10 Sep 2013

Who wants to run New York? Leave it to the voters

The race has had everything, from sexting scandals to allegations of raicsm. Now it is decision time as Democrats choose their candidate for New York’s next mayor.

Bill de Blasio (reuters)

Time for New Yorkers to decide: and the front runner, in a Democratic primary which has changed almost by the day, is now Bill de Blasio, the city’s former public advocate who now holds a comfortable lead.

Latest polls give him between 36 and 39 per cent of the votes, not quite enough to avoid a run-off. But in this race, anything can happen. After all, it already has.

Remember Anthony Weiner? At one point the former congressman was way out in front, thanks to a strong campaign run by his wife Huma Abeidin. But once again, his political career was blown apart by personal scandal, after it emerged that he had been sending out yet more lewd photographs to a number of women.

He is now languishing in a distant fourth place, declaring this week that he had no intention of fading into the background. “I’ve fought for these things my entire life”, he told Today. “I’m not going to stop just because it got a little tough.”

It did not help that he was constantly pilloried in the press and online, including a YouTube video showing him in an angry confrontation with a Jewish voter on the eve of Rosh Hashana – however justified he might have been, his fiery temper was all that anyone took notice of.

Front to back

Then there was Christine Quinn, city council speaker who is vying to become New York’s first openly lesbian mayor. She seemed to be doing well among union members and her political base on Manhattan’s West Side, but it appears her fortunes may have peaked too soon.

Now it is Bill de Blasio who is favourite to win, thanks in large part to his significant support among black voters, enthused perhaps by the prominent role de Blasio’s telegenic mixed-race family has played in the campaign.

Most memorable was a television ad crafted by a former member of the winning Obama election team, starring de Blasio’s 15-year-old son Dante. The teenager, complete with afro, describes his father as “the only Democrat with the guts to really break with the Bloomberg years”, and an appeal to “people of colour”.

It is a theme entirely in keeping with De Blasio’s unashamedly liberal manifesto, including promises to raise taxes on the wealthy and end the stop-and-frisk laws which are said to have unfairly targeted minorities.

Outgoing former mayor Michael Bloomberg certainly did not approve of the tactics: in a major interview with New York magazine, he railed against the use of de Blasio’s family, calling it “potentially racist” and fuelling class warfare.

All this achieved, of course, was to thrust the de Blasio clan right back into the headlines, giving them more airtime and more coverage, boosting his campaign in these crucial final days.

Liberal and proud

The liberal message, though, seems to fit the mood of a city which has grown tired of the Bloomberg years, which has come to feel that the billionaire businessman ended up favouring the city’s well-heeled elites at the expense of those struggling to find affordable housing and decent education.

There is one other race to watch, for city comptroller, where the former New York governor Eliot Spitzer is seeking a comeback after his resignation over a sex scandal five years ago. His chances, at the moment, are too close to call.

As for the mayoral primary, it now appears to be de Blasio’s to win. The only question: can he win outright? The result, if it is close, could take a while. Luckily New York is the city that never sleeps.

Felicity Spector writes about US affairs for Channel 4 News