In this edition: New York's crime debate, Andrew Yang among the hecklers, and the audit-the-vote craze spreads to another swing state.

I'll come up with an infrastructure deal if the Senate can't figure it out, and this is The Trailer.

NEW YORK — Dianne Morales wants to defund the police. The 53-year old nonprofit director has a plan to do it — shifting $3 billion from the NYPD’s budget for “community first responders” and social services. And she’s the only Democrat running for mayor of New York City who talks like this.

“A year ago, it was sort of the popular thing to do,” Morales said in an interview after a Brooklyn block party for her campaign. “It wasn’t about what was popular or trending, for me. My son has been racially profiled. I’ve watched as my children were pepper-sprayed. It’s personal for me.”

One year after the murder of George Floyd, and nearly seven years after the killing of Eric Garner, New York Democrats are grappling with rising crime and nervous voters. Momentum for the sort of radical changes that took off last summer has stalled. Two candidates who have derided the “defund” movement — political entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams — have led in most polls. 

“I understood the passion and sentiment behind ‘defund the police,’ because you'd seen police officers killing people in front of your very eyes,” Yang said in an interview. “But I thought about what the solutions would be, and I felt like saying ‘defund the police’ or ‘abolish the police’ would not be the right approach.”

“Defund” has been a punching bag for moderates longer than it has been a movement, although reformers have yet to see an undeniable electoral backlash. Last week, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner rolled up a 2-to-1 landslide over a former prosecutor who blamed him for rising crime. Republicans, who held New York’s mayoralty for two decades, are gasping for relevance this year; their likeliest nominee, pundit and pro-police campaigner Curtis Sliwa, burned his hand at a Thursday rally where his supporters set face masks on fire.

But in Philadelphia, Krasner was helped by opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police, which was unpopular with Democrats even before it endorsed Donald Trump for president. In New York, the Police Benevolent Association is running ads calling generally for more cops, and Democrats are arguing among themselves; Adams, a former cop, has been endorsed by victims of police abuse, while being praised by conservative media that see him as an antidote to “smug, fussy liberals” who refuse to confront rising crime.

“I pray for them,” Adams told the New Yorker this month when asked about “defund” activists. “I’m sixty years old. I’m not going to think like an eighteen-year-old. We should meet in the middle. They should push me as much as possible.”

Crime has risen in New York, as it has in every major city since last summer. Shootings have more than doubled since the same time last year, and each candidate is pitching new ideas for taking guns off the streets. Conservatives directly, and sometimes confusingly, blame the very existence of the “defund” movement for rising crime. New York's Democrats don't — but they also don't talk about reducing police funding, not when voters are growing worried about anti-Asian violence, antisemitic attacks, and more crime on the subways.

“Those of us who are a certain age have a visceral reaction to this,” said Kathryn Garcia, 51, the city's former sanitation commissioner, who has endorsed greater police accountability but not defunding. “We remember when you wouldn't go on the subway at night, particularly as a woman or as a teenager. It was dangerous. You wouldn't go down certain blocks. You chose where to walk based on what was the lighting like, how many people were out. You’d have a whole strategy as you walked around the city. Nobody had to have a strategy for probably the last 25 years, and certainly not in my children’s time.”

The change happened quickly. In June, months before she entered the race, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley told MSNBC that the calls to cut police funding came after communities watched their resources wither while the law enforcement budget soared.

“Police budgets have been growing, and staffing of police has been growing, despite the fact that we have had three straight decades of rapid drops in crime,” Wiley said.

The “rapid drops” are over. In an interview, Wiley emphasized that previous warnings about policy changes driving up crime, such as ending the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, simply didn't come true. Police unions resisted those changes, and police sometimes had protested them with “pullbacks,” slowing down their responses to crimes. But the doomsayers had, previously, been wrong.

“Crime went down,” Wiley said. “There's actually research that shows that what we assume brings crime rates down often is not what's bringing it down. And there is research that shows that strengthening community-based organizations, strengthening the safety net, making it easier to get a job, all have big impacts in pulling crime rates down. And we have never given sufficient credit to those things when we're talking about public safety, those investments in people.”

