Bill de Blasio will be the mayor of New York for another four years, barring catastrophe. He made that clear last night, winning 75 percent of the vote against a lackluster field topped by Sal Albanese, a bilious former councilmember who last held office when the Spice Girls dominated the charts. The results are a Rorschach test of sorts and can be spun any way you like: Turnout was dismal, so who cares? Or: De Blasio won by a wider margin than any mayoral candidate in a Democratic primary, ever.
It was the biggest news outcome from a primary day on which there were few down-ballot surprises, despite a number of City Council races that threatened to be very competitive. Just about every incumbent and incumbent-like candidate won, though a couple of races ended up quite close.
There just weren’t many registered Democrats motivated enough by resentment of de Blasio to show up and vote against him. A fair share of pundits and journalists thought these people existed in larger numbers. Albanese finished with 15 percent. He is no Zephyr Teachout. And de Blasio is no Andrew Cuomo.
This was why Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congress Member Hakeem Jeffries, and Bronx Borough President Rubén Diáz Jr. chose not to run. De Blasio, a progressive with a record and a sizable enough base of support, was not an easy man to pick off. They knew it.
After an inevitable general election in which Republican Nicole Malliotakis and failed Democrat/Republican Bo Dietl will strain to convince us that New York City is run by the gangland ghouls from The Warriors, de Blasio will end up mayor again. He will have another four years to implement his liberal, though not too radical, vision for the city. Term-limited, he will be free from worrying about trying to win another citywide election.
So what does de Blasio do? Watching him celebrate with his volunteers, staffers, and various politicians and political hangers-on at a little events space near the Barclays Center, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had anything new for us. Despite his many struggles and personality defects, he is a mayor with serious accomplishments already, enough to fill the top line of his eventual front-page New York Times obituary.
He has brought universal prekindergarten to New York City, guaranteed paid sick leave for workers at small businesses, and granted free legal representation to low-income tenants in housing court. Unlike other so-called liberal lions — Mario Cuomo comes to mind — he has done things. This can’t be taken away from him. He has disappointed in many other areas (policing, housing) and exposed himself to accusations that he is running a pay-to-play administration, but he has implemented policies to make life better for certain New Yorkers who, under Michael Bloomberg’s twelve-year imperial reign, were largely ignored.
Last night, he made a stab at what comes next, and much of it was less inspired. There was the vague promise to create a hundred thousand “good-paying” jobs. There was the proposed millionaires tax to fund upgrades to our crumbling subway system, an idea that may eventually get somewhere in Albany if Republicans are driven from the state senate majority, but also one that won’t do nearly enough to address the peril straphangers face. There was his hope, which is much more significant, to expand pre-K to three-year-olds.
But what else? There’s no point in worrying about whether de Blasio has a “mandate” to do anything. He’ll be a re-elected mayor. The City Council, no matter what, will be in agreement with most of what he stands for, even if it grows a bit more combative. If de Blasio wants to think bigger, he can. Will he?
The disgraced Anthony Weiner once proposed a city-run single-payer healthcare program. John Liu, the former city comptroller and mayoral candidate, wanted to legalize marijuana. Albanese wanted to give people public money so they can donate to candidates, taking some of the unseemly quid pro quo out of fundraising.
De Blasio, for all his progressive posturing, is a fairly conventional center-left politician — albeit one who qualifies as the most liberal mayor we’ve had in a half-century. He doesn’t like to move outside the Overton window. He’s the same guy who once warned, in 2010, that raising taxes on Wall Street “couldn’t be worse for New York City.”
It’s possible de Blasio has some big ideas in store for us. It’s also possible he’ll be content to color in the lines of the vision he sketched in term one and leave it at that. The trajectory of the first four years wasn’t always easy to predict. The same should be true of the second.
Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents Lower Manhattan, defeated Lower East Side activist Christopher Marte by only about two hundred votes. Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez, trying to enter the East Harlem City Council seat held by term-limited Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, may have been blocked by Mark-Viverito’s deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala. Ayala leads by a little less than two hundred votes and has declared victory, but Rodriguez, a sworn enemy of Mark-Viverito’s, has refused to concede.
Hiram Monserrate, who was jailed for stealing from a nonprofit and expelled from his old state senate seat for slashing his girlfriend in the face, failed to win back a City Council seat he once held. He came close, though. It was a testament to his strength; the weakness of his opponent, Assembly Member Francisco Moya; the tolerance of voters for sin; and the combined power of every establishment force to thwart a Monserrate comeback.
In Brooklyn, Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez won handily. He has claimed the mantle of reformer and won the right to say he is the late Ken Thompson’s rightful successor. He has so far resisted more progressive steps championed by activists — backing a change to New York’s antiquated discovery laws and eliminating the cash bail system — and it’s unclear if he’ll be motivated to do so, now that he has a four-year term and a convincing win behind him.
The composition of the City Council changed far less than it did in 2013, when many more lawmakers were term-limited. There will probably be fewer women than the thirteen currently in office. And the victories of Rubén Diáz Sr., a state senator who opposes gay marriage and abortion, and $700,000 man Mark Gjonaj could lend some more conservative heft to the council.
But it would be a mistake to predict, right now, what direction the 51-member legislative body is going in. At the beginning of next year, a new speaker will be elected — the members themselves vote — and the outside forces that determine who the lucky man or woman will be are still in formation. De Blasio will weigh in, as will the Bronx and Queens Democratic organizations, the most relevant in the city. Most of the county organizations’ candidates won. So did de Blasio’s endorsed candidates.
The backroom fights will heat up.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 13, 2017