Gird Your Loins! Its Sure to be an Interesting Race for Mayor
By John O’Neill
Candidates across the city are eagerly jumping into the race to replace outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On Sunday January 27th, Bill De Blasio, the city’s Public Advocate became the first of the Democratic candidates to formally enter the race. From his front step in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, Mr. De Blasio announced his intention to run and to focus on public education and neighborhood issues. In his announcement, De Blasio pledged to “leave no New Yorker behind” and to focus on outer-borough issues that many feel are neglected by Bloomberg’s Manhattan-centric mayoral administration. Breaking from the tradition of candidates announcing from the front step of City Hall, De Blasio announced from his home in Brooklyn in an effort to reinforce his image as “whole city” candidate. In addition to his calls for improved education, the public advocate announced his intention to revamp the city’s stop-and-frisk police procedures and to provide additional aid to small-business owners. In his announcement, De Blasio highlighted growing income inequality in the city and criticized the current administration’s policies on a variety of topics.
Other potential candidates in the Democratic primary are former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who ran against and lost to Mayor Bloomberg in the 2009 mayoral election, and current City Comptroller and former Council Member, John Liu. Thompson has yet to announce, but has the advantage of having run a citywide race previously and with that, wide scale name recognition amongst potential voters. Thompson made a splash at a candidate’s forum hosted by the New York Daily News in which he promised not to raise taxes on any New Yorkers, a position that put him alone in the pack and deemed “ridiculous” by the sitting mayor. John Liu, who would be the first Asian American mayor of New York City is considered a contender, but has been severely hampered by a federal investigation into his campaign finances. At the moment Liu has not been indicted, but two high-ranking fundraisers for him have been arrested on charges of wire fraud and obstruction of justice.
The unofficial frontrunner of the race is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The Speaker has yet to announce her candidacy, but has raised the full amount allowed under the city’s campaign finance laws. With the largest war chest, most endorsements, and greatest name recognition, the Speaker is seen as the strongest among the Democratic candidates. The Speaker has won endorsements from a slew of advocacy groups and unions, ranging from Emily’s List to the Retail Workers’ Union. Quinn has noted her experience as the Speaker of the City Council as an important role that allowed her to learn the ins-and-outs of city government. She has focused her attention on issues ranging from housing, to promoting economic development, to being a leading advocate for bolstered civil rights for all New Yorkers. If Quinn were elected, she would serve to be the city’s first female and openly gay mayor. The largest hurdle ahead for Quinn was her backing a 2009 bill through the City Council that revised the City Charter and allowed Mayor Bloomberg (as well as herself) to serve a third term. This is widely seen as Quinn’s achilles heel in the race.
On the Republican ticket is businessman, John Catsimatidis. Mr. Catsimatidis is the billionaire owner of Red Apple Food and Gristides grocery chain. In his announcement before City Hall on January 29, Catsimatidis spoke of his emphasis on hard work and vowed that city would not return to the chaotic days of the 70s and 80s where crime was rampant and the city’s infrastructure in a severe state of neglect. Mr. Catsimatidis laid out very little of his vision for the city other than noting he had strong business credentials and a self-described visionary. He spoke about his ability to engage in labor negotiations and his desire to bolster small-business citywide. The atmosphere at his announcement was reportedly jovial and many have pondered aloud if Catsimatidis is simply entering the race out of a desire to have a new adventure with his vast fortune. Catsimatidis has repeatedly denied that claim and announced that he is “in it to win it.”
The first of the Republican candidates to enter was former MTA Chairman and Deputy Mayor under the Giuliani Administration, Joseph Lhota. A good friend of former Mayor Giuliani, Lhota has focussed his campaign on improving public safety and continuing to cut costs inside city government. Lhota and Giuliani both appear to be banking on outer-borough support and to capitalize on fading fears that the city will return to a state of chaos if a Democrat is elected to the office of the mayor (an event that has not occurred in twenty years). Lhota has noted the story of Mayor Bloomberg, a Republican candidate and relative unknown in 2001, who stunned the city’s political establishment by besting his Democratic rival in the general election.
Several other names have been floated in the race, including disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, The Rent is Too Damn High’s Jimmy McMillan, and the affluent character George McDonald. The primaries seem set to be exciting and laden with drama and political theater. Although there are frontrunners, months are a very long time in New York City politics and nearly anything could change. Despite its title as a bastion of liberal ideals and politics, we mustn’t forget that it has been two decades since the voters of the city have sent a Democrat into the mayors office. For those interested, 2013 seems set to be an intriguing year that will likely define the course of the city for many to come.