First came the fevered pitch of the warm-up speeches and the catchy campaign jingle, in English and Spanish, which rang through the air at the park just south of City Hall. The New York City mayor’s race was approaching a pivotal moment, and Eric Adams, one of the top candidates, seemed prepared to seize it.
Mr. Adams proclaimed his readiness for a brutal final stretch of the mayoral primary — and, in ways implicit and overt, proceeded to rip into the track record of Andrew Yang, his chief rival, as he sketched out his own vision for the city.
Just a day earlier, Mr. Yang, whose campaign has been typified by congeniality and optimism, lashed out at Mr. Adams’s fund-raising practices, in his most direct criticism of an opponent to date.
Other attacks came from Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, who laced into both Mr. Adams and Mr. Yang for currying favor from “hedge-fund billionaires,” and challenged Mr. Yang over education issues. And Maya D. Wiley held a news conference last week to skewer Mr. Yang over his knowledge of policing matters.
Four weeks before the June 22 Democratic primary that will almost certainly determine New York City’s next mayor, the race is approximating a traditional campaign brawl after months of somewhat passive but decorous exchanges over video forums.
For much of the race, Mr. Yang, the former presidential candidate, has led the sparse public polling, and most of the broadsides from other candidates have been aimed at him.
But Mr. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, has increasingly appeared to occupy at least as much of his rivals’ head space — a reflection of his strength in the contest.
“You don’t aim at what’s weak, you aim at what’s strong,” said Donovan Richards, the Queens borough president who is supporting Mr. Adams, ahead of his City Hall rally. “We’re moving into the final stretch and the race will intensify more, but clearly he’s resonating.”
The next mayor of New York will play a central role in determining how the nation’s largest city recovers from the pandemic and overlapping crises concerning the economy, inequality and public safety. Aware of those stakes, the candidates are racing to press their cases, bombarding voters with flurries of campaign literature, accelerating in-person campaign schedules and sharpening their contrasts with each other.
Since Jan. 1, there has been more than $24 million in Democratic spending in the mayor’s race, according to AdImpact, an advertising tracking firm, including a flood of outside spending on behalf of several of the candidates. A number of the contenders still have significant war chests available to fuel a barrage of ads through the end of the race.
According to political strategists, advisers to the candidates and the public polling available, Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams are generally seen as the front-runners, but another candidate could still surge, even at this late stage.
Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, is working to build momentum after endorsements from the editorial boards of The New York Times and The New York Daily News, and she has shown some traction in the limited available polling.
Ms. Wiley, who delivered an assertive debate performance, released her second ad last week, and is seeking to build a coalition that includes Black voters and white progressives. She is competing with Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, to emerge as the left-wing standard-bearer in the race, a position Mr. Stringer had hoped to occupy.
An accusation that Mr. Stringer made unwanted sexual advances during a 2001 campaign, which he denies, has derailed that ambition, with several key left-leaning supporters rescinding their endorsements. For the last fund-raising period, he raised less than the seven other leading candidates, though his campaign noted that the haul was bigger than that of the preceding two-month period.
Mr. Stringer remains well-funded, is advertising extensively and has the support of some powerful unions. He has also received air cover from a super PAC associated with teachers’ unions.
Raymond J. McGuire, a former Citi executive, and Shaun Donovan, the former federal housing secretary, are also well-funded candidates with active campaign schedules and the support of super PACs who are looking for ways to break out. In the last fund-raising period, Mr. McGuire, Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams appeared to pull in the most money, though Ms. Wiley and Ms. Garcia in particular showed growth compared with the previous period.
The arrival of ranked-choice voting in New York City, in which voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference, has also injected a measure of significant uncertainty into the contest — and on the ground, there are signs that many voters have not yet made decisions about their first choices, much less the rest of their ballots.
There are two more official Democratic debates scheduled — one is for “leading contenders” — that may help voters decide, though the candidates are frustrated that the June 2 matchup is slated to be virtual. And in the final weeks, key influencers like Representative Hakeem Jeffries, who endorsed Ms. Wiley, are now choosing sides.
On Sunday, Representative Adriano Espaillat, a prominent Dominican-American lawmaker who pulled his endorsement of Mr. Stringer, announced his support for Mr. Adams — a decision that was being closely watched as the battle for Latino voters intensifies.
Other high-profile Democrats are weighing how best to use their influence as the four-week countdown arrives. State Senator John C. Liu of Queens, an influential voice in New York Asian-American politics, is expected to endorse Mr. Yang on Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Representative Grace Meng, the highest-ranking Asian-American elected official in New York, also backed Mr. Yang earlier this month.
“I was leaning toward not endorsing, I’m leaning more toward it now,” said Jumaane D. Williams, the public advocate.
“If I do endorse it would be a combination of where I think I ideologically align and who I think shouldn’t run the city,” or, he added, “who I’d have concerns about running the city.”
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.
- Get to Know the Candidates: We asked leading candidates for mayor questions about everything from police reform and climate change to their favorite bagel order and workout routine.
- 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.
He declined to specify which candidates were stoking those worries. But some on the left oppose Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams over matters including their relatively moderate approaches to policing and dealings with the business community. (Mr. Williams has, however, spoken highly of Mr. Adams’s focus on combating gun violence.)
Earlier this month, Mr. Yang drew a public rebuke from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, over a tweet of unqualified support for Israel amid violence in the region. He later offered a more modulated statement.
More broadly, Mr. Yang continues to face sharp criticism from rivals over his grasp of city government. On Thursday, for instance, he struggled to navigate, among other issues, a question about a statute that shielded the disciplinary records of police officers, one that has been a focus of debate in recent years and was repealed.
“Can you imagine a woman running to be the mayor of the largest city in the nation, not actually knowing or understanding how the Police Department works?” Ms. Wiley said on Friday. “The fact that any of us, with one of the major issues in this race, doesn’t actually understand what the conversation has been in this city is one that really should cause us to ask about qualification.”
Chris Coffey, Mr. Yang’s co-campaign manager, argued that Mr. Yang is knowledgeable about the substance of the core issues in the race.
“If they’re looking for a mayor who is kind of the most insider-y person and knows the debt limit for the M.T.A., then maybe Andrew’s not going to be their candidate,” he said at a news briefing. “Andrew is someone who has a big vision for cash relief, for getting schools open and for bringing New York back and making it more safe.”
Mr. Adams, for his part, has found himself under fire from Mr. Yang and others following a New York Times report about how he mixed money and political ambitions. His campaign has denied wrongdoing and demanded an investigation into Mr. Yang’s fund-raising.
Mr. Adams, a former police officer who challenged issues of police misconduct from within the system,is running on a message focused on combating inequality and racial injustice, and above all else, promoting public safety.
There are signs that the spike in shootings and unsettling episodes of violence on the subway in recent weeks have emerged as one of the most consequential, and divisive, matters in the contest.
Mr. Adams, who says he was once a victim of police violence, bristles at the idea that his position on public safety is in conflict with support for reining in police abuse.
“You can critique me on a lot of things, but the audacity of some people to say, ‘He has not been a leading voice on stop-and-frisk,’” Mr. Adams said at a Harlem-area rally on Saturday, shortly after Ms. Wiley criticized him on that very issue at a debate. “Where have you been? If you don’t know my history on that issue, then something is wrong with you.”
Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.