Kathryn Garcia Doesn’t Want to Be Anyone’s No. 2

Kathryn Garcia Doesn’t Want to Be Anyone’s No. 2

Ms. Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner, was considered New York City’s downside solver. Now she faces her personal problem: persuading voters to elect a newcomer to politics.

Kathryn Garcia, the previous sanitation commissioner, is searching for to develop into the primary girl to be elected mayor of New York City.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The New York City mayoral race is likely one of the most consequential political contests in a era, with immense challenges awaiting the winner. This is the seventh in a collection of profiles of the main candidates.

By Dana Rubinstein

June 7, 2021

Even for a New York City mayoral candidate who appeared like an extended shot, the occasion early final month had a determined high quality to it.

Kathryn Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner, had agreed to a “pie-off” charity look with Paperboy Love Prince, an artist additionally operating for mayor. Before they threw pies in one another’s faces, they’d a dance-off, and he or she joked on Twitter that she would quickly be “having a word with my staff.”

A few days later, Ms. Garcia started airing her first tv marketing campaign advert. It, too, may need been described as being considerably out of the field — however she truly stands contained in the field, a large crimson dice labeled “in case of emergency break glass.” She dons a pair of security glasses and a leather-based jacket, and we see the glass shatter.

The messages appeared clear: Sometimes you might have to throw some pies and break some glass to draw consideration and — to paraphrase a profane marketing campaign slogan of hers — to get stuff performed.

For a lot of the mayoral race, Ms. Garcia, 51, had appeared hampered by a scarcity of assets and identify recognition. Her fellow Democrats praised her expertise in metropolis authorities, the place she held management positions on the metropolis’s sanitation, environmental and public housing businesses.

Yet on the time of the pie-off, Ms. Garcia was regarded so benignly that Andrew Yang parried critiques of his personal authorities inexperience with guarantees to rent Ms. Garcia if elected. According to Ms. Garcia, Eric Adams, a former state senator now serving as Brooklyn borough president, had privately mentioned he would search to rent her, too. A spokesman for Mr. Adams declined to remark.

Their gambit, Ms. Garcia mentioned, was sexist. It might also have confirmed counterproductive: Voters started to concentrate on her . Editorial board endorsements got here from The New York Times and The Daily News. Donations rolled in. Supporters began a brilliant PAC to bolster her marketing campaign.

A late surge by Ms. Garcia has elevated her candidacy for the Democratic nomination.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

With two weeks left earlier than the first, which is all however sure to decide the subsequent mayor on this closely Democratic metropolis, a number of the race’s restricted polling places Ms. Garcia within the high three, alongside Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams. A fourth candidate, Maya Wiley, might be buoyed by latest endorsements from left-leaning Democrats, together with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman.

If Ms. Garcia turns into mayor, she says she is going to mandate curbside composting, a now-voluntary program began within the Bloomberg administration that she expanded. She needs to fill a jail-free Rikers Island with renewable power capability, together with photo voltaic panels, battery storage and electrical car charging stations.

She says she would spend $630 million a yr to present free youngster take care of younger youngsters in households making lower than $70,000 a yr — to be funded largely by discovering price financial savings elsewhere in authorities — and assure housing for each foster care youngster till they’re 26 years previous.

She could be New York City’s first feminine mayor. But there are hurdles that she should surmount first.

She is by many accounts an even-keeled colleague who’s cool below stress. But she lacks the performative, charismatic qualities that so typically animate politicians, to the frustration of a few of her supporters. And although her greater than six years within the de Blasio administration had been nicely regarded, they’ve nonetheless given opponents ammunition to tie her to a mayor who’s unpopular with some parts of the first voters.

As sanitation commissioner, Ms. Garcia redesigned the town’s snow plow routes to enhance effectivity.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

“Why is ability not wholly the conversation?” she requested lately. “Shouldn’t that be what we’re looking for in our next mayor? That you can actually do the job, that you know how to do the job, that there’s some track record that says you would be effective at this?”

Adventures after babysitting

When Bruce and Ann McIver picked up their first youngster, Kathryn, from the adoption company, she was simply days previous, the organic youngster of two graduate college students.

They promptly moved right into a four-story home on First Street in Brooklyn, only a few blocks from Prospect Park. With its roots planted in Park Slope, the household grew to embody 5 youngsters — Black and white, organic and adopted, together with one longtime ward of the foster system.

