into protesters in Minnesota

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Police said that alcohol or drugs may have been a factor in the driver’s actions, but this must not be treated as an isolated incident: Last summer, according to USA Today, there were “at least 104 incidents of people driving vehicles into protests from May 27 through Sept. 5.” In eight of those cases, police were the drivers.

And Republican lawmakers have rushed to offer protections to drivers who injure protesters in this way. Iowa, Oklahoma, and Florida have all reduced or abolished penalties for such drivers, with the Iowa and Florida laws offering civil immunity and the Oklahoma law protecting drivers from criminal penalties when they “unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual” while “fleeing from a riot” and “under a reasonable belief that fleeing was necessary to protect the motor vehicle operator from serious injury or death.” Which just means every driver who does this will claim they were fleeing under a reasonable belief that their life was at risk. 

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump likens such laws to “stand your ground” laws, writing, “A Rand Corp. study found that states with ‘stand your ground’ laws allowing residents to use firearms in self-defense were states that had more firearm homicides. Allowing people to use guns to kill in some circumstances correlated with more people using guns to kill.”

The laws letting drivers off the hook for injuring or even killing protesters came amid a wave of state-level legislation targeting protesters in other ways. In a sense it’s similar to the Republican push to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” (by which they mean “anything about racism”) from schools. Republicans are trying to criminalize any effort to change U.S. culture and society to make it less racist or less unjust. In this case, they are actively encouraging murder.


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Federal judge dismisses anti-vaxxers’ lawsuit, sides with Texas hospital

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Despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission supporting policies that employers could require “all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19,” at least 117 employees of the company attempted to sue the hospital claiming it violated state policy and made them “human guinea pigs.” 

According to the plaintiffs, federal law prohibits employees from being required to get vaccinated without full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines. While the lawsuit was filed in Texas state court, it was moved to federal court at Houston Methodist’s request. As a result, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes ruled Saturday that federal law does not prevent employers from issuing that mandate because the law in question did not apply to private employers. 

“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” Hughes wrote. “They are licensed doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and staff members. The hospital has not applied to test the COVID-19 vaccines on its employees.”

He continued that the mandate was a way to make the environment safer for both employees and patients. “This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”

Hughes’ ruling addressed each and every one of the plaintiffs’ arguments including the vaccination requirement violating Texas law and a comparison to forced medical experiments in Nazi Germany. “Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” Hughes wrote. “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.”

Ultimately Hughes concluded that the plaintiffs “misconstrued” the law and “misrepresented the facts” and “will take nothing” from the hospital. If they had an issue with the policies in place, they should seek employment elsewhere, he wrote.

Upon hearing the ruling, lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges noted that she would continue to fight her case. “This doesn’t surprise me,” she told USA Today. “Methodist is a very large company, and they are pretty well-protected in a lot of areas. We knew this was going to be a huge fight, and we are prepared to fight it.” Bridges has also started a petition against mandatory vaccinations by employers.

In response to the ruling, attorney and conservative activist Jared Woodfill who represents her and the other 116 plaintiffs said: “We took the position that it shouldn’t be dismissed for a whole host of reasons and we believe that forcing an individual to participate in a vaccine trial is illegal.”

“This is the first battle in a long fight,” Woodfill continued. “There are going to be many battles fought. Not just in this courtroom, but in courtrooms all across the state. There are battles that are going to be fought in the higher courts, the 5th Circuit, the Texas Supreme Court, even the United States Supreme Court. So this is just one battle in a larger war. It’s the first round, if you will.”

Woodfill confirmed that they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court “if necessary.”

So despite the judge noting and clearly addressing that they had no case, the plaintiffs refuse to back down.

The employees who were suspended from their roles made up only 1% of the hospital’s total number of employees, according to Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom. Boom noted that many other hospitals are working on similar initiatives but were only waiting on this case’s verdict to take action. “We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation,” Boom said after the ruling. “Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do.”

According to CBS News, as of this report, nearly 25,000 Houston Methodist employees had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and at least two employees who worked in management chose to leave rather than receive the vaccine.


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Distress signals already emerging within GOP over sticking with Trump

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Nothing but unicorns and rainbows, folks. 

But the truth is, Trump’s toxic effect on party politics at the state and federal level is already roiling the GOP, and we’re starting see signs of that everywhere. Just over a week ago, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri reverted to a practice that Republicans developed during the Trump-era amid efforts to reach a leader who never listened to his advisers—he made an entreaty to Trump on the airwaves.

“He could be incredibly helpful in 2022 if he gets focused on 2022 and the differences in the two political parties,” Blunt said of Trump, on NBC’s Meet The Press.

And who could miss Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week telling Fox News that Trump “has his own agenda” when it comes to the midterms?

Then there’s the GOP candidates who are clearly scared out of their wits over what Trump could do to the party’s electoral hopes in 2022 given that he continues to be obsessed with relitigating his 2020 election loss, which he called “the crime of the century” just last month.

“He should have learned from what happened in Georgia,” said one GOP lawmaker, who represents a purple district but obviously didn’t want to risk Trump’s ire by going on the record. “He cost us Georgia by focusing on the election.”

The words “should have” appear to be the operative part in that sentence.

“If Trump focused on Pelosi and Biden’s policy failures, he would help us. If it’s about election fraud and sour grapes from 2020, it will hurt us,” the GOP lawmaker added. 

Again, the word “if” is telling and not particularly hopeful from a Republican lawmaker who was likely speaking more frankly based on being granted anonymity. 

The lawmaker acknowledged that Trump’s 2020 grievances animate the base, but said it’s not particularly helpful when it comes to retaking the majority—presumably in more swingy districts.  

“We may be able to still win the majority, but I think it makes the hill harder to climb.”

In other words, in the eyes of a purple-district House Republican, Trump could be more of a liability to the GOP in the midterms than a boon.

Not exactly unicorns and rainbows, folks.


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