Bill de Blasio, who built his underdog campaign for New York mayor on promises to restrain police stop-and-frisk tactics and reduce income inequality, won in a landslide, putting a Democrat in charge of City Hall for the first time in 20 years.
De Blasio, 52, New York’s elected public advocate, beat Republican Joseph Lhota 73 percent to 24 percent, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting. The 49-point margin is the most for a non-incumbent in city history and the widest since Mayor Edward Koch won a third term in 1985 by 68 points.
A self-described progressive, de Blasio was in fourth place in the race for the Democratic nomination as recently as June. He becomes the first Democrat to lead the most populous U.S. city after two terms of Giuliani and three of Michael Bloomberg, who ran twice as a Republican and once as an independent on the Republican ballot line.
“The road ahead will be difficult, but it will be traveled,” de Blasio told supporters last night inside a Brooklyn armory. “Progressive changes won’t happen overnight, but they will happen. There will be many obstacles that stand in our way, but we will overcome them.”
Lhota, 59, conceded about 40 minutes after the polls closed. He said he called de Blasio to congratulate him.
“Our fellow New Yorkers have spoken, and they have spoken clearly,” Lhota said. The campaign has “been long and it's been difficult,” he told supporters gathered in a Manhattan hotel. De Blasio’s “success commands my respect,” he said.
While crime dropped 74 percent in the two decades under Giuliani and Bloomberg, the gap between the rich and poor widened, a trend de Blasio railed against repeatedly on the campaign trail. In 2012, New York’s richest 1 percent took home almost 40 percent of all earnings.
De Blasio won majority support from voters of all races, incomes, religions, genders and education levels, according to exit-poll data cited by the New York Times. The results reflect an underlying weakness for Republicans, who are now outnumbered by more than 6-to-1 in the city of 8.3 million residents.
“Demography combined with a national weakening of the Republican brand in the aftermath of the government shutdown in Washington and Republican threats to resist extending the nation’s debt limit,” said Robert Shapiro, a Columbia University political scientist.
De Blasio, whose wife, Chirlane McCray, is black, featured his interracial family in television ads aimed at striking a chord in a city where blacks, Hispanics and Asians have outnumbered whites since the 1980s, a trend that increased through the 2010 Census. In an Oct. 30 Quinnipiac University poll that found de Blasio ahead of Lhota by almost 40 points, the Democrat had 90 percent support among likely black voters.
“I like his style; his family’s unique,” said voter Ronald Grant, 48, who’s looking for retail work, as he emerged from a Harlem polling site yesterday.
De Blasio won the Democratic nomination in a Sept. 10 primary with 41 percent of the vote in a field of seven candidates, after ranking fourth with only 10 percent support in a June 26 Quinnipiac poll.
In March, his media adviser, John Del Cecato, said the campaign’s strategy would be to establish him as “the true progressive in the race.” That meant tapping into “populist feelings emerging around the country focusing on schools, assuring a living wage, protecting small businesses -- issues appealing to people who feel City Hall isn’t listening to them.”
Born Warren Wilhelm Jr., de Blasio took his mother’s maiden name later in life. His parents separated when he was 6. His father, a management consultant who lost a leg in combat on Okinawa in World War II, descended into alcoholism and committed suicide when de Blasio was 18.
His childhood contrasts with the life he describes himself living now with McCray, their teenage son, Dante, and daughter, Chiara. The entire family participated in de Blasio’s Jan. 27 campaign announcement in front of their row house in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and by the end of the campaign each sibling had been featured in a television ad.
De Blasio arrived in the city from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to attend New York University and later Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
A student visit to the former Soviet Union; a Nicaragua trip sponsored by a Catholic relief agency; and a honeymoon in Cuba each became points of criticism Lhota used to argue that de Blasio’s political views were outside the mainstream. De Blasio has said he counts former Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, a Republican, and former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, among his historic heroes.
He worked as an aide in the administration of David Dinkins, the city’s first and only black mayor. He also served under now-Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York as a regional director at the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department in President Bill Clinton’s administration, and in 2000 he managed former first lady Hillary Clinton’s successful campaign for U.S. Senate from New York.
De Blasio’s overwhelming win gives momentum to his governing agenda and some of the challenges it faces. Among those are persuading lawmakers in Albany to let him raise taxes on income above $500,000 to pay for universal early-childhood education and after-school programs for teens. Lhota and other skeptics say the plan would be “dead on arrival” in 2014, when Cuomo and the legislature would be up for re-election.
“The more support you get in an election, the more ability you have to achieve your goals,” de Blasio said Nov. 4 during a campaign stop in the Bronx. “If we get a strong result, it will help us get our work done.”
Even before taking office on New Year’s Day, de Blasio’s first tasks will be choosing his deputy mayors and the heads of the city’s 34,000-officer police department; its 1.1 million-student school system; and the office that manages its $70 billion a year budget and $40 billion of general-obligation debt.
For police commissioner, de Blasio has said he’s considering former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, who’s also run departments in Boston and Los Angeles, and NYPD Chief Philip Banks III, the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer. He said he’s seeking someone with a plan to reduce stop-and-frisk tactics while suppressing crime and improving community relations.
De Blasio has said his priorities will be pushing through the city council a bill to close exemptions and expand sick-pay benefits to workers in small businesses.
With a preliminary budget for the 2015 fiscal year due the first week of February, de Blasio will have to take stock of city revenue and expenses with an eye toward resolving labor contracts affecting 300,000 workers.
While Bloomberg promised not to leave his successor with a budget deficit as serious as the one he inherited from Giuliani -- a $4.8 billion gap in a $42.3 billion 2003 budget -- he was criticized by de Blasio and Lhota for not resolving contracts or providing a reserve large enough to cover raises.
Union demands for retroactive pay for years without a contract would cost as much $7 billion, and while de Blasio has been vague about how he’ll deal with municipal labor organizations on the issue, he’s ruled out full retroactive pay, saying it’s more than the city could afford. At the same time, de Blasio has tried to distinguish himself from Bloomberg, who he says didn’t treat the unions with enough respect.
Bloomberg, 71, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is legally barred from seeking a fourth term.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at email@example.com