Ms. Garcia was what her father calls a simple youngster. She saved her cash. She attended the elite Stuyvesant High School. Her youthful brother, Matt, described her as a “planner” and “very rigid.” She saved her bed room neat, adorning its partitions with the lyrics to Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and an commercial for Soloflex, a exercise machine whose advertising and marketing marketing campaign featured a person’s chiseled abs.

The household recalled that her most excessive act of youthful riot occurred when she was a teen and determined to see Prince throughout his Purple Rain tour at Nassau Coliseum. She and a pal lined up in a single day in Manhattan to purchase tickets, just for their fathers to present up and drive them dwelling. (They ended up seeing the present anyway.)

Mr. McIver, a Montana native, served as Mayor Edward I. Koch’s chief labor negotiator. His spouse, Ann McIver, was an English professor at Medgar Evers College who grew to become government director of the Morningside Area Alliance, a Manhattan nonprofit.

Growing up, Ms. Garcia babysat for the kids of Robert W. Linn, who would develop into Mr. de Blasio’s chief labor negotiator, and Emily Lloyd, who would go on to run the town’s Department of Environmental Protection.

That connection would finally repay. Ms. Lloyd recruited Ms. Garcia to work as an unpaid intern on the Department of Sanitation after she graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Years later, Ms. Lloyd would appoint Ms. Garcia as her chief of employees on the Department of Environmental Protection. And it was Ms. Lloyd who later instructed to Anthony Shorris — Mr. de Blasio’s first deputy mayor — that he rent Ms. Garcia as sanitation commissioner.

During her stint within the Department of Environmental Protection, Ms. Garcia typically responded to crises, together with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Along the way in which, Ms. Garcia labored for the Department of Finance and for Appleseed, a consulting agency the place she performed financial analyses for shoppers like Columbia University.

She started to construct a popularity as a dependable chief amid disaster. At the Department of Environmental Protection, the place she finally grew to become chief working officer, Ms. Garcia helped restart the town’s pumping stations after Hurricane Sandy and introduced crews adept with chain saws down from the town’s upstate watershed to clear fallen timber.

As sanitation commissioner, Ms. Garcia redesigned the town’s snow plow routes to enhance effectivity and to keep away from the kind of winter disaster that has given mayors complications, and infrequently price them their jobs.

The McIver youngsters are nonetheless shut. On a latest Sunday afternoon, the household gathered for bagels at Ms. Garcia’s sisters’ home in Brooklyn.

Ms. Garcia, along with her brother, Matt McIver, and sister Melanie McIver, grew up in Brooklyn and now lives not removed from her household’s dwelling.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The sisters milled about, as did their brother, Matt, their mom, Ann, and Ms. Garcia’s nieces, Lily and Penelope. There had been additionally two canines and a garter snake named Checkers.

Lily, who’s 6, went to the breakfast desk to slice a bagel. Ms. Garcia leapt off the sofa to intervene.

“I’ve done it before,” Lily protested.

Running away from Bill de Blasio

Ms. Garcia is operating as a reasonable within the Democratic main, very similar to Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams, who lead most polls. She rejects the defund the police motion, however would search to require new officers to reside within the 5 boroughs to higher combine the police pressure with the communities they serve, and would increase the recruitment age from 21 to 25.

She has additionally proposed creating 50,000 models of what she calls “deeply affordable” housing, whereas legalizing extra basement and single-room occupancy residences. She helps permitting extra constitution colleges to open and creating extra devoted bus lanes.

But above all, she is operating on her popularity for competence, one she honed whereas working for Mr. de Blasio.

After the mayor in 2019 signed on to a controversial deal ceding some authority over the New York City Housing Authority to the federal authorities, the interim chair, Stanley Brezenoff, stop. Mr. de Blasio requested Ms. Garcia to step in till a brand new chair might be discovered.

“They needed somebody credible, somebody with a demonstrable track record, someone who wouldn’t be immediately overwhelmed by the problems and the challenges of the task at hand,” Mr. Brezenoff mentioned. “So she went from a palace where she reigned supreme and took this on. That’s my definition virtually of being a good soldier in the interests of the public and the city.”

