NYC primary: How strong a break with the Bloomberg years?

As New Yorkers vote Tuesday in the mayoral primaries, one question is how broad a coalition liberal Democrat and Bloomberg critic Bill de Blasio will build en route to his expected victory.

Bebeto Matthews/AP
Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, arrive to cast their primary votes, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, at the Park Slope Public Library in the Brooklyn borough of New York. New Yorkers head to the polls Tuesday in a primary election that begins the process of replacing Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor who has defined their city for 12 years.

New Yorkers are casting ballots Tuesday in a mayoral primary contest that has captivated the city and political watchers for its sheer mania.

Though the focus thus far has been on a wacky Democratic race, featuring former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexting shenanigans and personal drama, voters will nominate a Republican and Democrat for the top job. And it’s worth remembering that, despite the liberal bent of the city, the last time a nominee of the latter party was elected to mayor it was 1989.

Ascendant in the Democratic polls of late has been Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who if he reaches the magic mark of 40 percent in the voting will secure the nomination. If not, the top two contenders will battle in an Oct. 1 run-off.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who would be the city’s first openly gay mayor and first woman to hold the position, was favored early, but she hasn’t been able to connect with voters effectively. Bill Thompson, the city’s former comptroller, is also running. They are each looking to land enough support to force Mr. de Blasio to vie in another round.

Mr. Weiner has fallen to a distant fourth place in recent polls. The emergence during the contest of more young women who said Weiner had engaged in sexually charged banter with them via cyberspace – a behavior he suggested he’d abandoned months prior – has proved a general distraction from a substantive discussion of the issues facing the city.

His campaign devolved into shouting matches with disapproving voters and his mocking of foreign reporters who probed about his personal life. Even his wife, long-time Hillary Rodham Clinton aide Huma Abedin, has disappeared from the campaign trail and the candidate’s ads after initially standing by him.

A Quinnipiac poll released Monday shows de Blasio at 39 percent, followed by Mr. Thompson at 25 percent, and Ms. Quinn with 18 percent. Weiner lags at 6 percent.

Reuters, in its primary day reflection on the race, has deemed the face-off “uproarious.”

The leading Republican possibilities are former public transit chairman Joe Lhota and grocery store magnate John Catsimatidis. Lhota, a veteran of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s team, is favored, CNN reports.

The big questions going into the day were how big de Blasio would win, whether he would require the help of the city’s minority voters – African Americans, in particular – and could he build a wide-ranging coalition of voters that would boost his chances dramatically in the general?

De Blasio, who is married to Chirlane McCray, a Wellesley-educated writer and poet who is black, has used their son, Dante de Blasio, in a television ad appealing to voters.

In the ad, the candidate’s son knocks Mayor Michael Bloomberg and says his father can do better:

“He’s the only Democrat with the guts to really break from the Bloomberg years, the only one who will raise taxes on the rich to fund early childhood and after-school programs. He’s got the boldest plan to build affordable housing. And he’s the only one who will end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color. Bill de Blasio will be a mayor for every New Yorker, no matter where they live and what they look like.”

The family’s multi-racial tableau has proved a draw for some. Though not for all.

Perhaps smarting from Dante’s knock against him, Mr. Bloomberg lashed out at the frontrunner for employing this family strategy, suggesting it was “racist” and represented “class warfare.” For a city divided about Bloomberg’s legacy and whether he has been good for all New Yorkers or primarily the wealthy, his remarks could prove a turnout gift from the heavens for de Blasio.

Some view de Blasio – who ran Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign and served in Mayor David Dinkins administration – as too far left to run the city. New York Magazine has asked if de Blasio’s policy concerns were “too rarified for most New Yorkers.”

“His campaign is easily the most intellectually coherent and focused when it comes to inequality,” the magazine reported. “Everything from his proposal for beefing up bus service to his plan for restructuring development subsidies extends from his central premise: that New York has become dangerously split between rich and poor, and the disparities in government priorities and services need to be closed.”

De Blasio, who lives in a Brooklyn row house and holds degrees from New York University and Columbia, has framed his candidacy as that of a populist. But Bloomberg, for his part, has balked at the suggestion that New York is “a tale of two cities.”

The general election will mark an end to the Bloomberg era. He has served three terms, the third was, of course, secured by bending the rules limiting leaders to two four-year stints at the helm.

There is always a pendulum-swing aspect to American politics. The public – especially at the presidential level – often corrects itself, giving power and influence to an individual whose strengths are in areas where his predecessor was perceived to be weak, or who acts as a foil for his or her most defining characteristics. So it makes some sense, according to the informal laws of politics, to see voters gravitate from a billionaire mayor to a populist candidate.

But Bloomberg, on his way out the door, sees no folly in making the city a friendly place for the affluent.

“If we can find a bunch of billionaires around the world to move here, that would be a godsend, because that’s where the revenue comes to take care of everybody else,” he said in response to the de Blasio ad. “All I know is from the city’s point of view, we want these people, and why criticize them? Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?”

If de Blasio ends up in Gracie Mansion, it’s highly possible in coming years that New Yorkers will have an opportunity to see which of these starkly contrasting philosophies is indeed most effective.

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