Picking their first new mayor in more than a decade, New Yorkers elected an unabashed progressive who has pledged to tackle the city’s growing income gap.
Bill de Blasio will become the city’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years after trouncing his Republican opponent in a lopsided contest.
Mr. de Blasio, 52, ran a savvy campaign that tapped into a yearning for change after 12 years with Michael Bloomberg in the city’s top job.
Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire who first campaigned as a Republican then became an independent, will step down at the end of the year.
New York’s new mayor stormed to victory Tuesday night according to early exit polls, which predicted that he obtained more than 70 per cent of the vote – a percentage which, if maintained, would be one of the largest winning margins in a mayoral race in modern times.
Joseph Lhota, the Republican candidate for mayor and the former chief of the city’s transit system, never found a way to resonate with New York’s strongly Democratic electorate – or a successful way to wound Mr. de Blasio.
Currently the city’s public advocate – a kind of ombudsman – Mr. de Blasio did not deviate from his central message: that under Mr. Bloomberg, New York had become a city increasingly divided into rich and poor. He favours an additional tax on wealthy New Yorkers to fund prekindergarten for all of the city’s children and wants to institute a ban on racial profiling by the police.
“Tackling inequality isn’t easy, it never has been and it never will be,” said Mr. de Blasio in his victory speech Tuesday night. “But make no mistake, the people of this city have chosen a progressive path and tonight we set forth on it together.”
Now he faces the challenge of turning such promises into policies and tempering the sky-high expectations of his supporters. His plan to raise taxes on the rich will require approval from state legislators in Albany, a tough sell ahead of next year’s midterm elections. And almost immediately, he must begin negotiating a new salary agreement for hundreds of thousands of city employees who have been working without a contract for years.
A long-time Democratic operative who headed Hillary Clinton’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate, Mr. de Blasio remains a somewhat unknown quantity. He has worked for pragmatic centrists like Ms. Clinton and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, but he has also displayed a decidedly liberal bent.
Standing six feet, five inches tall, Mr. de Blasio was hard to miss on the campaign trail, where he was often joined by his wife, Chirlane McCray, who is African-American, and their two teenaged children. Mr. de Blasio “ran a very disciplined, very thoughtful campaign that had a very concise message from the beginning,” said Basil Smikle, a Democratic political consultant and former candidate for state senate. Voters finally focused on “the guy who would be completely different” from Mr. Bloomberg.
That difference in style was evident on Tuesday in Brooklyn, where Mr. de Blasio has lived for more than a decade with his family. Their home is a three-storey clapboard building with a rusting fence on a residential street in Park Slope – a far cry from Mr. Bloomberg’s regal townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Melanie Closs, a 29-year old drama and music teacher who lives nearby, said she was frustrated with Mr. Bloomberg and appreciated Mr. de Blasio’s focus on education. (He will be the first mayor in more than 50 years to have a child attending the city’s public schools.) “I’m happy to see someone new come in,” she said, particularly a Brooklynite like Mr. de Blasio, who will “think about all the boroughs and not just Manhattan.”
At his only public event before polls closed on Tuesday, Mr. de Blasio spent half an hour at a busy corner in the neighbourhood of Crown Heights, where he urged people to vote, dispensed hugs and kisses, and gamely posed for photos. His approach, unlike Mr. Bloomberg’s, is distinctly tactile – he bends his large frame and leans in to listen, often resting a hand on someone’s shoulder as the person talks. (He will be the tallest mayor of New York in living memory.)
Julie Longchamp was one of those thrilled to shake Mr. de Blasio’s hand. A 24-year-old nursing assistant, she praised his promise to curtail the use of a controversial policing technique known as “stop and frisk” that soared on Mr. Bloomberg’s watch. “I do feel like it’s time for that kind of stuff to stop,” said Ms. Longchamp, who called Mr. de Blasio “empathetic” to the concerns of minority communities.
Faced with the reality of a fresh leader, some observers confessed to a mix of hope and apprehension. “You’re electing a guy we don’t know much about who’s promised a lot of stuff that is really good, but I’m not sure he can do it,” said Maurice Carroll, who directs the polling institute at Quinnipiac University. “We’re going to get something new now, that’s for sure.”