Ms. Garcia spent about 4 months main the housing authority. Victor Bach, the senior housing coverage analyst for the Community Service Society of New York, mentioned he was “impressed with her skills as an administrator, particularly as a pinch-hitter NYCHA chair, transiting from sanitation to a strange new NYCHA universe.”

But Daniel Barber, the pinnacle of the citywide council of tenant representatives, faulted her for not doing sufficient to impact change.

“Although Kathryn Garcia was the commissioner of sanitation, NYCHA was still faced with major garbage issues,” mentioned Mr. Barber, who has endorsed Raymond J. McGuire for mayor. “You can still see them today.”

Mr. de Blasio additionally gave Ms. Garcia the duty of coordinating metropolis efforts to scale back childhood lead publicity. And when the coronavirus pandemic threw a million New Yorkers out of labor, he requested her to create an emergency meals community. At its peak, it distributed 1.5 million meals a day throughout the 5 boroughs.

Ms. Garcia’s distribution system was not with out flaws, which her opponents have lately seized upon to solid doubt on her administration expertise.

But Joel Berg, the chief government of Hunger Free America, who has labored to combat starvation for many years, marveled that Ms. Garcia’s workforce had managed to arrange a program in a matter of weeks that will usually have taken the federal government years.

“Some of my colleagues were quibbling some of the meals weren’t perfect, some of the deliveries got botched, there wasn’t perfect sourcing of organic fruits from local farmers,” Mr. Berg mentioned. “I get all that. But what they did in a short period of time was pretty darn amazing.”

Ms. Garcia started her profession in authorities as an unpaid intern on the metropolis’s division of sanitation. Decades later, she grew to become its commissioner.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Ms. Garcia’s central transient within the de Blasio administration was the usually unglamorous work of managing New York City’s trash and its snow. It is usually one of many extra thankless jobs in authorities, one that pulls media consideration solely when the commissioner fails. But Ms. Garcia managed to thrive there and earn widespread reward.

Antonio Reynoso, the town councilman whose Sanitation Committee had oversight of the Sanitation Department, described Ms. Garcia as “absolutely amazing.”

Understand the N.Y.C. Mayoral Race

Who’s Running for Mayor? There are greater than a dozen folks nonetheless within the race to develop into New York City’s subsequent mayor, and the first shall be held on June 22. Here’s a rundown of the candidates.Get to Know the Candidates: We requested main candidates for mayor questions on all the pieces from police reform and local weather change to their favourite bagel order and exercise routine.What is Ranked-Choice Voting? New York City started utilizing ranked-choice voting for main elections this yr, and voters shall be ready to listing up to 5 candidates so as of desire. Confused? We will help.

With Mr. Reynoso, Ms. Garcia helped move a waste fairness invoice that aimed to extra pretty distribute non-public waste switch stations across the metropolis. The two additionally helped spearhead the reform of the notoriously harmful business carting business.

The metropolis is now establishing a zoned system, and personal carting firms can have to compete to deal with the non-public trash in these zones. The initiative is anticipated to scale back truck site visitors in New York City by 18 million miles a yr.

Ms. Garcia gained over the division’s rank and file. Four unions representing sanitation staff and supervisors in the private and non-private sectors, in addition to one affiliation representing sanitation chiefs, have endorsed her candidacy.

“I honestly feel she is the person to run the city right now,” mentioned Harry Nespoli, the president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, which represents the majority of the division’s staff. “I’ve seen her work, I’ve worked with her, I’ve seen her turn around and take on issues that other people wouldn’t take on, and she gave it everything she had.”

Jimmy Oddo, the Staten Island borough president and a Republican, mentioned he had a number of buddies operating within the mayor’s race, however “big part” of him — the pissed off 30-year authorities worker, as he put it — was “probably rooting for Kathryn the hardest.”

Mr. de Blasio thought so extremely of Ms. Garcia that he requested her to be his deputy mayor for operations, she confirmed. But her accomplishments in his administration are additionally being utilized by her opponents on the marketing campaign path.

