Kathryn Garcia may have experience dealing with trash, but critics fear she just doesn’t have the political chops to clean up Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mess.
“She’s proven to be — in terms of city government — a good manager,” said Sid Davidoff, a longtime political veteran and former aide to Mayor John Lindsay.
“The strike that she has is this is a world of politics. You’re going to have a City Council that’s hugely progressive, you got a governor who doesn’t take any prisoners when it comes to the mayor, and she’s never been tested in this arena.”
Garcia, who’s top experience in government was heading the city Department of Sanitation under de Blasio, was leading the 2021 race for the Democratic mayoral nomination in a poll released last week.
She got 21 percent of the vote over Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who got 20, and Andrew Yang, who got 16.
But her recent polling rise belies a lack of political experience, that will come back to bite her if she were to win the June 22 vote and the November general election, said two longtime Democratic operators who’ve both worked with Garcia in city government.
“Is she good at politics? Most definitely not,” said one of the operatives.
“The governor is going to make her life miserable, the council is definitely going to give her a run for her money, and there’s federal negotiations that have to go on.”
The third source, an elected leader, reiterated that Garcia doesn’t have “the political relationships both in Washington and in Albany or even in the city” to be an effective mayor.
The source said it would be challenging for Garcia to negotiate “the push and pull between police reform and rising crime.
“How does she deal with communities of color across New York City who both want police reform, but also want crime to go down? Does she have those deep relationships with members of the clergy and community leader and elected officials and NYCHYA tenant association presidents who you need to have relationships with?”
And even Garcia’s reputation as a crisis manager isn’t stellar.
A nonprofit leader and a councilman who worked with her on Get Food — the emergency meals program Garcia led during the coronavirus pandemic — gave her a “B” grade for the job.
They cited the difficulty of seniors using technology to sign up for meals as well as issues with quality and delivery.
“Overall they did run a much more robust food program than what we saw that the beginning,” said Michelle Jackson, director of the Human Services Council. Jackson was referring to the period of time when Garcia took over the program from the Dept. for the Aging in March and had served 200 million meals by July.
“I’d give it a solid B,” Jackson said about Garcia’s program. “I think that one of the downsides was the how reliant we as New York City were on internet, the fact when you’re trying to get food in particular to seniors that was a barrier across every part of the pandemic,” she said.
Councilman Bob Holden (D-Queens) gave a Garcia similar mark.
“In my dealing with her on the food and on sanitation I would grade her like a B-plus,” said Holden, who has not endorsed anyone in the mayoral race.
Holden came across piles of Get Food boxes dumped around his district, likely by unemployed taxi drivers who’d been hired to deliver the food. When he spoke to Garcia about it, he was surprised to learn that she couldn’t track individual meal packages using a bar code or another system to determine who was wasting the food.
But, he said, she was multitasking, running both the Department of Sanitation and the food program, so he gives her a pass.
“I think you have to grade her differently because one person can do so much,” Holden said.
De Blasio also appointed Garcia as his senior advisor for citywide lead prevention and she’s very well regarded among the current mayor’s staff.
That’s a low bar, according to one critic.
“She’s the best of the de Blasio world. The problem is the de Blasio world sucks. It doesn’t make you a rock star it means you’re pretty good and she falls into the pretty good category,” the Democratic operative said.
A spokeswoman for Garcia defended her record.
“Kathryn Garcia is not a politician, unlike the other frontrunners in this race. She is practical, decisive, and has a real track record of getting tough jobs done,” the spokeswoman said.
“If Kathryn Garcia, who has served 8.4 million New Yorkers for 14 years, doesn’t have the ‘experience’ to be mayor, then no one in this race has the experience to be mayor.”
The Get Food program “has delivered over 230 million meals to date and earned a 95% satisfaction rate.
“Whenever the few isolated incidents with food or delivery occurred, Kathryn’s team, which pulled from multiple city agencies, immediately worked to correct the issue and she immediately fired vendors who didn’t meet the standard. If there was ever a problem, Kathryn fixed it because that’s what leaders do,” the rep said.