Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the state’s highest-ranking House Democrat, is throwing his support to Maya D. Wiley in the race for mayor of New York City, a significant endorsement at a critical juncture in the race.
The decision by Mr. Jeffries, who is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, comes at an inflection point both for Ms. Wiley and in the volatile race more broadly, nearly five weeks before the June 22 primary that is likely to decide the next mayor.
“This is a change election, and Maya Wiley is a change candidate,” Mr. Jeffries, who could become the first Black House speaker, said in an interview on Saturday afternoon.
Ms. Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, is fresh off an assertive debate performance in which she repeatedly sought to put Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, on the defensive. Mr. Adams and Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate, have generally been regarded as the two leading contenders, with Ms. Wiley trailing in the sparse public polling available.
Still, she has acquired a number of notable endorsements, including the backing of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union. An endorsement from Mr. Jeffries, coupled with her debate performance and the start of her advertising campaign, may bolster her efforts to introduce herself to voters and to gain steam in the final weeks before the primary.
“Maya’s life experiences, if she can get out and tell that story, will be particularly compelling,” Mr. Jeffries said. “An African-American woman who lost her father at a very young age but rallied back from that adversity to follow in her father’s footsteps as a civil rights champion is a quintessential change candidate.”
Mr. Jeffries is expected to appear with Ms. Wiley on Sunday at Restoration Plaza in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. He said he intended to engage in significant efforts on her behalf, with hopes to campaign with Ms. Wiley as well as with Representatives Yvette Clarke and Nydia Velázquez, who have also endorsed her candidacy.
Notably, those three lawmakers, who all represent slices of Brooklyn, did not side with Mr. Adams, a fellow elected official and a veteran of the borough’s politics. Their endorsements of Ms. Wiley may be seen as blows to Mr. Adams as he seeks to consolidate his own support. Mr. Adams and Mr. Jeffries have found themselves on opposing sides of a number of political battles over the years.
Asked about some of those dynamics, Mr. Jeffries said that “my respect and relationship with Eric Adams at the present moment is a strong one, and I wish him the very best.”
Ms. Wiley, one of the more left-leaning candidates in the race, said she had heard from Mr. Jeffries on Friday night, adding that he, along with Ms. Clarke and Ms. Velázquez, were “leaders whose constituents trust them, respect them, and they move votes.”
“To have Hakeem Jeffries standing up with me saying, ‘This is my candidate,’ is hugely impactful in a critically important part of this city to win for anyone who wants to be mayor of New York City,” she added.
In the June primary, New Yorkers will be able to rank up to five mayoral candidates, and Mr. Jeffries indicated that he might reveal other rankings of his choices for mayor but said he had not yet reached a decision on how he would proceed.
In the interview, he sketched out a detailed map of what he saw as Ms. Wiley’s path to victory, though certainly, with a crowded field of candidates, there is significant competition for every major political constituency in New York.
“I expect that Eric Adams and Maya Wiley will perform the best in the communities of central Brooklyn, as well as in other traditionally African-American neighborhoods throughout the city of New York,” Mr. Jeffries said, going on to note Ms. Wiley’s potential in “both traditionally African-American communities” and parts of the city that are home to many white liberals, mentioning neighborhoods like Chelsea, in Manhattan, and progressive Brooklyn enclaves.
“That’s a pretty powerful electoral pathway, if the campaign can continue to put it together over the next few weeks,” he said.
Some rival Democrats have feared the prospect of a late surge from Ms. Wiley, and the coming weeks will test her ability to execute on that possibility.
“Every day I will be out to speak, and we will be making sure that our message is getting out both on television and on radio,” she said. “People are starting to turn their attention to this race in earnest and we’re going to make sure they know who I am and what I stand for and what I’m going to do.”
Understand the N.Y.C. Mayoral Race
- Who’s Running for Mayor? There are more than a dozen people still in the race to become New York City’s next mayor, and the primary will be held on June 22. Here’s a rundown of the candidates.
- What is Ranked-Choice Voting? New York City began using ranked-choice voting for primary elections this year, and voters will be able to list up to five candidates in order of preference. Confused? We can help.
Mr. Jeffries said that at a policy level, he was drawn to Ms. Wiley’s promises to lead an equitable economic recovery coming out of the pandemic. Ms. Wiley, a civil rights lawyer, speaks often of “reimagining” New York, a city marked by significant racial and economic inequality.
“Those communities who have been hurt the most in terms of an economic crisis have often been helped the least,” Mr. Jeffries said. “Those communities that have been hurt the least have often been helped the most. It seems to me that Maya Wiley is the person to make sure that this time will be different.”
In recent weeks, issues of violent crime have moved to the forefront of the mayor’s race, amid a significant spike in shootings and a number of high-profile attacks in the subways. Mr. Adams and Mr. Yang have been especially direct about the role they believe the police can play in restoring calm, even as they also support combating police misconduct.
Ms. Wiley released a plan to combat gun violence months ago. But she has also supported reallocating $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s funding “to fund investments in alternatives to policing,” her campaign said. And she has resisted the idea of adding more police officers to patrol the subways, breaking with the two perceived front-runners during the debate on that issue as she emphasized the importance instead of empowering mental health professionals.
The next mayor, Mr. Jeffries said, must strike “the right balance between promoting public safety and promoting fairness and justice in policing.”
“It seems to me that Maya Wiley gets that we have to do both,” he said.
Mr. Jeffries said he had reached his decision after extensive conversations with candidates, others in the New York congressional delegation and constituents.
His mother did not wait to see where her son would land, telling Ms. Wiley weeks ago that she was on board, NY1 reported.
“My mom totally got out ahead of me on that one,” Mr. Jeffries said. “Far be it from me to break publicly from my mom.”
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