Read Raj’s response to this week’s question about the NYC mayoral elections.
New York City’s mayoral race is turning out to pit the turtle against the hare. In a poll last week, Democrat Bill de Blasio blew Republican Joe Lhota out of the water. With a disadvantage of about 40 percentage points and only three weeks left until election day, Lhota has more ground to cover than is probably possible. Drastically outpolled among black and Latino voters, most likely on the basis of his political party, and significantly outpolled among whites, he simply won’t be able to do it. It’s worthless, at this point, to feign an airy uncertainty about that. What’s worth exploring is how and why Bill de Blasio has been able to secure the election with as much surety as there is.
1) He is literally Barack Obama. Not today’s Obama, who, considering recent federal fumbles, is still holding onto a surprisingly resilient 44% approval rating. De Blasio is reminiscent of the Obama with his campaign hat on: an inspiring, passionate voice with the ability to produce real, measurable change. Twenty years of mostly Republican rule makes New York City long overdue for the pendulum of political preference to swing around – de Blasio is standing with open arms for the masses that were largely ignored by Bloomberg, just as Obama was there for the ignored victims of the financial crisis that was just unfolding in 2008. Voters recognize his demeanor and energy, seeing him as the type of person they want in office. Tax the rich (more). Said Obama, says de Blasio. Just as Obama did, de Blasio cares about your kid’s education and he cares about your health care. He used, just as Obama did, the tactic of portraying a liberal platform as the humanitarian platform in order to form an emotional connection with the voters. It worked.
2) He’s got a super-cool liberal family! He’s a white guy. But he’s married to a black woman! And his son’s got an afro (Wow! An afro!). This puts him in the advantageous position of being a white guy who doesn’t just chatter about racial equality – his family life is a living, breathing example of it. This resonates with voters who disapprove of candidates of color running solely on their race – a possible explanation for why de Blasio managed to tie the actual black candidate for the black vote. He has been unequivocally successful at presenting himself as one of the people; he likes to remind everyone that he, in fact, would be the only mayor whose child was ever in the public school system. (Therefore, he is obligated to give a crap about it.) If that doesn’t make him personable and down-to-earth, then I don’t know what does.
3) He knows tons of celebrities. And more importantly, they know him back. He blatantly exploits this fact for his benefit. One might recall Obama’s massive celebrity following in 2012 and how his list compared to Romney’s. Because celebrity opinions are obviously infallible, that arguably helped his campaign in terms of memorability and fondness as people saw their favorite movie star propped up against a white background singing the praises of capital-C Change. The same applies to de Blasio. A small factor, but worthy of consideration.
4) The Clintons. An endorsement by the powerhouse Democratic couple is essentially a political knighting. Go forth and conquer, de Blasio.
Clearly only a few reasons of many. The obvious prevails: New York City’s relationship with Bloomberg has been icy lately, with a majority in favor of a change of direction in city policy. De Blasio has solid experience in politics and has made clear campaign promises whose liberal foundations appeal to a large portion of the city’s population (some tend to forget that Manhattan is not the only borough). Lhota’s chances for taking the election back are slim. Congratulations, de Blasio.