In the final days before the New York City mayoral primary, attention to get-out-the-vote efforts has been overshadowed by the city’s current mayor calling one candidate’s campaigning “racist” – moving the topic of race front and center.
Blacks are nearly 23 percent of the city’s total population yet are expected to comprise 30 percent of the electorate, making the bloc critical in determining who will be the city’s next mayor.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is White, is leading among likely Democratic voters, according the latest Quinnipiac University poll. He also has the support of 37 percent of black voters – the largest share of any candidate. If the polls hold true, de Blasio could soon become the Democratic candidate, beating out City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is Black and is currently in second place.
Thompson was the 2009 Democratic nominee for mayor and came within just five points of defeating Bloomberg. If he can make a runoff with de Blasio and go on to win the race, Thompson would become only the city’s second black mayor.
De Blasio has effectively painted himself as an advocate for the underdog, promising to tax the rich to fund better schools and make the city more affordable for all its residents. Voters have responded to the message and many Black voters have taken note of appearances by De Blasio’s wife, who is black, and their children in campaign ads and along the trail.
The candidate’s best-known ad features his 15-year old son. Dante de Blasio, with a large afro, describes his father as a candidate that will break from the Bloomberg years, raise taxes on the rich and, “the only one that will end a Stop and Frisk era that unfairly targets people of color.”
In an interview with New York magazine published Saturday, outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized de Blasio for running a campaign that has highlighted his interracial family.
“There's Bill de Blasio, who's become the Democratic front-runner. He has in some ways been running a class-warfare campaign,” said Chris Smith, writer for New York.
“Class-warfare and racist,” replied Bloomberg. When pushed to elaborate on his characterization, he stepped the comments back.
“Well, no, no, 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. I do not think he himself is racist. It's comparable to me pointing out I'm Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote. You tailor messages to your audiences and address issues you think your audience cares about.”
Christine Quinn, who’s running against de Blasio, called Bloomberg’s comments "extremely unfortunate” at a campaign event. Thompson took to Twitter.
"Bloomberg's comments are outrageous,” he tweeted. “We are all proud of our families, and we should be.”
At a rally in Brooklyn Saturday, de Blasio responded to a Bloomberg’s comments alongside his wife and daughter Chiara, calling the mayor’s words “very unfortunate and inappropriate.” Eighteen-year-old Chiara echoed her father’s sentiment.
"Twenty years ago, my dad did not know he was running for mayor and did not seek to marry a Black woman to put on display," she told reporters.
At a rally Sunday, de Blasio was joined by entertainer, activist and supporter Harry Belafonte. Belafonte took the opportunity to blast Bloomberg as “blind” in response to his comments.
“[De Blasio is] blacker than a lot of people I know,” said Belafonte.
Commentators have called Bloomberg’s remarks a “gift” to the de Blasio campaign, however, particularly relative to Black voters —who overwhelmingly disapprove of Bloomberg’s Stop and Frisk policy.
In fact, an email went out to supporters Saturday from de Blasio’s campaign manager Bill Hyers, promoting get-out-the vote efforts with a reminder of Bloomberg’s interview.
“In case you needed a reminder about why we're doing this, read Mayor Bloomberg's interview in New York Magazine today. Man, he's out of touch…If that's not a reminder for why we need bold progressive change, then I don't know what is…Bloomberg's interview was a serious reminder of what's at stake in this election.”
The interview is, however, but the latest incident in a mayoral race that is becoming increasingly racial with the de Blasio family at the center.
Wednesday, the Christian Science Monitor ran an article that credited a GOP consultant as saying Republican candidate Joe Lhota conducted internal polling to gauge voters’ reaction to de Blasio’s multiracial family. The source has since claimed his was misquoted and, for their part, the Lhota campaign has steadfastly denied any affiliation with him or ever running any such poll.
De Blasio wasted no time in responding to the story, warning Lhota against running a racially divisive campaign in an appearance on Al Sharpton’s radio show.
“I did see the Lhota campaign try and distance themselves from it,” de Blasio said about the story. “I hope that’s true. Because I know who Joe Lhota worked for. He worked for Rudy Giuliani; he was the top deputy for Rudy Giuliani when Rudy was dividing this city as a matter of political strategy…I hope Joe Lhota doesn’t think he’s going to replay that playbook. If he is, he’s for in a very rude awakening.”
Lhota is polling with nearly the twice the support of his opponent for the Republican nomination. If de Blasio pulls out a primary victory Tuesday, it’s likely the two will face off to become New York City’s next mayor.
Donovan X. Ramsey is a multimedia journalist who writes about all things social, political, cultural, financial and whimsical. Follow him on Twitter @iDXR, or DonovanXRamsey.com.