Voters’ choices are narrowed and clarified after the primaries
It’s September 11th as I write this and I can glimpse the new WTC Towers from my office window.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a dozen years since that tragic and fateful day. We have been extremely fortunate to have a Police Commissioner and an NYPD that has combatted terrorism and brought down crime with 5,000 fewer police officers in the past few years. As he leaves the New York stage, Ray Kelly should receive some well-deserved applause.
But now it’s almost time for the next chapter in our great city’s history, and we now know that our new mayor will be either Bill de Blasio or Joe Lhota (with a very slim chance that Bill Thompson will still be in the mix for a run-off, pending a recount over the next week). There are two other third party candidates, Adolfo Carrion and Jack Hidary, both intelligent and well-intentioned men, but even those closest to them know their chances of winning are somewhere between slim and none.
What are the lessons to be gleaned by the primary day results? First of all, on the Democratic side, the “hope and change” candidate won and his ascension was not unlike President’s Obama’s steady rise in 2008. Bill de Blasio used Mike Bloomberg as a foil throughout the campaign and he benefitted from the public’s weariness with the three-term mayor, the minority communities rising anger over “stop and frisk” and the cozy relationship Speaker Quinn had with Bloomberg. Identity politics also helped de Blasio’s late surge; the TV commercial optic of his appealing son Dante with the most famous hairdo in America was one of the most effective campaign ads I’ve ever seen.
Bill de Blasio, who worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Bill Clinton administration, also learned an important political lesson from his boss, one of the canniest politicians of the past generation: it’s important to have empathy and say “I feel your pain” to those in the middle- and under-class. De Blasio’s populist message of “Two Cities” resonated in 2013 in a way it didn’t, for some reason, for Democratic mayoral candidate Freddy Ferer in 2005. In the wake of a very prolonged recession, the subprime mortgage crisis and Occupy Wall Street, the public was looking for a class warrior, which is a role de Blasio seems well suited for.
On the Republican side, Joe Lhota emerged victorious in a relatively close race against John Catsimatidis, largely because voters seemed to want someone with vast government experience, in addition to a private sector background. Lhota’s very effective campaign slogan “Ready to Lead on Day One” is a very different message than deBlasio’s “Two Cities” approach.
Obviously, Lhota faces an uphill battle in a city with a 6-1 voter registration advantage for Democrats. But Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg over the past five elections proved that party demographics is not destiny, at least when it comes to mayoral races. Lhota’s victory speech on election night did a good job of explaining the stakes in the upcoming Nov. 5th election: if you believe the city has made dramatic progress in public safety and business friendliness in the past 20 years, then Lhota’s the right choice to continue in that path. If, however, you believe that the city has done too much to help business at the expense of low-income New Yorkers and has paid too high a price in civil liberties for our public safety gains, then de Blasio is your man.
Fortunately for New Yorkers, both of these candidates are battle-tested after a long, arduous primary campaign season. They now have almost two months to lay out their different visions for the city’s future and voters will have a real choice.
On the morning after, as we pause to remember our brethren who perished a dozen years ago in the most heinous attack in our city’s history, we should gently lean into our city’s future and imagine what we want our city to become in the next decade – for ourselves, our kids, our grandkids and our neighbors.
Stay tuned – Round Two of the “Race for City Hall” is about to begin.
Tom Allon, president of City & State, NY, was the Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor last year. Questions or comments: email@example.com
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