Ms. Garcia appears conscious of the potential de Blasio impact. She turned down the deputy mayor supply, and when she in the end resigned from the administration prematurely of her run for mayor, she criticized Mr. de Blasio for making cuts to the Sanitation Department through the pandemic, inflicting trash to pile up on metropolis streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who selected Ms. Garcia as sanitation commissioner in 2014, put her in command of creating an emergency meals community through the pandemic.Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

She has lately broadened her criticism of Mr. de Blasio, saying that he might be an excessive amount of of a micromanager, with no obvious curiosity in asking his commissioners what he may do to assist them obtain coverage objectives. She has mentioned Mr. de Blasio’s new $100 billion funds, by creating new packages whilst the town is dealing with funds gaps, mirrored “poor decision-making,” and he or she has promised to recast the pricey signature psychological well being initiative, Thrive — created by the mayor’s spouse, Chirlane McCray — to focus extra on folks with essentially the most extreme psychological well being challenges.

At the second official Democratic debate on Wednesday, seven of the eight candidates mentioned they didn’t need Mr. de Blasio’s endorsement. The one exception was Mr. Yang.

The subsequent morning, a reporter requested Mr. de Blasio to touch upon the efforts by two of his former aides — Ms. Garcia and Ms. Wiley, who served as his counsel — to distance themselves from him whereas operating for mayor.

“It just proves they’re politicians now,” he mentioned.

A practitioner, not a practiced politico

If Ms. Garcia does attain City Hall, she is unlikely to overlook her roots and what acquired her there. She nonetheless talks to her father every single day — she from the marketing campaign path; he from the Hell’s Kitchen condominium constructing that he mentioned Mr. Yang lived in earlier than shifting into one other constructing close by.

Her two youngsters are grown; her son lives close by. She travels between her Park Slope dwelling and the Staten Island dwelling of her boyfriend, Andy Metz, who manages residential building tasks.

Until she acquired divorced in 2016, Ms. Garcia was married to Jerry Garcia, a banker of Puerto Rican descent. Her surname might assist her with Latino voters, who’re anticipated to make up about 20 % of main voters.

Ms. Garcia is not going to have a “first gentleman” if she makes it to Gracie Mansion. And her boyfriend, she mentioned, is not going to reside along with her.

“We don’t live together now,” she mentioned. “I don’t think that’s going to change.”

Ms. Garcia described most of her rivals as politicians, a characterization that she argued didn’t apply to herself.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Last week, Ms. Garcia sat at her kitchen desk within the blue Park Slope rowhouse the place she and her ex-husband raised their household, not removed from the place she grew up. She had simply gotten again from a gathering with Jewish leaders in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and was about to do an Instagram interview with the “Broad City” star Ilana Glazer. By that night, she could be in Rockaway Beach in Queens, assembly voters.

She was doing all the issues politician ought to do to win workplace. But nonetheless, she refused to assume the mantle of “politician.”

“The usual person who runs is a politician, and I would actually put many of the people who are running in that category,” Ms. Garcia mentioned. “And that is clearly not me.”

If voters do in reality swing like pendulums — with each cycle turning away from the outgoing mayor towards what looks like a foil — it’s potential that New Yorkers hungry for the notion of competence at a time of disaster will propel Ms. Garcia to victory.

It can also be potential that Ms. Garcia will profit from the town’s new ranked-choice voting system, which permits voters to rank up to 5 candidates so as of desire. If no candidate receives greater than 50 % of the first-choice vote, the last-place finisher is eradicated. Voters who picked the eradicated candidate as their first alternative can have their second-choice votes counted as an alternative. The course of continues till there’s a winner.

A latest ballot commissioned by the conservative Manhattan Institute confirmed Ms. Garcia’s proportion of the vote rising as Dianne Morales, Mr. McGuire and Scott Stringer had been eradicated within the mock ranked-choice tabulations.

Ms. Garcia is circumspect about when she determined to run. But certainly one of her earlier employers, Hugh O’Neill, the Appleseed president, mentioned he remembered the primary time he heard the thought floated.

In 2016, Ms. Garcia did a presentation for the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog group. Several folks had been impressed and approached Mr. O’Neill to ask if he thought she may take into account operating for mayor.

He mentioned the thought with Ms. Lloyd after which a few instances with Ms. Garcia herself.

“She made clear that she thought that she could do it, but she didn’t think that was where her future was,” he mentioned. “And then, she called me, probably late last summer, and said, ‘I think I’m running for mayor.’ I said, ‘I’m glad to hear it.’”