How Bill de Blasio is Making History in the New York Mayoral Race
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So, what is going on in New York City? What explains the rapid ascent to the top of the Democratic primary polling heap by Bill de Blasio, NYC’s Public Advocate? Is it his multi-racial family? Is it that liberals always do well in New York among Democratic primary voters? Is it that his main rival, Christine Quinn, totally mishandled the Paid Sick Days, as Ginia Bellafante suggested in the Saturday New York Times and let her base drift away? And, most importantly, does it have any broader meaning for American politics?
No doubt it’s a combination of factors. It always is. But here’s something that should make progressive-minded voters cheer, as it validates a bedrock belief of the practical American left: namely, that if voters actually hear our ideas clearly and consistently articulated by a credible candidate, they like what they hear.
At this writing, it is of course impossible to say with any certainty what will happen in Tuesday’s primary. Perhaps more African-American voters will return to Bill Thompson, former city comptroller. Perhaps enough women and gays will scramble back to Christine Quinn, the telegenic Speaker of the City Council who was the front-runner for a very long time. Most likely, there will still be a run-off, as the 40% barrier is a pretty high one in a 5-way race. But I like de Blasio’s chances in both rounds, and there’s every reason to think he will be the next Mayor of New York.
History in the Making
In this most important national race for progressives since last year’s Elizabeth Warren Senate victory in Massachusetts, NYC Democratic Primary voters appear to be taking the steps to make de Blasio the first Democratic mayor in New York in 20 years.
And when you factor in Ed Koch’s mostly conservative 12 years, it is only the four years of David Dinkins, between 1990 and ’94, that there has been anyone close to a progressive in City Hall since 1977. You have to go back to the era of John Lindsay during the 1960’s to find a candidate with the potential to reach voters across race and class, as de Blasio is showing he can. And of course this is driving the Bloomberg people absolutely crazy, as they publicly trash de Blasio for being Lindsay redux.
Five reasons come to mind for the de Blasio surge.
Inequality really is the defining characteristic of American society today, and he hit that nerve over and over again. Economic inequality isn’t just a slogan,
it’s a reality. As the Working Families Party pointed out years ago in a battle to raise high-end taxes, there are something like 25,000 taxpayers in New York City earning more than $20,000 per week. And there are 2 million earning less than $20,000 per year. That’s not a democracy, it’s a plutocracy. De Blasio’s focus on inequality sunk in.
Paid Sick Days and Stop and Frisk. These are the two issues that did Quinn and Thompson in and opened the door to the de Blasio surge. In the first case, Quinn mysteriously adopted the Bloomberg position that a modest requirement on employers that would help about a million low-wage workers in New York was too much for business to bear. Long-time NYC political people were amazed. It took her three years to come around, when her record as the chair of Health Committee as a rank-and-file Council member would have made you think it would take her 3 days. That was a critical mistake, as it turned off younger women who should have been part of Quinn’s natural base. (It even cost her some celebrity support, as when the twitter storm aimed at Susan Sarandon in the midst of the Paid Sick Days battle forced her away from Quinn and eventually to de Blasio). In the second case, the intense energy around Stop-and-Frisk left Thompson flat-footed and Quinn trying to both be anti-Stop and Frisk even as she proposed retaining its main architect, Ray Kelly, as Police Commissioner. Thompson’s desire to have the endorsement of the Police Union seemed to prevent him from taking a stronger position early enough in the campaign to matter, and his late- to-the-party anger about it may get him into the run-off, but is not likely to get him over the finish line.