Early NYC mayoral primary results show Adams leading, Yang concedes
New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams smiles during a event in Brooklyn on June 21, 2021, the eve of New York City's primary election day(AFP)

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams led a crowded field of Democratic candidates for New York mayor in early results on Tuesday night, but the winner is unlikely to be known for weeks as election officials await a flood of absentee ballots.

The primary contest also employed ranked-choice voting - a system in which voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference - for the first time in a mayoral race, adding to the uncertainty.

With nearly 400,000 votes tallied, Adams, a former police captain, was ranked as the first choice on just under 30% of ballots.

Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation chief who campaigned as an experienced technocrat, was in second place with about 22%; Maya Wiley, the former MSNBC analyst and civil rights lawyer who emerged as the leading liberal candidate, was just behind with 21%.

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who spent months as the front-runner, conceded the New York City mayoral race on Tuesday after early results showed him in a distant fourth place.

"I am a numbers guy," Yang told supporters. "And I am not going to be the next mayor of New York city based on upon the numbers that have come in tonight. I am conceding this race."

Nine other candidates were in single digits or lower.

The winner of Tuesday's Democratic contest to succeed term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio will be an overwhelming favourite in November's general election, given the city's heavily Democratic lean. Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels civilian patrol group, held an early lead in the Republican primary against businessman Fernando Mateo.

Voters also were choosing among eight Democratic candidates seeking to replace retiring Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. The nominee, who will be all but guaranteed to win November's general election, would inherit Vance's criminal probe into former President Donald Trump's business empire.

The next mayor will confront deep challenges, including wealth inequality, police accountability, a lack of affordable housing and a struggling tourism industry in the United States' most populous city.

The unusually fluid campaign was dominated by the issue of public safety, as the city confronts a surge in shootings amid an ongoing national debate over policing.

The leading moderate candidates - Adams, Garcia and Yang - all called for increased police resources.

Wiley, by contrast, proposed cutting $1 billion from the nearly $6 billion NYPD budget, redirecting the funding instead to other services, such as mental health counselling.

Almost all of the top candidates would make history: Adams as the city's second Black mayor, Yang as the first Asian-American mayor, Garcia as the first female mayor and Wiley as the first Black female mayor.

Delayed results

The new system of ranked-choice voting operates as a series of instant runoffs. If no candidate exceeds 50% among first-choice ballots - considered unlikely in such a fractured field - the candidate in last place is eliminated, and his or her votes are redistributed to the voters' second choices.

The process repeats until there are only two candidates left, and the winner is the one with a majority of ballots.

The Board of Elections intends to announce the first round of results from its tabulation of in-person votes on June 29 and plans to release a second round that includes some absentee ballots a week later. Final results are expected the week of July 12, after the deadline for voters to fix, or "cure," deficient ballots has passed.

At a polling station in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighbourhood, voters generally welcomed the new system, though some conceded they felt pressure to do more homework than usual to reach five choices.

"Once you sit and down and read everything, then it's actually pretty easy," said Meg Vasu, a 30-year-old attorney.

She ranked Wiley first after coming away impressed by her performance in the mayoral debates.

"I felt that she was the best progressive choice for the city," Vasu said.

Michael Hartman, a 41-year-old lawyer, said he ranked Garcia first, in part based on endorsements by the New York Times and the New York Daily News.

"I think she is the most competent candidate," he said. "She has tremendous depth of experience."

Like some other voters, he approached his ballot strategically, ranking Wiley but leaving off Adams and Yang, whom he disliked as candidates.

The use of ranked-choice voting, which incentivises candidates to ask rivals' supporters to rank them highly as well, prompted an unusual sight over the race's final weekend: Yang and Garcia campaigned together on Saturday and Sunday in an apparent effort to blunt Adams' rising momentum.

Yang encouraged his supporters to rank Garcia as their second choice; Garcia stopped short of doing so but offered praise for Yang's campaign.