Kathryn Garcia, one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most trusted cabinet members, resigned on Tuesday from her post as sanitation commissioner in anticipation of a potential run for mayor of New York City.
If Ms. Garcia formally enters the race to succeed Mr. de Blasio in 2021, she will be the third administration veteran — all of them women — to run for the job or consider doing so. Mr. de Blasio’s former top counsel, Maya Wiley, resigned from her position at MSNBC to prepare a mayoral run. Loree K. Sutton, who ran New York City’s Department of Veterans’ Services under Mr. de Blasio, announced her candidacy last year.
Before coronavirus descended on New York City, the field was thought to have been dominated by three men: Scott Stringer, the city comptroller; Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president; and Corey Johnson, the speaker of the New York City Council.
But the effects of Covid-19 — economic devastation, widespread unemployment and the pandemic-related deaths of nearly 24,000 New Yorkers — have opened the field. The Democratic primary, which is likely to determine the election’s outcome, will be held in June.
It is not at all clear that being associated with the de Blasio administration will boost a candidate’s chances. But Ms. Garcia, 50, earned a reputation in City Hall for being the mayor’s go-to problem solver.
When the head of the New York City Housing Authority left office, Ms. Garcia was named to temporarily manage that agency. After the coronavirus sparked widespread food insecurity, Mr. de Blasio tapped Ms. Garcia to set up an emergency initiative to distribute millions of free meals.
But to most voters, Ms. Garcia is a relative unknown. She has earned a reputation as an effective manager, but she has yet to flesh out policy prescriptions for New York City; she has never run for office, and her fund-raising abilities are untested.
Should Ms. Garcia run, she plans to cast herself as a competent executive and a nonideological technocrat, according to a political consultant who has talked with Ms. Garcia about her possible mayor bid.
“We need to be focused on core basic services and how that translates into quality of life for residents,” Ms. Garcia said in an interview last week. “And we need to be hyper-focused on getting the economy back up and running.”
Ms. Garcia comes from a family steeped in politics. Her father, Bruce C. McIver, was the chief labor negotiator for the former mayor Edward I. Koch. Her mother, Ann McIver, was a Medgar Evers College English professor who became executive director of the Morningside Area Alliance, a Manhattan nonprofit. Growing up, Ms. Garcia babysat for the children of Mr. McIver’s colleague, Robert W. Linn, who would go on to become Mr. de Blasio’s chief labor negotiator.
Ms. Garcia began her post-collegiate career as an intern at the Sanitation Department, returning as commissioner in 2014. She had also worked at the Department of Finance and the Department of Environmental Protection.
The Sanitation Department bills itself as the world’s largest, and Mr. de Blasio at first seemed to harbor ambitions to fundamentally overhaul it.
In 2015, he committed to all but eliminating city waste sent to out-of-state landfills by 2030, offering single-stream recycling by 2020 and composting citywide by the end of 2018. Those initiatives have failed to materialize.
But Ms. Garcia did change the way the system operates — and outside advocates say she deserves substantial credit for those changes.
She oversaw the overhaul of the anarchic private carting industry, establishing a franchise system whereby the city would be divided into sectors, each of which could be served by no more than three haulers. Covid has delayed the implementation of the system, which was supposed to start in late spring.
It is the “biggest reform to sanitation policy in 15 years,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
Ms. Garcia also created a curbside electronics waste disposal program and expanded curbside composting to more neighborhoods. But that same initiative suffered from a lack of City Hall backing, even before the coronavirus decimated the city’s budget.
“Battling climate change requires sustained commitment and leadership,” Ms. Garcia said, adding that “programs to confront it were the first to fall to the budget ax.”
Ms. Garcia comes from a large and diverse family. Her parents, who are white, adopted Ms. Garcia, who is white, then her brother, who is African-American. Then they had a daughter, after which they adopted another daughter, who, at 7 years old, became the oldest child in the family. She was also African-American. Finally they had another daughter.
“It was madness and craziness, but we were a little crew,” Ms. Garcia recalled.
Ms. Garcia grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, attending local public schools, including P.S. 321 in Park Slope, and then Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where her daughter is now a senior. She still lives in the neighborhood, and her son lives nearby.
In 1995, she married Jerry Garcia, who bears no relation to the Grateful Dead frontman. They have since divorced.
As sanitation commissioner, she developed a warm rapport with Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, whose members are responsible for collecting trash and recycling and clearing snow from the city’s 6,300 miles of streets.
Mr. Nespoli credited Ms. Garcia with showing up at the scene during snowstorms and thanking workers, in person, for their labor.
“This is all this work force actually needs, it needs someone to recognize what we actually do,” he said.