Bill de Blasio’s victory tonight in the Democratic mayoral primary caps a fairly startling turnabout in what was a most amusing and topsy-turvy race, a race which saw the sitting City Council Speaker Christine Quinn tumble from a large early lead to a fairly pedestrian third place finish. That de Blasio could win (apparently) with a run-off proof margin was even more startling.
With 95 percent of the vote counted, de Blasio had that magic, runoff-proof 40 percent of the vote, Bill Thompson, 26 percent, Christine Quinn, 15 percent, Comptroller John Liu, 7 percent and Anthony Weiner, 5.
In the early debates months ago, we recall de Blasio seeming kind of marginalized, almost an afterthought, the tall man perched at the edge of Quinn’s mayorly glow, Thompson’s quiet steadiness and Weiner’s frenetic energy. (His first poll numbers stood at less than 10 percent.)
But, for reasons we don’t quite understand, Thompson wasn’t able to craft a message of the kind that he relied on in 2009 when he came within five little points of beating Bloomberg, despite being outspent by a ridiculous margin.
(We should note that in his speech last night he and the crowd chanted “three more weeks,” in the clear hope that in the final counting, de Blasio falls below the 40 percent plateau, forcing a run-off.)
Weiner’s prospects, of course, collapsed when yet more sexting women emerged. His credibility was totally ruined by the fact he hired a private eye to investigate the hacking of his twitter account when he already knew he sent those incriminating pics. (Sydney Leathers, one of his correspondents, was roaming Manhattan last night promising to confront Weiner.)
Quinn had the backing of the newspapers, many of the unions, she had the bigger pulpit, she had money. But simply put, she just had too much baggage. Having benefited from a close relationship with Mayor Bloomberg as council speaker, she was ill-equipped to distance herself from him as a candidate. Voters didn’t forget her support and arm-twisting to get Bloomberg a third term.
Moreover, the fact that she was a strong female candidate who could have been the city’s first LGBT mayor didn’t in itself pave the way to a victory. Neither Quinn or Thompson were able to capitalize on so-called identity politics–meaning that blacks would go for Thompson, and women would go to Quinn. De Blasio won majorities in both categories.
“People are rejecting appeals to vote for someone with a shared identity,” says longtime gay rights activist and political observer Bill Dobbs. “Is there an LGBT agenda for the city? No. Is there a women’s agenda for the city? No. The identitarian appeals are starting to come up empty.”
One key moment was when Weiner’s collapse came. During a three week period after that, de Blasio’s campaign gained some 15 points. In other words, the disaffected Weiner fans jumped to de Blasio rather than Quinn or Thompson.
But there was another factor at work here that perhaps only de Blasio fully grasped from the beginning. As the debate over stop and frisk went on, it felt like a typical back and forth in city hall. But on the streets, the resentment over the tactic was palpable and profound.
This sentiment was heavily present in Harlem and the South Bronx and Bed-Stuy and South Jamaica, and elsewhere, and it wasn’t just young black and hispanic men, it was their relatives and their friends who kept hearing their complaints about constantly being stopped.
Despite Bloomberg’s successes in lowering the crime rate and improving the city’s economy, stop and frisk became one of those emotional issues that can sway a campaign cycle.
Though Quinn jumped into the stop and frisk debate fairly late in the game, over the previous eight years, as the number of stop spiked year after year, the council largely did very little to oppose it. It was arguably too late for her to sway anyone on the issue when she finally jumped in by backing the inspector general bill. (Interestingly, that bill was certainly not the first of its kind, but none of its previous versions got out of the council.)
It also helped de Blasio that a federal judge ordered an independent monitor over the police department, in the Floyd v City of New York ruling last month. It was the first time that a monitor had been installed over the NYPD, and was a huge rebuke to Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly, who had pulled out all the stops to block such a decision.
We should note that at the heart of her ruling, the “smoking gun evidence,” in her words, was the remarkable sent of recordings in Brooklyn’s 81st Precinct by Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft’s recordings demonstrated that quotas–not legitimate law enforcement objectives–were driving the increase in stop and frisks. In some respects, de Blasio should send an indirect thank you note to Schoolcraft.
A second resentment over police quotas for summonses, we think, was also a factor. Bloomberg had raised fines throughout his administration, and his management policies promoted quotas not only in the NYPD, but in other areas, like restaurant enforcement, the sanitation department and the traffic agency. That created lingering resentment, and Quinn’s prospects, already tied to Bloomberg, suffered.
All of these factors came together to lift the former councilman and Hillary Clinton aide to the top of the heap. Next, de Blasio will face the Republican candidate Joseph Lhota, and the dynamics shifts markedly.
Lhota carries the mantel of Rudy Giuliani and promises to continue the Bloomberg legacy. The city has elected 20 years of Republicans, at least by our definition of Republican. That sets up a classic contest between the old way and the new way. In his victory speech last night, Lhota was already casting himself as an everyman New Yorker, talking his neighborhood roots, his relatives who were police officers and cab drivers, his devotion to the NYPD and lower crime.
“Handcuffing and demoralizing our police officers will have catastrophic effects on the NYPD,” he said. “Low crime is the first step in getting businesses to invest here.”
Lhota, in the speech, taking a page from Mayor Bloomberg, called the de Blasio campaign, “class warfare,” and a return to the corrupt ways of special interests and the Democratic machine which nearly drove the city into bankruptcy and let crime climb and fester.
In his victory speech last night, de Blasio (perhaps on purpose) did not respond to Lhota’s speech with his own attacks. Instead, he talked more generally, about how proactive policing “had slipped quietly into racial profiling,” and declared that the stop and frisk era “made communities and the police less safe.” He promised to “change the policies which have left so many New Yorkers outside of City Hall.”
The question is will moderate democrats in the outer boroughs go with Lhota as they did with Mike and Rudy? Will they shift to the center and expose de Blasio as too far to the left? Will they stick with this emerging theme of change in this election? Will they see Lhota as another Bloomberg, like they did Quinn? Will de Blasio move to the center to counter these issues? Will Lhota try to distance himself from the past and move to the center, too?
We’ll see. The drama culiminates Nov. 5.