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Mayor-Elect-to-Be De Blasio

September 7, 2013

Although New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was the long-time front-runner in the 2013 mayoral race, it was clear by early August that Quinn will not become the next mayor. Her negatives are simply too high for her to get to the 40 percent threshold needed in the primary to avoid a runoff, and if she gets to a runoff by coming in second, her negatives are too high for her to get to 50 percent against a runoff opponent.

As August wore on, it became clear that the candidate who will beat Speaker Quinn is Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. De Blasio has led in all four major polls taken since August 14, with his smallest margin being 12 percent, and his largest (and most recent) being 25 percent. The only two open questions are whether he will get to the 40 percent threshold to avoid a runoff, and if he doesn’t, whether his runoff opponent will be Speaker Quinn or former Comptroller Bill Thompson. In the end, it doesn’t matter because contingent polling shows de Blasio winning a runoff against either opponent.

It’s an interesting question why de Blasio emerged from a pack of Quinn challengers that includes four major candidates. All are progressive in a fundamentally progressive city, and all are reasonably well known.

Bill Thompson ran a remarkably credible race against incumbent Mayor Mike Bloomberg in 2009 despite being grossly outspent by Bloomberg’s self-funded campaign. But Thompson somehow never took off in 2013. Certainly this was partly because it took Thompson way too long to get to an energy level that looked anything like the mayor of the city that never sleeps. But it also had to be because Thompson never effectively presented himself as a forcefully liberal alternative to the accommodationist Quinn, who premised her campaign on her partnership with Bloomberg, and therefore her ability to “get things done.”

Comptroller John Liu demonstrated that ill-tempered grandstanding does not make much of a New York City mayoral campaign, no matter how progressive the candidate’s political views. Of course it hardly helped that two close associates were convicted, just as voters started paying attention to the mayor’s race, of crimes committed during Liu’s 2009 campaign for comptroller. Liu was certainly the worst comptroller in the last 40 years, and his previous eight-year record as a City Council member was undistinguished.

Former Congressman Anthony Weiner looked like Quinn’s chief threat when he first jumped into the race, but new revelations of inappropriate e-relationships with women not his wife – after he had insisted that all of that was behind him – did him in.

But Weiner’s brief surge showed that New York Democrats were casting around for a more liberal alternative to Christine Quinn.  De Blasio’s record as public advocate has relatively little to recommend him, but that fact has to be taken along with the fact that the public advocate has no real power to do very much. The chief function of the public advocate is to serve as acting mayor, if the mayor vacates office, until a special election can be held. It is a position badly in need of being abolished.

My own hunch about de Blasio’s rise is that, against an uninspiring field of options to Quinn, de Blasio stood out for a peculiar reason – he has one really good campaign ad. The ad features de Blasio’s 15-year-old son talking about his father’s positions on issues. But the killer is not de Blasio’s positions, it is de Blasio’s son, Dante. Dante is bi-racial, the white de Blasio being married to an African-American woman, and therefore the ad was an appeal to African-American voters. Bill Thompson, the only African-American candidate, was doing poorly among African-Americans, no doubt in large part because of Thompson’s unwillingness until very late in the race to categorically condemn the city’s stop-and-frisk policy.

But there’s something more important about Dante. He is what any parent would want a teenage son to be. He’s articulate and likable, good-looking with an epic ‘fro right out of 1974, marking Dante as a person who does his own thing and does it well. Dante has the heavy-lidded look of affected ennui that American teenagers would universally die for. Bill de Blasio may not be Everyman, but Dante de Blasio is Everyson. De Blasio’s rise in the polls tracks exactly to the start of the Dante ad – and the Dante ad is still running, a remarkable shelf-life for a campaign commercial.

Dante connected his dad to New Yorkers as a real person, not a policy machine – and real humanity has been remarkably absent from the campaign. Dante didn’t make Dad a progressive, but Dante gave his progressive Dad a distinction among progressive candidates that will win him the New York City mayoralty.

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