Wiley has racked up endorsements from liberal groups; when City Comptroller Scott Stringer was accused of sexual misconduct by a former volunteer, and some endorsers abandoned him, the smart money was that Wiley would benefit. But she has registered in the single digits in most polls, which have struggled to adjust to the ranked-choice system being implemented for the first time this year; Morales, who has raised less money but is polling close behind Wiley, has proven compelling to left-wing Democrats who worry that the party is sliding back on police restructuring.

“People ultimately become accountable to the people they surround themselves with,” said state Sen. Jabari Brisport, 33, a member of Democratic Socialists of America who backs Morales. “And there's a very strong difference between people that can echo the rhetoric of progressive movements and the people that take to the streets with progressive movements.”

Jessie Pierce, a 37-year old Democratic district leader in Brooklyn, said that she'd seen some of the energy around rethinking and defunding some law enforcement fade since last summer, and after activists succeeded in killing a law that concealed police behavioral records from the public. She backed Morales, too, seeing her as the only candidate who wanted to keep it going.

“A lot of those protests, in this neighborhood, walked right past in front of my apartment,” Pierce said. “There was this huge engagement, at the state level, to get that law repealed. And I think that's a level of energy we haven't seen since then.”

Reading list

When is a Donald J. Trump float welcome, and when isn't it?

A rising wave of secretary of state candidates who flirted with “Stop the Steal.”

Everything a president says is news, so what happens to an ex-president?

“The endorsed,” by David Freedlander

The rise of Kathryn Garcia in New York.

Why conservatives see Georgia as “the next domino” after Arizona's audit.

A donor-draining that became infamous in 2020 gets a hard look.

On the ground for a process that may have a predictable outcome.

The BREATHE Act and its discontents.

On the Trail

NEW YORK — On Saturday afternoon, the Showtime host Ziwe tweeted a clip from her interview with Andrew Yang, which wouldn't be aired until Sunday. “What's your favorite Jay-Z song?” she asked. Yang paused. 

“Yes,” he said. “Um. What is my favorite Jay-Z song? It's…”

The clip ended before Yang's answer, “Encore.” But there was no way for New Yorkers to know that, and plenty of ways for them to make fun of him. “What's your favorite Jay-Z song?” shouted a heckler outside of the Barclays Center on Saturday night, where Yang shook hands before heading in to see the Nets play the Celtics. “Got one now?” On Sunday morning, after Yang played H-O-R-S-E at a Tompkins Square basketball court, mayoral candidate Paperboy Prince grilled him on Jay-Z and a heckler demanded he name a Nas song.

“Made Ya Look,” Yang told her. Seconds later, Paperboy Prince was asking him about Israel; the heckler moved on, too, screaming four-letter words about Zionism, joined by a man whose T-shirt portrayed Calvin (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) urinating on a Thin Blue Line flag.

What does any of this have to do with running New York City? That's unclear. What does it have to do with Yang's campaign? In his view, it's that people know who he is, and that has put him in a position to win the race.

“I was anonymous before the presidential campaign,” Yang said in an interview outside his Midtown apartment building on Sunday, referring to his first-ever campaign, which ended the night of the New Hampshire primary. “During the campaign, the battle was between anonymity and, I suppose, non-anonymity. So it's new for me, look, but New Yorkers are very passionate.”

Yang's journey from obscurity to cult status to genuine celebrity was, for months, the story of the primary. That was exhausting for his challengers, especially during the long, dreary shutdown months when they were stuck in little-watched Zoom forums, doing limited retail campaigning, and getting little spontaneous coverage. As Yang sees it, he started getting attacked because it was the surest way for a lesser-known candidate to make news.

I actually kind of feel for my competitors in this race, because now they feel a little bit, like, stuck,” Yang said. “There's like a relatively finite media environment. So you kind of gravitate toward the things that seem to work, to get attention.”

Polling has been sparse in this race, compared to recent mayoral campaigns. According to pollsters, the first-ever ranked-choice election has made it so hard to capture voter opinion that some haven't tried. Yang dominated early polling, which his rivals reasonably credited to his name ID, and Yang's campaign has published its own upbeat internal numbers to drive attention. A surge of violence against Asian Americans also led to high-profile coverage that helped Yang, the first Asian American to ever lead a poll for mayor of New York; state Sen. John Liu, whose 2013 bid went nowhere, endorsed him on Monday.

