NEW YORK— New York City voters elected a new mayor, Bill de Blasio, putting the city under Democratic party control for the first time in more than 20 years. De Blasio, a Democrat, entered the race with a huge lead over the Republican nominee, Joe Lhota, in a city where registered Democrats already outnumber Republicans six to one.
He appealed to voters with a populist agenda and interracial family: his two children and African-American wife, writer Chirlane McCray, whom de Blasio says will have an important role in his administration.
Running from his position as the city’s public advocate, the middle-class Democrat from Brooklyn could hardly have been less like the incumbent mayor, billionaire Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent Michael Bloomberg.
A liberal with progressive economic policies, de Blasio professed little sympathy for Wall Street. At every campaign event, his message was the same: New Yorkers want a “break” from the Bloomberg years, when, he said, 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,” he said at the last Democratic debate.
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 being 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 proposal 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. Critics, however, noted that raising taxes would require the approval of the New York state legislature, which is currently controlled by Republicans.
Some observers say a television ad featuring De Blasio’s teenage son, Dante, sporting a huge afro gave de Blasio a big boost in multi-ethnic New York. The image of the candidate’s son as a young African-American man hit home among some New Yorkers angered by what they see as racially discriminatory police practices, including stopping and searching suspects - mostly men of color-without probable cause.
“He’s the only one who will end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color,” Dante says in the ad.
Voters on Election Day said that however appealing de Blasio’s family is, it was his policies that attracted them.
“He relates more to an average working person, I feel, than not just the other party, but also the other candidate,” New Yorker Ron Katz said outside a polling site in Brooklyn.
“I feel he represents the needs of my family and community. He’s from our community, he’s worked hard in our community,” said Charlene Clark.
Keeping Crime Under Control
De Blasio's opponent, Republican candidate Joe Lhota, a former deputy mayor, appeared with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the last days of the campaign. Lhota hammered at the theme of his campaign commercials: that crime in New York would rebound under the liberal de Blasio.
“The progress is fragile, I’ve been saying this from day one,” Lhota told reporters as the campaign wound down. “Anybody who believes that the reduction in crime and enhanced quality of life cannot go backwards is kidding themselves.”
That message resonated for some New Yorkers, such as Lhota supporter Kevin Conway.
“He’s into the cops, at least he wants to keep the stop and frisk. I think it’s safer. I’d rather be safe in the city,” Conway said.
However, Lhota entered the race far behind in the polls and never caught up. Throughout the campaign, de Blasio maintained a lead of about 40 points over his Republican rival. The new mayor of New York will be inaugurated on January 1st, 2014.
Additional reporting by Victoria Kupchinetsky and additional camera work by Sergey Gusev and Daniela Schrier contributed to this report.