Bill de Blasio: big win, big target for GOP in N.Y. mayor race (+video)
Bill de Blasio's 'tale of two cities' theme sets up a sharp contrast with Republican Joe Lhota – and could turn the November election into a mandate on the legacy of the Bloomberg-Giuliani years.
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Political observers see de Blasio’s win, despite its magnitude, as a much better scenario for the Lhota campaign than a victory by any of his rivals, since the contrast between the candidates is so stark. Republicans had not been expected to be a factor against Democrats like Thompson or Ms. Quinn, each of whom had staked out careful, moderate positions – and failed to excite Democratic primary voters.Skip to next paragraph
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Observers point out, however, that those who show up for Democratic primaries in New York tend to be from the more liberal wing of city Democrats – one reason the party hasn’t won the mayoral election the past five elections.
“He really understood who he was appealing to in the primary,” says Jeanne Zaino, professor of political campaign management at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies. “You look at the numbers of who supported him – that’s impressive, you really have to give it to de Blasio. But Lhota, he does have an opportunity to make many of the same cases and claims against de Blasio that his Democratic opponents tried unsuccessfully in the primary. The difference this time is, de Blasio is fighting for the general election, and so the same anti-Bloomberg arguments he used might be a lot tougher to make now.”
Still, the strength and cross section of de Blasio's support – as well as a measurable "Bloomberg fatigue" – may propel him into the mayor's office, political observers say.
“The thing that's coming through, though, is that de Blasio’s got values and a vision, and I think that’s what is getting people excited,” says Bart Robbett, professor in the master’s program in elections and campaign management at Fordham University in New York. “That it’s not just about the mechanics of politics, it really is a vision for New York, and it seems to be pretty much aligned to what at least the Democratic Party is looking for in a candidate.”
And many point to a single moment that changed the fortunes of the current public advocate, a 6-foot 5-inch Italian from Boston who married Chirlane McCray, a black poet and former lesbian activist.
“That’s the Dante ad that everybody’s talking about,” says Mr. Robbett, referring to a spot featuring de Blasio’s son, a charismatic teen who sports a ’70s-style Afro. “It accomplished so much in 30 seconds, and it persuaded so many people to take a fresh look at him, that I don't think people can be saying in the future that you can’t persuade people or change people’s minds during the course of a campaign after an example like that.”
Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, perhaps bristling at de Blasio’s relentless attacks on his legacy, suggested that de Blasio’s focus on his interracial family in the campaign was “racist” – a comment that drew a chorus of criticism and may have only energized de Blasio’s followers.
But the anti-Bloomberg message is working, despite the fact that crime is near all-time lows, the city’s economy is humming along, and the mayor has a record of eco-friendly accomplishments to make any progressive proud.
“It’s always been curious to me, you look at the polls, and Bloomberg is not the most unpopular mayor we've ever had,” says Ms. Zaino. “In fact, he's not unpopular at all.”
“And yet, if you saw just the tenor and tone of this campaign against him, you'd think, 'My gosh, he’s hated,' " she adds. “But, obviously, this is because it’s the progressive liberal democratic primary.”
Indeed, exit polls show a measure of dissonance among Democratic voters. Nearly 75 percent said they want to depart from Bloomberg’s policies. But at the same time, nearly half of Democratic voters approve of the job he has done as mayor.
“He did great things ... but he was always just a little bit tone deaf when it came to hearing the needs of middle-class and working-class New Yorkers, and I think that’s really rising up now,” says Robbett.
“What de Blasio did, I think, was to put together a broad coalition of New Yorkers who felt that they hadn’t been paid attention to, that they hadn’t been respected as equal citizens,” says Sherrill. “And a lot of this election is not about the reallocation of wealth at all, but is rather about reallocation of respect.”