Following Yang and his rivals reveals that the simple version of this story is basically true. On one day last week, two of his rivals scheduled news conferences that were largely about Yang. In Manhattan, City Comptroller Scott Stringer accused Yang of “taking a cue” from Republican donors and proposing “a privatization scheme that's nothing but an attack on our public schools.” In Brooklyn, civil rights lawyer Maya Wiley hit Yang over a moment that got plenty of tabloid play — the candidate getting a question about “50a,” and blanking on the reference before a police officer who supports his campaign told him it was about preventing public access to police disciplinary records. (The protection was repealed last year.)

“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, how disciplinary records work, what we have in terms of domestic violence shelters?” Wiley asked, rhetorically.

Wiley's argument, in that moment, was that Yang was winging it; Stringer's was that he was being manipulated. Yang's approach has been to blow all of this off. Yang doesn't deny that lobbyist and venture capitalist Bradley Tusk supports him and that he has hired Tusk-affiliated consultants, for example. (“This is happening because their candidates and campaigns are behind in the polls and they’re looking for anything that can stick,” Tusk said after the New York Times reached out for comment.) Yes, three Republican donors poured money into a super PAC now running ads for him; no, he rejects the premise that their support will influence him.

“I'm thrilled with how broad our coalition is in terms of what people think of as political ideology,” Yang said when asked about the donors. “New Yorkers just want our city to work for us. There's no ideological way to pick up the trash. There's no ideological way to see to it that our city agencies are delivering at a higher value than we've been experiencing as a city for far too long.”

The thin polling data makes it difficult to know whether anything is sticking to Yang, or, as his opponents hope, that voters have started to sour on him as they've tuned into the election. It's hard to say. At a Saturday news conference in Flushing, where Yang proposed a ban on health-care worker shifts lasting more than 12 hours, a voter who turned on his phone camera and joined the scrum asked about his presidential campaign pledge for a $1,000 monthly basic income. Yang is not running on that in New York. At his campaign stops, the hecklers have been outnumbered by fans, who have few questions for Yang and see him as the only non-politician in the race. (Former Citi executive Ray McGuire, who has also never held elected office, has not caught on like Yang.)

And it's not clear what has been covered as a Yang gaffe, but received differently by voters. Yang was the first of the mayoral candidates to release a statement “standing with the people of Israel” during this month's conflict between the IDF and Hamas. Under pressure, he amended it, saying that he “mourn[s] for every Palestinian life taken before its time as I do for every Israeli.” As he campaigned this weekend, he was briefly followed by a couple, camera phones on and recording, who accused him of supporting the “murder of Palestinian children.” Within moments, he was stopped and asked for a photo by another couple, who thanked him for supporting Israel when other Democrats didn't.

“I have had a strong alignment with the people of Israel and Jewish causes for quite some time,” Yang said. “What's interesting is, like, if someone dug into my policies during the presidential race, they'd have known that. No one really cared about Israel's foreign policy viewpoints. I was pro-Israel then, too.”

Audit watch

Arizona Republicans' audit of the 2020 election picked up where it had left off today, with Maricopa County's 2.1 million ballots returning to the auditors' original fairground location. But supporters of that audit, such as former president Donald Trump, have always described it as the first of many steps to rerun ballots and prove that President Biden didn't really win list year. On Friday, a Georgia judge allowed a citizens' group some limited access to absentee ballots in majority-Black Fulton County.

In the media channels intensely focused on these audits, the Georgia news was welcomed as a breakthrough. Garland Favorito, the Georgia activist who led the legal charge, did a round of friendly interviews, celebrating the beginning of a process that, he speculated, would find that many absentee ballots were forged.

“They appear not to have been tampered with,” Favorito told John Fredericks, a Trump surrogate and radio host in Virginia who has shared conspiracy theories that the election was stolen. “Of course, you never know about that.”

What sort of fraud were the citizen auditors looking for? They were specific, claiming that tens of thousands of ballots were clearly forged. (Republican officials who ran the Georgia election have defended it as fair.) In interviews, and in a short phone call with The Trailer, Favorito has noted that in one batch of 950 overseas ballots, absentee votes cast by members of the military and other expatriates, went 950-to-0 for Biden. 

