New Yorkers began choosing their first new mayor in 12 years today, after a campaign that ultimately pivoted on the gulf between rich and poor in the largest U.S. city.
Bill de Blasio, elected four years ago to the citywide watchdog office of public advocate, leads among seven Democratic candidates and may garner enough votes to avoid an Oct. 1 runoff with his closest competitor. Polls close at 9 p.m.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city more than 6-to-1. City Hall for the past 20 years has been run by Republican former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ran in 2001 and 2005 as a Republican and in 2009 as an independent also on the Republican ballot line. De Blasio took the lead in the race after decrying economic inequality.
“All New Yorkers do better when no one is left behind,” de Blasio said in an e-mail to supporters last night. “Do we want to nibble around the edges of the inequities facing our city, or do we want to fight for progress? I know New Yorkers are ready for the bold progressive change this city needs.”
Bloomberg, 71, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is barred by law from seeking a fourth term.
The search for his replacement didn’t begin smoothly. Neal Rosenstein, an advocate with the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that by 12:30 p.m. local time, his organization received 35 reports of broken lever-operated voting machines across the city.
The machines, more than 50 years old, had been warehoused in favor of computerized scanning devices. They returned to service after Board of Elections officials said they didn’t have confidence that the new equipment could process a Sept. 10 primary, Oct. 1 run-off and Nov. 5 general election on time should close contests force recounts.
Board of Elections officials didn’t immediately answer requests for information about the machines.
One precinct in Midtown East on 56th Street between Second Ave. and Third Ave. had a line out the door about 11 a.m. People who usually vote four blocks south had been redirected to the location. Some had to walk through a children’s play area.
“It was very confusing the way it was set up,” said James Mason, a 49-year-old computer programmer.
Whoever emerges as the next mayor will confront expired labor contracts with almost all the city’s 300,000 workforce. Municipal unions have insisted that any wage increases include retroactive pay for the years worked without a contract, a proposition Bloomberg has rejected, saying it could cost as much as 10 percent of the city’s $70 billion annual budget.
“There is considerable uncertainty about the field of candidates, with issues of importance to the future of the city’s economy largely unaddressed in the primary campaign,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a non-partisan civic organization of 200 corporate chief executives. “How the winning candidates present themselves in the coming weeks will affect the momentum of economic growth, job creation and civic engagement in the years ahead.”
De Blasio, a 52-year-old former city council member from Brooklyn, has proposed increasing the municipal tax on income above $500,000 to raise $532 million to pay for all-day pre-kindergarten and after-school activities for adolescents. The measure would have to be approved by the state legislature.
The candidate, who is white, has also highlighted his opposition to police stop-and-frisk tactics, which affect mostly young black and Latino men. His wife, Chirlane McCray, who is black, is a frequent companion at campaign events. In a television commercial, their 15-year-old son, Dante, sporting a large Afro, praises his father as the candidate most likely to rein in stop-and-frisk.
De Blasio has also criticized City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, 47, for her role in 2008 backing a law that permitted Bloomberg and council members to run for a third term, abrogating two previous votes by referendum that limited local officials to two terms.
De Blasio had support from 39 percent of likely Democratic voters in a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday. His closest challenger, former city Comptroller William Thompson, had 25 percent. If no candidate gets 40 percent, the top two will compete in an Oct. 1 runoff.
Quinn had support from 18 percent of respondents in the Quinnipiac poll. About 8 percent were undecided, and 18 percent said they may change their minds. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Thompson gained ground in the last few days of polling. A Sept. 3 Quinnipiac poll gave de Blasio 43 percent, Thompson 20 percent and Quinn, 18 percent.
Of the other Democratic candidates, former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner has support from 6 percent; city Comptroller John Liu, 4 percent; Sal Albanese, 1 percent.
“At stake is whether the next mayor continues the progress the city has made in the last 12 years,” said William Cunningham, who has been an adviser to former Governor Hugh Carey, former U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan and directed communications during Bloomberg’s first term. “Will New York remain the premier global city or will London or some other city ascend as the top financial, artistic and commercial hub?”