In General Election, A More Traditional New York Clash


In the first mayoral election in 12 years with a true Republican on the ballot, November’s race is likely to shape up as a clash more akin to New York’s past of liberalism vs. conservative ideas.

Former deputy mayor and MTA chairman Joseph Lhota was nominated by the GOP to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Democrat and current independent who successfully ran three times on the Republican ballot, and whose politics generally range from liberal to moderate.

Lhota, a lifelong Republican, is closely associated with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whom he served in City Hall from 1994-2001 in various jobs, including deputy mayor for operations.

It’s likely he will face Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who was on the verge of clinching the Democratic nomination without a runoff at the top of a crowded field with just over 40 percent of the vote.

Lhota wasted no time making veiled attacks on de Blasio in his victory speech, without mentioning him by name, decrying “class warfare” and insisting “The last thing we want is to send our city back to the days of economic despair, fear and hopelessness.”

For his part, de Blasio said “settling for the status quo isn’t just thinking small, it’s a risk we can’t afford to take.”

Whether Lhota faces de Blasio, or second-place finisher William C. Thompson, the key issues in the race will be taxes and policing.

De Blasio, who seems to have sailed to the top of the field by being the most critical of Bloomberg, wants to raise taxes on households earning more than $500,000 to pay for some education programs. Thompson, who was at 26 percent early Wednesday, won’t rule out a tax hike as a last resort. (Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an early frontrunner, placed a distant third Tuesday with 15.5 percent.)

Lhota pledges to keep tax rates as they are, or possibly lower them in some cases.

De Blasio and Thompson are critical, to varying degrees, of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk practices, and would order amendments to procedures, while Lhota disagrees with the recent federal court ruling that as implemented it is unconstitutional.

“Handcuffing and demoralizing our police officers will have disastrous consequences,” Lhota warned in his victory speech.

De Blasio countered in his own speech, about an hour later: “Policing policies that single out young men of color make communities and police less safe.”

It’s an exchange likely to become familiar as November approaches.

“If it’s DiBlasio and Lhota, the narratives are clear and distinct,” said Baruch College political science professor Douglas Muzzio.

He said a third key issue in the race will be a referendum on Bloomberg.

“One says there is a great deal wrong with the direction of the city and problems with policy and public schools and public safety and health and we need a different orientation. Lhota, and to an extent Thompson and Quinn say what’s happening has been a significant improvement in the quality of life” though more improvements need to be made.

Columbia University political science professor Ester Fuchs sees this year’s campaign as almost a throwback to the 1960s, when elections were all about increasing spending on social programs. But she notes that while in those days the funding came from state and federal sources, today the ideas re about obtaining new funding from within the city.

“De Blasio’s campaign implies that the city can fund more from its tax levy,” she said. “For the first time since the fiscal crisis, we really have ’60s-style liberal issues in the campaign. People believe the city is in good economic condition and that we can do more redistribution.”

She cited promises of more care for the elderly and additional affordable housing units, something all the candidates support. (Lhota wants to take over land from underutilized post offices for affordable housing, while de Blasio wants to wrest promises from developers to create low-income units before granting them land use rights.)

Lhota would most welcome a run against de Blasio, Muzzio said, to appeal to more conservative Democrats by taking on the left-wing establishment. And in particular, Lhota would benefit from taking on de Blasio after a bruising runoff battle.

While primaries draw the party faithful, a runoff will draw only diehard Democrats, which means the candidates will likely veer left in that campaign, then have to shift back to the center in the general race. “If there is a runoff, it’s going to be bloody,” Muzzio said.

The runoff question may not be settled until next week, when the Board of Elections finishes counting some 30,000 absentee and other paper ballots, CBS News reported. The BOE decided to use aging, mechanical voting machines rather than risk computerized machines that malfunctioned in the 2012 presidential balloting. However, widespread problems were reported across the city with the machines as well as with staffing, suggesting there will be a large share of paper ballots to be counted.