“According to the audit, there’s all sorts of situations like this,” Favorito said. “The audit results that are posted on the Secretary of State’s website show many different batches that are 100-0 for Biden. It’s not just this one.”

That's true — except for the implication that all batches of unanimous ballots were cast only for Biden. The results of the state's own “risk-limiting audit” of the 2020 vote, which was done immediately after the first ballot canvass last year, are public information. One pile of ballots, labeled “AbsenteeScanner5Batch1 — Military,” is recorded as showing 950 Biden votes and none for Trump. 

“I want you to grasp what the findings are,” Fredericks told Steve Bannon, the ex-Trump aide who now hosts the War Room podcast, where the audit efforts have been discussed at length. “Out of a batch of 950 military mail-in ballots, Joe Biden got 950 votes. Trump, zero. That's 100 percent. That's virtually impossible to have happen.”

What Fredericks didn't mention is that the next batch of ballots, labeled “AbsenteeScanner5Batch2 — Military,” found another unanimous count — 130 votes for Trump, and none for Biden. On the data made available by the state, it's hard to notice the first batch without seeing the second. One is line 19875 on the spreadsheet; the other is line 19879, on the same page. But pro-audit media has ignored the all-Trump batch, while insisting that the all-Biden batch was evidence of fraud. 

What happened? According to Gabe Sterling, the COO of the secretary of state's election office, it's likely that “somebody probably stacked these things separately,” sorting the ballots into those cast for Biden and those cast for Trump. (The state's audit only looked at the razor-thin presidential race to test whether the results were accurate.) In that batch of overseas votes, Biden got 88 percent, comparable to his performance with absentee ballots overall in a county where he got 73 percent of the vote.

This, nonetheless, is the sort of story that the civilian auditors are looking for — oddities in a complex count, which when taken out of context and added together can sound like compelling reasons to scour the ballots.

“What's threatening our democracy is ballots run through machines in New Hampshire that capture false information,” Fredericks said on his show on Monday, ticking off without proof various conspiracy theories. “What's threatening our democracy is up to 30,000 counterfeit ballots injected into the vote stream in Fulton County. What's threatening our democracy is rampant voter fraud and no chain of custody with all these drop boxes in Arizona.” 

Ad watch

Comeback PAC, “Comeback.” The first of this pro-Andrew Yang super PAC's ads got attention not for the content, but for the disclaimer at the end: The names of Republican donors Jeff Yass, Kenneth Griffin, and Daniel Loeb. (New York City requires large donors to be disclosed in campaign ads.) The ad itself looks exactly like Yang's own spots, promising cash relief and schools, without the candidate's light touch.

New York for Ray, “Comeback.” Ray McGuire, a former Citi executive who has not gotten traction in the mayoral race, also has a helpful friend-funded super PAC. Like his own ads, it does not mention exactly what he used to do, saying the candidate rose “from a single mom home to the suites of business power.” It makes concrete pledges, saying McGuire can create 500,000 jobs in an infrastructure-building plan, and the city can pay half of workers' salaries for a year to get business to return.

New York City Police Benevolent Association, “Time for Solutions.” This is one in a series of law enforcement-linked spots running on news radio stations in New York, sharing some time with campaign ads. Union President Patrick Lynch says that “all New Yorkers hear from our elected leaders are excuses,” then repeatedly calls for the city to ”hire more cops."

Brad Lander, “We're With Brad.” The most left-wing candidate in the city's comptroller race, Lander's path narrowed significantly after former city council speaker Corey Johnson jumped in. Lander has called in favors from allies, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) join municipal allies like Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, promising voters that Lander will fight for them and make sure the city rebuilds equitably. 

Phil Murphy, “Easy." New Jersey's Democratic governor partially self-funded his 2017 campaign and did not attract a well-known challenger for this one. His campaign went on the air in the last week, trying a mix of positive and contrast messaging. This is the latter, telling the state's hyper-Democratic electorate that Murphy's GOP alternatives are copying Trump: “Downplaying covid, hyping a ‘stolen election,’ restricting reproductive rights, dividing people.” The election is framed as a choice between progress and going “back to Trump.”

