Bill de Blasio, the New York public advocate and Democratic candidate in the city’s mayoral race, is set to trounce the Republican candidate, Joseph J. Lhota, the former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Only five weeks before Election Day, de Blasio holds an enormous 50-point lead over Lhota -- 71 percent to 21 percent -- according to a poll released by Quinnipiac University on Thursday.
De Blasio’s lead in this “bluest” of “blue” cities is so commanding that he leads among men, women, blacks, whites and Hispanics by comfortable and in some cases overwhelming margins.
In the likely event de Blasio enters Gracie Mansion, it will end 20 years of mostly Republican administrations under Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg. The current popularity of de Blasio appears to represent an indictment of three-term mayor Bloomberg, who alienated many New Yorkers by apparently favoring the wealthy and developers, while housing costs have skyrocketed. Ethnic minorities are also particularly incensed by Bloomberg’s and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policies, which they felt amounted to harassment of young black and Hispanic men.
However, stop-and-frisk supporters (including Lhota) point out the policy took hundreds of illegal guns off the streets and reduced incidents of violent crime considerably. Republicans also fear the election of de Blasio (who they consider a far-left liberal) will bring New York back to the days of social chaos of the 1970s and 1980s.
The International Business Times spoke with an expert on politics to sort out the New York mayoral race.
Jeanne Zaino holds a doctoral degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and is a professor of political science at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.
IBTimes: Bill de Blasio is ahead by an astounding 50 points over Joe Lhota in some polls just five weeks ahead of the mayoral election. Is Lhota essentially finished?
Zaino: Never say never in politics, but, with that said, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Lhota can make up this much ground in such a short period of time. It will be a real uphill climb. He may be able to close the gap a bit as people get to know him better and more focus is placed on the front-runner -- Bill de Blasio -- but at this point the race is de Blasio’s to lose.
IBTimes: What can Lhota possibly do to win the election in such a short period of time?
Zaino: There is not a lot of time for Lhota to make up 50 points. He has tried recently to focus on things like [de Blasio’s youthful attraction to Nicaragua’s Marxist] Sandinistas and the name changes [de Blasio took his mother’s maiden surname, forsaking his actual last name, Wilhelm], but it hasn’t had an impact.
In terms of what Lhota could possibly do to win in such a short time -- it is simply not an enviable position for his campaign to be in. The debates may be the one and only time voters see them both on the same stage addressing questions, so they may prove to be important, particularly if de Blasio stumbles, but given his performance in the Democratic primary debates already and all the practice he has had, that is unlikely.
Beyond that, an unexpected event or controversy may be Lhota’s only real shot at closing the gap in this race and, again, it’s a very long shot at this point.
IBTimes: Who is really the base of de Blasio’s support? White liberals and progressives?
Zaino: De Blasio is winning in almost every group -- men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, all education levels and even income levels. In fact, the only group he does not seem to be winning are the Republicans, and since New York City doesn’t have that many, it hasn’t had an enormous impact on overall poll numbers.
IBTimes: Why do you think de Blasio pulled so far ahead of Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson in the Democratic primaries?
Zaino: For several reasons, but principal among them, de Blasio simply ran a better campaign than either Quinn or Thompson. Second, he understood who was going to vote in the primary and targeted Democratic primary voters almost perfectly. Third, he understood the issues that people in the city voting in the primary care about and their desire for change after three terms of Mayor Bloomberg.
IBTimes: De Blasio says he wants to raise income taxes on people making more than $500,000 per year in order to fund prekindergarten school programs. Does he have any hope of doing this if he becomes elected?
Zaino: No, he doesn’t have the power to raise taxes as mayor and unless we see an appetite for this in Albany, which is at this point unlikely, it is probably not going to happen.
IBTimes: Much was made about de Blasio “promoting” his interracial family, including using his son Dante (and his big afro) in campaign commercials. Did this bit of PR really put him on top?
Zaino: Family always matters in these political races: This is true for all candidates, and de Blasio is no exception. All candidates feature their families to one degree or another, and they should -- that is one way in which voters get to know them and determine whether this is someone they really want to have in their lives for the next four years, whether this is someone they can really trust, and whether this is someone who can really understand the issues real New Yorkers face day in and day out.
We saw de Blasio declare that he would be the first mayor in the history of New York City with a child in public school. That means something to voters, that means this is a person who understands the way [we] live and so forth. So, yes, this was an important part of his campaign and the Dante commercial will be the most fondly remembered of this campaign.
IBTimes: Why did de Blasio do better among ethnic minorities in the primaries than Thompson did?
Zaino: Because [de Blasio] was speaking to them regarding issues they care about from security and stop- and-frisk to education, jobs, fairness and equity. He also showed that he had the passion to fight for them.
Over and over, we heard voters say, I am not going to vote for someone simply because she’s a woman [Quinn] or simply because of her sexual orientation [Quinn] or simply because he is African-American [Thompson], and they showed at the polls that demographics weren’t enough to get their support.
