Fear of crime is back as a political issue in New York City. For the first time in years it could be a prime factor in who voters pick as their next mayor.
Early voting begins Saturday in the city’s party primaries. Ballots are being cast as the city is emerging, brimming with hope, after a year in pandemic lockdown, but also amid an unsettling rise in shootings.
The violence is still well short of the historic highs of the 1990s, or even in the New York of the early 2000s. But it has forced the leading Democratic candidates to balance talk of police reform with promises not to let New York backslide to its long-gone days as a crime capitol.
“No one is coming to New York, in our multibillion-dollar tourism industry, if you have 3-year-old children shot in Times Square,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said at a recent debate, referring to a May 8 shooting in which a 4-year-old girl and two adult women were wounded by stray bullets.
Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough president and a Democratic mayoral candidate, attends a rally of workers from TWU Local 100 at Brooklyn’s Fillmore Bus Depot about the rise in assaults against transit workers, Thursday, June 10, 2021, in New York. Adams, a former police officer, has seen his standing rise amid concern over a spike in shootings during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang speaks at a press conference on Jan. 14, 2021, in New York City. Former presidential candidate Yang announced his candidacy for mayor of New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images) ( Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
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Adams, a former police captain who also co-founded a leadership group for Black officers, has risen to the top of most polls as issues of crime and policing have dominated recent mayoral debates.
The race remains tight, though, with 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and civil rights attorney Maya Wiley the top contenders in a field of 13 candidates on the Democratic ballot.
The final day of voting is June 22, with the top Democrat in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City highly likely to win the November general election and succeed the term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The Republican primary features Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels anti-crime group, versus Fernando Mateo, a restaurant owner and advocate for taxi drivers.
The Times Square shooting and other high-profile crimes like last weekend’s fatal shooting of a 10-year-old boy in Queens have sparked fears of a city under siege. “Stop the Bloodshed,” screamed a recent front page of the New York Post, which warned of surrendering streets “to homelessness, filth, crime and guns” in an editorial endorsing Adams.
The reality is more nuanced.
Many of the most common types of crime in the city, including robberies, burglaries and grand larcenies, remain near historic lows. Through the first five months of 2021, the total number of major crimes measured by the police department has been at its lowest level since comparable statistics became available in the 1990s.
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But since the spring of 2020 the number of shootings has soared.
Through June 6, there were 181 homicides in New York City, up from 121 in the same period in 2019, an increase of 50%. That’s the worst start to a year since 2011.
At least 687 people were wounded or killed by gunfire through June 6. That’s not historically bad. More than 2,400 people were shot during the same period in 1993. But it is the highest number for a winter and early sp
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