Glenn Youngkin, “We Need an Outsider.” The first general-election ad by Virginia's GOP nominee for governor echoes his early biographical material when he entered the race: “I got a job flippin' eggs and I practiced basketball until I got a scholarship to college.” Democrats won't have their nominee until June 8, and their efforts to quickly define Youngkin as a Trump clone have not broken through yet, but Youngkin makes it clear who he expects to run against: “Politicians of the past,” i.e. former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Get Michigan Working Again, "Suzette's Testimonial." The Republican Governors Association has started up this PAC to go after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has been lifting the state's strict covid-19 lockdown rules, but not before violating one that governed restaurant seating (she quickly apologized) and taking a brief trip to Florida paid for largely by a fund created for her 2019 transition. Local Republicans have focused on whether the trip violated state ethics laws; the GOP PAC's ad accuses Whitmer of hypocrisy, asking why she could visit her father in Florida when Michiganders were told to stay home and not visit loved ones.

Poll watch

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president? (Gallup, 1016 adults)

Approve: 54% (-3 since April) 
Disapprove: 40%

It has become a monthly tradition: Crises swirl around the White House, Biden's opponents fixate on a few issues that they think expose his weaknesses, and Gallup's poll finds almost no voters changing their opinions of the president. Biden is still more popular here than he was on Election Day, thanks largely to voters who picked Trump in November approving of him now. Biden won 41 percent of White voters, but is backed by 44 percent of them now; he won independents by 13 points, and holds a net 16-point approval rating with them now. 

Coverage of Biden's polling has emphasized that he's less popular, with a smaller coalition of early support, than most recent presidents. It hasn't mattered, because the exception is his most recent predecessor, who by this point in his presidency had an approval rating under 40 percent. Trump was bogged down by the unpopular effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and although Republicans have mobilized against aspects of Biden's agenda, nothing has generated the sort of protests and direct action, which can shift opinions, that the repeal fight did in 2017 or the effort to pass the ACA in the first place did in 2009.

 

Special elections

Early voting in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District ends on Saturday, and a sizable number of ballots have already been cast. As of Monday night, nearly 53,000 people in the Albuquerque-area seat had voted; the breakdown, provided by the Albuquerque Journal's Dan Boyd, skewed Democratic.

A week before the June 1 election, 31,640 Democrats had cast votes, compared to just 14,581 Republicans and 236 Libertarians. Another 6,112 ballots came from voters with no party affiliation. Democrats made up around 60 percent of the electorate, while Republicans made up about 28 percent. 

Republicans actually shrank the Democrats' advantage after the first week of early voting, a boost to their nominee, state Sen. Mark Moores. But Democrat Melanie Stansbury has carved out a clear advantage, and has outraised the Republican despite the race's modest national profile. 

As we noted last week, Stansbury raised $1.35 million since entering the race, spent more than $867,000 and began the early voting period with nearly $525,000 on hand. Moores, who filed his pre-primary FEC report a little later, raised a total of $395,423, spent $467,979, and had $249,924 left to spend for the final stretch. (He'd put $200,000 of his own money in at the start of the race, letting him get on the air early.)

Moores, who has courted national conservative media coverage for his race, has argued that his focus on crime, taxes and quality of life can drive enough votes to overcome Stansbury.

“Turnout is very low, and if we get our base out and Republicans out, we will win this race,” he told Breitbart News last week.

Turnout could go higher than it has been in other special House races this year. In a special House election in Texas on May 1, where weak Democratic turnout cost them a spot in a runoff, just 78,374 voters showed up. 

Moores has continued to hammer the crime issue as the race wraps up, focusing on Stansbury's comment, in a forum last month, that Congress should pass the BREATHE Act, a proposal to end most federal police spending and close federal prisons. (Her campaign clarified in a comment that if the proposal was introduced as legislation, which it has not been, she would weigh its merits.) 

He got the endorsement of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association on Friday, although Stansbury was never expected to get it; the APOA endorsed the 2020 GOP nominee in the district, too. Stansbury's own ads have continued to broadcast her support from individuals in law enforcement, such as Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez.

Countdown

… seven days until the special election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District
… 14 days until primaries in New Jersey and Virginia
… 28 days until New York Citys primary
… 63 days until the special election in Texas's 6th Congressional District
… 70 days until the special primaries in Ohio’s 11th and 15th Congressional Districts
… 161 days until the special primaries in Florida's 20th Congressional District