NEW YORK— After 12 years of Michael Bloomberg, New York City is getting ready to elect a new mayor. Front-runner Bill de Blasio, a middle-class Democrat now serving as the city’s public advocate, could hardly be less like the billionaire Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent Mayor Bloomberg.
In recent weeks, polls have found, support for de Blasio has surged to more than 40 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, putting him far ahead of the earlier front-runners, Christine Quinn, speaker of the city council, and former city comptroller Bill Thompson.
The second-highest elected official in the city, de Blasio has been dubbed the "Anti-Bloomberg." He's a liberal with progressive economic policies, and not especially sympathetic to Wall Street. At every campaign event, his message is the same: New Yorkers want a “break” from the Bloomberg years, when, he says, big business and the wealthy were catered to at the expense of ordinary New Yorkers.
“Right now in New York, we’re living a tale of two cities, almost half of New Yorkers are living at or near the poverty line and the middle class is disappearing,” as he put it at the last debate of the Democratic candidates.
In an interview with VOA, De Blasio praised Bloomberg’s policies on the environment and public health, but said that the pressing needs of most New Yorkers were neglected.
“I’ve also said we should tax the wealthy, and that’s another big difference: I want to tax the wealthy to help our public schools,” he said, referring to his plan for funding all-day pre-kindergarten and after-school programs. The plan would raise the marginal tax rate from about 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent on people whose annual income tops $500,000.
The candidate’s biracial family - his wife, poet Chirlane McCray, is African-American, and they have two teenagers - is another source of appeal, especially among black voters. Many appreciate De Blasio's sharp opposition to New York’s “stop-and-frisk” policing practices - which a federal judge recently found unconstitutional and ordered reformed. Mayor Bloomberg has defended them as necessary for public safety, and the city has appealed.
Although most New Yorkers are Democrats, the city has not had a Democratic mayor since 1994. The leading Republican in this year’s race is former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Joseph Lhota, whom Mayor Bloomberg reportedly plans to endorse if de Blasio is the Democratic candidate. But polls show less enthusiasm for electing a Republican this year.
Additional reporting/interview by Victoria Kupchinetsky; camera by Daniela Schrier and Sergey Gusev.