Thompson gave a speech early Wednesday but did not concede.

In the campaigns of the late 80s and the 90s, racial tension played a role in the discourse as Koch faced criticism over has response to bias crimes such as the 1989 Bensonhurst murder of Yusuf Hawkins, helping elect David Dinkins the first black mayor. The 1993 election hinged heavily on Crown Heights riots two years earlier, which contributed to Dinkins defeat. In 1997, activist Al Sharpton was a serious contender for the nomination and faced questions about his role in Crown Heights and the Tawana Brawley rape hoax. He was defeated by Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger in a close race that narrowly avoided a runoff. Giuliani that year was a lightning rod for criticism from black leaders who felt he had no relationship with the minority community.

In those races Jewish voters clearly took sides, with Crown Heights weighing heavily in calculations as they felt a stake in strong policing. This year there is no significant issue or major differences between the candidates among Jews. A review of Jewish statistics in the last three polls by Quinnipiac University showed almost equal support for Quinn, Thompson and de Blasio, though a large margin of error for subgoups make those figures unreliable. Politically potent Orthodox figures have endorsed both Thompson and de Blasio.

An exit poll by Edison Research showed that de Blasio won a large majority of Jewish votes in the primary, 38 percent, while Thompson was supported by 23 percent. Quinn’s share was 19, Weiner’s was 4 percent and John Liu just 2 percent, the poll suggests. Jewish support for de Blasio was about even with that of Protestants and Catholics.

In an interview Tuesday, Messinger said that while racial tensions have largely subsided in the 12 years of the Bloomberg administration, there remain huge gaps in perception about fighting crime, as well as what she termed economic tension.

“Tension is logical in city with a tough economy out there,” said Messinger, now president and director of the American Jewish World Service. “Some people are clearly doing better than others. But one thing that has injected an element of visible division in the electorate is stop and frisk … whatever position you take, I know from 20 years in government and from talking to people in different communities that how police are seen is radicaly different in in minority communities and in the rest of the city.”

De Blasio wants to tax the rich to fund more afterschool programs, which Fuchs saw as a ploy to win the primary since such a measure would require the approval of the state Legislature, half of which is controlled by Republicans. Raising property taxes, as Bloomberg did early in his tenure to boost the 9/11 recovery required no state approval, she said. “It’s desgined specifically to attract the more left-leaning voters,” she said, noting that millionaires already pay about 40 percent of the city’s tax revenues.

“There’s no question that de Blasio has moved the political conversation in the primary to the left and that’s fairly typical.”

Fuchs said that in the general race both sides will try to move to the center. The question surrounding Lhota will be whether New Yorkers want to go back to the Giuilani years (though Lhota has a far more temperate manner than his ex-boss and current backer) while the question for de Blasio, should he be the nominee, will be whether he can reassure the public that police reforms won’t lead to an increase in crime.

“De Blasio hasn’t targeted the poor, he’s targeted the middle class, and when you target the middle class you have a better chance of being able to reframe your message” for the general election, Fuchs said.In his speech, Lhota warned against “

In his victory speech, Lhota indicated that his strategy would be to try to paint de Blasio as typical of failed Democratic policies that were reversed by Giuliani. “It’s a retreat to the same old playbook that promises a perfect world, but delivers only special-interest-dominated politics,” he said. “It’s this kind of thinking that has historically brought our city to the brink of bankruptcy and rampant civic decay.”

De Blasio evoked the caring spirit of New Yorkers following the 9/11 terrorist attacks 12 years to the day earlier, and said it was time to bring back that sense of unity. During the Bloomberg years, he said, “some very wealthy New Yorkers not only rebounded from the great recession but found that life couldn’t get much better for them,” while on the other hand, “nearly half the city was living at or near the poverty level.’

The two New Yorks theme, however, has been tried before, unsuccessfully, by Thompson in 2009 and Ferrer and 2005.