The twists and turns in the plot that is the New York city mayoral race continues in the Democratic primary. First there was former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his indiscretions taking center stage in the race. Next came Christine Quinn’s partial defense of the city’s “stop and frisk policy” intermingled with promises of reform for the program. Allegations the program infringes on people’s rights, particularly in regards to racial profiling, ensured Quinn’s numbers would tank. Both 2009 Democratic nominee William Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio seized the opportunity to attack the program. However it is de Blasio who has caught fire of late.
The most recent surveys have shown de Blasio with a wide lead. In fact his lead is so wide in the crowded field he is threatening to hit the magic 40% number and avoid a run-off. Against all his potential opponents he leads in a run-off. De Blasio is not an unusual progressive. He has made his name by working with Hillary Clinton’s Senate and Presidential campaign and current Governor Andrew Cuomo when they were both in the state’s Transportation Department. His connections have ensured he has not lacked for money in the race. His connections do not define him however. It is the facts he advocates for more taxes on the rich and is a staunch opponent to the city’s “stop and frisk policy” that have.
But a new variable may have just entered into the contest, race. De Blasio is married to an African-American and has also has a black son and daughter. Both his wife and son have been in campaign ads arguing the “stop and frisk” policy is racist. As a result, Independent (former Republican) mayor Michael Bloomberg, who initially promised to stay neutral in the race and seemed inclined to endorse Quinn if anybody, said he would endorse Republican Joe Lhota in the general if Blasio ends up as the Democratic nominee. Lhata, the former MTA Chairman and Deputy to Rudy Giuliani, is facing off against billionaire John Catsimatidis in the GOP primary.
More than the criticisms of the “stop and frisk” policy however is a recent interview given by Bloomberg to the New York magazine where he was quoted as saying Blasio is running a racist campaign. Among other notable quotes from the interview are “He is tearing people apart with this ‘two cities’ thing doesn’t make any sense to me,” “I do not think he himself is racist,” and “I mean he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing.”
Racial divisions during Bloomberg’s tenure impacting electoral outcomes is nothing new. In 2001 and 2005 heavily African-American precincts went largely to his opponent. But in 2009, when he ran for a record third straight term against African-American William Thompson his vote totals dropped noticeably in black neighborhoods and immigrant rich Queens. The course of the 2009 mayoral campaign turned dirty as Thompson inferred Bloomberg cared more about whites in rich suburbs than immigrants and blacks in Queens. As a result the race was extremely polarizing.
Now it seems race could be rearing its ugly head in the 2013 race, fueled both by Blasio and Bloomberg. For their part, other Democratic and GOP nominees have largely steered clear of the debate. However, Catsimatidis did comment on Bloomberg’s contemplation of endorsing Lhota. Ironically, Bloomberg’s endorsement of Lhota could hurt the nominee as both the business community and Republicans (yes some do live in NYC) have soured on Bloomberg even as they support the “stop and frisk” policy. That said, in the final GOP debate Sunday Lhota did not attack his opponent reflecting his massive lead in the polls.
The effect of racial tensions will likely not be seen until November as opposed to Tuesday when the primary occurs. De Blasio’s support is coming fairly evenly between blacks and whites. It is unclear whether Bloomberg’s comments will move the race in such a short period of time. But the allegations of racism that have now been thrown into the contest begs the big question, will the NYC mayoral race be decided partly or mostly on race? More so, will it be a a referendum on racial relations in the city?