New York mayor rivals jockey for black vote as race heats up

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 7:23pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 7:30pm

New Yorkers have their pick when it comes to diversity among the candidates hoping to replace their brash, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

There is a married lesbian, an African-American and a six-foot something white guy with a bi-racial family among those slugging it out for the Democratic nomination in September 10 primary elections.

But it is the latter, 52-year-old Bill de Blasio, who has surged ahead of the pack and, in a rather strange twist, is the current favourite among black voters.

A Quinnipiac University poll this week showed that if the election happened now, 34 per cent of black voters would choose De Blasio compared to 25 per cent for African-American candidate William Thompson, who narrowly missed beating Bloomberg in 2009.

De Blasio, the most left-leaning among the Democratic hopefuls, has muscled out earlier frontrunner Christine Quinn, the city council speaker who is openly married to another woman.

Seen as the anti-Bloomberg candidate, the city’s tall, greying public advocate De Blasio has hinged his campaign on inequality, describing New York as “a tale of two cities,” the rich and the poor.

He has honed in on the highly emotional debate over stop-and-frisk, a police tactic loathed by black and Hispanic communities who see themselves as unfairly targeted.

All the main Democratic candidates have campaigned on the need for some sort of reform to stop-and-frisk, even more so since a federal judge said police were using racial profiling and ruled the tactic unconstitutional two weeks ago.

But voter Norman Frazier, 61, said De Blasio has been the most convincing.

“Quinn and Thompson to me don’t wanna speak out” against stop-and-frisk, Frazier said at a campaign event in Brooklyn.

“From the very beginning, he [De Blasio] was against it... now they are jumping on the bandwagon.”

It does not hurt that De Blasio is married to a black woman - an outspoken lesbian until she fell in love with him - and has prominently featured his bi-racial family during the campaign.

His 15-year-old son Dante with his towering Afro has become a social media sensation in his own right, with De Blasio promoting the Twitter hashtag “go with the ‘fro.’”

In one video, De Blasio says he and his wife “have talked to Dante many times about the fact that some day you will be stopped.”

The practice of randomly stopping individuals and searching them was seen by many as key to bringing criminality to heel in the once violence-wracked city.

Analyst Fred Siegel of the Manhattan Institute thinktank blamed Bloomberg for enforcing police quotas that saw stop-and-frisk get out of hand.

“I have been stopped quite a few times,” said John Bigelow, 49, a Hispanic labourer from Canarsie in Brooklyn.

“It is not a good thing and very embarrassing getting stopped in my own neighbourhood.”

Samuel Abrams, a political scientist at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College, said De Blasio was scoring points as the “populist anti-Bloomberg, anti-corporate” candidate.

His boldest proposal is a tax on those who earn over $500,000 to pay for after-school care for young children.

“In New York, personality matters. New Yorkers have had enough of the brash, pushy mayor. Many love it, a lot of people don’t.”

A multi-billionaire Manhattanite, Bloomberg has ruled New York for 12 years, after cajoling City Council into lifting a two-term limit in 2009.

He has presided over a falling murder rate and aggressively pushed sweeping public health policies, but has been accused of check-book diplomacy and seeking nanny-state reforms.

Siegel said it may be 47-year-old Quinn’s image as the “natural” successor to Bloomberg that has hit her popularity, at a time when most New Yorkers are looking for a “clean break.”

Recent polls dealt a stunning blow to Quinn’s campaign while she was still basking in endorsements from several top newspapers.

A New York Times/Siena College poll on Friday gave De Blasio 32 per cent of the polls if the primary were held now.

Quinn fell back with 17 per cent and former city comptroller Thompson was given 18 per cent. Anthony Weiner, a onetime frontrunner engulfed in a sexting scandal, lagged behind at 11 per cent.

Analysts say predicting a victor is practically impossible in a city where voter interest is “ridiculously low.”

In 2009, barely 29 per cent of voters cast ballots.

“In a New York minute, everything can change. The race is beginning to take shape but it’s still up for grabs,” said Abrams, adding he thought Quinn had the biggest machinery to lure voters out.

The Big Apple is overwhelmingly Democratic, making that party’s candidate most likely to win against the Republican pick in the mayoral election on November 5.