By Faraz T. Toor
Bill de Blasio won the race for mayor with the help of two political opponents: Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who finished fifth in the Democratic primary.
From the start of his campaign, de Blasio used Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a target, portraying himself as the opposite of the third-term mayor. Weiner actually did the same, advocating taxing the wealthy more – and he led in polls in mid-July.
That was until Weiner fell to earth.
In late-July, news got out that Weiner’s “sexting” days did not end when he resigned Congress; a gossip website reported that Weiner had “sexted” a woman as recently as last summer, before he ran for mayor.
The news deflated Weiner’s run. He finished in fifth place, with 4.9 percent of the vote, behind even Comptroller John Liu, whose campaign finances were under federal investigation.
And it helped no one more than it did the man who finished in first place.
De Blasio’s entire campaign shifted when Weiner fell in the polls. A July 26 Quinnipiac University Poll had de Blasio in fourth place in the primaries, with 15 percent. A little over a month later, he polled at 36 percent among likely Democratic voters, boasting a 15-point advantage over his next-closest competitor, and a 28-point lead over Weiner.
De Blasio’s momentum never slowed.
“Bill’s ‘two cities’ – people feel that,” political consultant Bob Liff, 64, said of de Blasio’s campaign slogan that designated New Yorkers as either rich or below the poverty line, with nothing in between. “People feel that there is increasing inequality in the city.”
De Blasio connected with voters. “I think he seems more decent as a human being, and he is more sensible, and the things he says in videos or whatever, it makes sense,” Faina Gordover, 19, said. “He has ideas that will strengthen New York.”
“I saw he had the best overall view on many issues, including affordable housing, education, and other issues, opposed to Lhota, who I disagreed [with on] his economic ideas of trickle down economic theory, as well as his ideas on policing and stop-and-frisk,” Daniel Stein-Sayles, 19, said when asked why he voted for de Blasio. He said Lhota would largely retain the police stop-and-frisk program. “But I think it needs a major overhaul,” he said. “It’s just not working the way it should. It’s dramatically profiling people.”
Certainly, de Blasio kept the race close while he trailed in the polls, but nothing concrete indicated that he would overcome Weiner, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and no one would have thought he would do it in such a grand fashion.
“Chris Quinn was the frontrunner and was going to win; that was the conventional knowledge,” Liff said. “Anthony Weiner gets in the race and all of a sudden moves to the top; what that tells you and tells me is that Quinn’s support was not steep….Weiner imploded, and at the same time de Blasio went on the air with his son, which was so compelling, and caught so much attention.”
While he wasn’t the only candidate to speak out against the current mayor, de Blasio eventually became the most recognized anti-Bloomberg candidate, especially to Democratic voters. Quinn and Thompson were moderate on Bloomberg, Quinn even being seen by some as leaning towards Bloomberg side, since she supported the mayor in the past.
“They all were kind of critical of the mayor, but he was more forward-looking,” Liff said about de Blasio.
While they do agree on certain issues, such as how to protect New York City from future storms, de Blasio’s and Bloomberg’s views often clash.
De Blasio spoke of helping the poor and middle class more; bringing together a segmented city; taxing the rich and large corporations more; and probably most important of all, de Blasio opposed Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk program. Straight out of the progressive Democratic playbook, de Blasio crafted a new route away from Bloomberg.
And the election’s results showed that New Yorkers wanted to travel that route. Because it was that easy for de Blasio.
In the general election, de Blasio throttled his Republican opponent, with exit polls giving him 73 percent of the vote to Lhota’s 24 percent. Compared to the last five general elections, de Blasio did exponentially better than his Democratic predecessors.
In 1993, the Democratic candidate, then-Mayor David Dinkins, got 48 percent of the overall vote to Giuliani’s 51 percent; in 1997, Democrat Ruth Messinger lost 55-43; in 2001, Mark Green lost 50-47 to Bloomberg; in 2005, Fernando Ferrer lost by 20 points; and in 2009, Thompson lost to Bloomberg 51-46.
“The difference between the last five times,” Liff said, “in those situations you had a weaker Democratic candidate … and you kind of had an existential crisis in the city, whether it’s in Crown Heights or in the aftermath of 9/11. … We don’t have a catastrophe going on.”
Lhota didn’t appeal to any demographic outside of Republicans.
He did win on Staten Island, was de Blasio took only parts of the North Shore and small pieces of the rest of the Island. This came after Staten Island didn’t support the Republican in the primaries; Lhota lost the Island to billionaire John Catsimatidis and took Brooklyn by only 275 votes.
But in the end, Staten Island, for the first time in years, didn’t help decide the race for mayor; de Blasio won too much of the rest of the city for it to matter.
The race was decided early, and de Blasio has three guys to thank: Weiner for ruining his own mayoral chances so badly; Bloomberg, who hasn’t had an “excellent/poor” approval rating above 50 percent since March in the Quinnipiac University Poll; and de Blasio for making himself look so different from Bloomberg.
With so many helping hands, de Blasio hardly even needed the help he got from Lhota.