Finally, Thompson didn’t get some of the key endorsements which might have helped him pick up more support in these communities.
IBTimes: Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 6-to-1 margin in New York City. But how is it that two GOP candidates (Giuliani and Bloomberg) ran City Hall for the past two decades? Is party loyalty overrated?
Zaino: No, party loyalty matters an awful lot. The Giuliani and Bloomberg victories have to be understood in historical context. They both won in large part as a result of what was going on at that time and unfortunately for Lhota and the Republicans there aren’t similar issues to help sweep them to victory this time.
In the case of Giuliani’s first victory in 1993, an awful lot to do with crime and what was going on in Staten Island [a secessionist movement]. In the case of Bloomberg, it had a lot to do with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Under those quite exceptional circumstances, you can overcome a 6-1 Democratic majority, but those don’t exist this time around, at least not yet.
IBTimes: Only wealthy parts of the Upper East Side of Manhattan and parts of Staten Island (comprising mostly conservative Italian Catholics) seem to have a significant Republican populace Are Republican political candidates in New York City like Lhota essentially “doomed” by demographics?
Zaino: They are essentially doomed for now because the Republican party hasn’t figured out how to fight for and win other constituents. They need to do that, not just in New York City but statewide and nationwide quite frankly. The country is changing, and New York City shows how those changing demographics work against the traditional GOP base. The party has to work to capture voters, and they could do that by showing they will work for them. As desperate a time as this is for the GOP in New York City, it also presents them with an extraordinary opportunity to fight for the people of the city.
I think at some time in the future -- and it may be quite some time -- they will figure out how to do that and we will see a resurgent GOP with support from important sectors in this city.
IBTimes: Is New York City hopelessly paralyzed by racial divisions -- that is, do blacks, whites and Hispanics have completely different interests and concerns?
Zaino: I think this campaign has shown quite the opposite. There is obviously some racial divide, but not as enormous as one might think. And here we see a white candidate [de Blasio] winning more support from the black community than the only African-American [Thompson] in the primary race. So I think the de Blasio campaign shows that there are shared concerns and interests among all people -- equity, fairness, jobs, education, safety, housing and so forth.
IBTimes: We never hear about Asian-Americans (Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, etc.), although they represent about 10 percent of the city’s population. Obviously, John Liu did abysmally in the primaries, but shouldn’t political candidates try to seek the Asian vote more aggressively?
Zaino: Overall, Liu did not do well in the primaries (7 percent), but according to the numbers I’ve seen he got just over 40 percent of the vote in precincts with majority Asian-American voters (e.g., Flushing, Queens). So he did fairly well appealing to these voters despite the fact that his campaign was under an enormous cloud as a result of the conviction of two of his campaign workers and the decision by the New York City Campaign Finance Board that followed.
Also, there was excitement about his candidacy as the first potential Asian-American to be elected to the top office in the city and then of course some disappointment as a result of the problems and charges that came out. That said, I think his success in these precincts -- even given the turmoil in his campaign -- speaks to the fact that this is an important constituency for future candidates to appeal to. In addition to Liu, I do think we saw this a little bit with the focus on immigration, for instance, but I agree the candidates and parties can do a much better job.
IBTimes: Also, since Asian-Americans are (generally speaking), highly educated, high-earning, business owners and culturally conservative, would they not make for an ideal recruiting ground for Republicans?
Zaino: There might be an opportunity there for the GOP. What we’ve seen nationally, however, is interesting. Until the 2000 election, Asian-Americans tended to vote more for Republicans than Democrats (e.g., George H.W. Bush in 1992, Robert Dole in 1996). We saw this turn around by 2000 when they went for Democrat Al Gore. By 2012, Pew Research was reporting that 50 percent of Asian-American voters identify as Democrat and less than 30 percent as Republican. We’ve seen this echoed to a certain extent at the local levels (over 85 percent Asian-Americans in New York supported Barack Obama).
So, yes, while we can see ways in which the Republicans might begin to make inroads in terms of appealing to this population, it must be a concerted and long-term effort and unfortunately for the GOP they are currently divided nationally. Indeed, the GOP of New York City looks very different than the GOP in Georgia for example.
IBTimes: What do you think is the legacy of Mike Bloomberg?
Zaino: I think it is terribly difficult to predict at this point since it is so fresh in our minds. I also think that one of the things that gets lost in a lot of the discussions is that so much of what public officials do won’t be realized until long after they are done. For instance, Bloomberg ran on education as a major issue, and a lot of people have said that this is an area where he didn’t live up to expectations. Maybe, but on the other hand when you reflect on it, many of the kids he impacted are still in school. We don’t know how they have done yet, so it’s hard to judge.
I do think (and hope) Bloomberg will continue to use his incredible wealth to impact and influence issues he cares deeply about -- education, public health and gun control/safety among them.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.