As polls predicted, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio easily won the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City on Tuesday, hovering just above the 40 percent needed to avoid a run-off for the party nomination. The New York Times reports that party leaders are urging William Thompson, who finished second with 26 percent, to drop out even if absentee ballots pull de Blasio below the magic threshold. De Blasio is heavily favored against Republican nominee Joe Lhota.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the favored candidate of outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg (photo at right), finished third with 15 percent, without much of a base outside of Chelsea and the wealthy Upper East Side. (See WNYC’s map here.) Residents of the UES are now the unfamiliar position of not being tight with the winner and may feel betrayed. They consistently vote for the more liberal candidate for president; aren’t they supposed to get a relatively conservative mayor as part of the bargain?
Slate.com’s David Weigel calls de Blasio’s win, plus the recall of pro-gun control legislators in Colorado, a defeat for Bloomberg — or for “the Acela rider/Thomas Friedman reader/Morning Joe watcher-friendly ethos of Bloombergism.”*
*For those not living in the Northeast Corridor, the Acela is the relatively high-speed Amtrak train that makes riders feel environmentally responsible and can prompt the unwary into making de Tocqueville-like observations about fellow passengers. More people take the cheaper Amtrak trains that often idle on sidetracks so the Acela can pass. Many more people take one of the much, much cheaper bus lines that serve the corridor.
As I wrote on Monday, Bloomberg and predecessor Rudy Giuliani had an opportunity to fashion a kind of urban conservatism; instead, Bloomberg in particular now stands for elitist paternalism. This image comes from his banning cigarettes in bars (mostly popular), banning trans fats in restaurants (not really noticeable), trying to ban “big gulp” sodas (an act of war to libertarians), and defending the police department’s “stop-and-frisk” policies (ever less popular and uncomfortably similar to national surveillance policies involving drones and phone tapping).
Bloomberg certainly didn’t help Quinn by praising her ability to manage the City Council. Weigel highlights this gem of a quote from the mayor in an interview with NewYork magazine:
Whether you are in favor of Chris Quinn becoming mayor or not, I will tell you this: She did a very good job for seven and a half years of keeping legislation that never should have made it to the floor, that would have been damaging to the city, from ever getting there.
Bottling up bills that might pass is, indeed, one of the chief duties of a legislative leader, but it’s also a big reason that legislative leaders rarely ascend to executive offices.
De Blasio promised a more populist administration that would tackle rising inequality in the “two cities” of New York, even if some of his proposals (such as an income surtax on the wealthy to pay for more education spending) will ultimately be decided by the state legislature. The New Republic’s Marc Tracy summed up de Blasio’s message with a phrase that’s more commonly associated with conservatives at the national level:
In response to criticisms that some of his plans are a bit too far-reaching or too difficult to enact, he retorted that nothing is too far-reaching or too difficult for the five boroughs. Call it Bill de Blasio’s New York exceptionalism.
“Legislation that should have never made it to the floor” is how the National Rifle Association feels about a package of gun-control laws that passed the Colorado legislature earlier this year. On Tuesday the NRA got its revenge by winning recall votes against two state senators who backed the laws, despite being greatly outspent by gun-control advocates such as … Michael Bloomberg.
In both cases, fewer people voted to recall the senators than voted for their losing opponents in their last contested elections (in 2010), but off-year elections are all about turnout. Seth Masket, analyzing the results in the Mischiefs of Faction blog, noted, “About 36% of registered voters in the Pueblo district turned out, and only about 21% of registered voters in Colorado Springs did so.”
The predictably low turnout for a non-presidential election frustrated Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum:
I’ll confess that since I have no real experience with this kind of thing, it all puzzles me. Why don’t young and minority voters tend to turn out except in presidential elections? I'm aware that they don’t, and that Democrats have spent plenty of time trying to figure out how to change that, but it’s still something of a mystery.
My own suspicion is that younger and less politically involved citizens overestimate the power of executive officials and fail to grasp how much power legislators have to stymie the big plans coming from the White House, the governor’s office, or City Hall. Political scientist Brendan Nyhan explains this misperception as the Green Lantern Theory, appropriately named after a comic-book superhero. (Can you imagine the characters in The Big Bang Theory voting in a City Council election?)
The Green Lantern theory can also explain why less-consistent voters often grow disenchanted with chief executives who promise big changes but inevitably have to compromise to get anything done. In other words: Watch out, de Blasio.