New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio’s campaign theme of wealth inequality came under attack from Republican Joseph Lhota hours after he won the Democratic nomination and avoided a primary runoff with William Thompson.
Thompson, 60, dropped out of the race yesterday, saying he wouldn’t wait to see whether the official vote count gave de Blasio the 40 percent needed to win the Sept. 10 primary outright. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who finished third, said today she also intends to endorse de Blasio.
Both she and Thompson cited the need for party unity as Democrats, who hold a 6-to-1 registration edge, say they have a good chance to control City Hall for the first time in 20 years. For de Blasio, 52, that may mean modifying his populist theme in the most populous U.S. city, said political analysts including George Arzt, a Democratic consultant not involved in the race.
“The problem with a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ is it makes you vulnerable to charges of economic warfare and polarization,” Arzt said. “De Blasio has to talk about a united city where no one gets left behind.”
In the primary, de Blasio received the most votes among whites, men, women and Hispanic voters in a seven-candidate field. He tied Thompson, the only black candidate, among black voters, and won about 260,000 of 650,000 Democrats who participated. That’s only about 9 percent of New York’s 2.97 million registered Democrats.
“De Blasio’s first task has to be getting the three-quarters of Democrats who didn’t vote in the primary to rally around him,” said William Cunningham, who has served as a top political adviser to former New York Governor Hugh Carey and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “De Blasio has to be careful that when he talks about tax increases he doesn’t scare these not-so-liberal Democrats away.”
De Blasio, elected to the watchdog post of public advocate in 2009, has called for raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal, all-day pre-kindergarten classes.
In Lhota, 58, he faces an adversary who was a top aide to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and until last year, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the biggest U.S. transit system.
Lhota has already attacked de Blasio, saying a Democratic mayor will mark a return to the era of high crime, weak economic growth and fiscal decay that plagued the city in the 1970s and 1980s -- a period most of today’s New Yorkers didn’t experience.
“The ‘Tale of Two Cities’ is a divisive device that he’s using,” Lhota told reporters yesterday outside Central Park, a few hours after Thompson dropped out. “It’s a divide-and-conquer strategy. It’s class warfare.”
Lhota added, “I won’t stand for it, and I won’t let him get away with it.”
After two decades of Republican rule under Giuliani and Bloomberg, who ran twice as a Republican and in 2009 as an independent on the Republican ballot, “the city is returning to its normative Democratic roots,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant who worked for Thompson.
“People forget that in the decades between 1969 to 1989, including the 12 years of the Koch administration, the city was so predominantly Democratic we barely had contested two-party elections,” Sheinkopf said.
Mayor Edward Koch, who led the city from the brink of bankruptcy, died this year at 88.
One of de Blasio’s priorities will be to solidify his support among traditional Democratic constituencies, such as Jewish, black, Caribbean and Hispanic voters, and winning over homeowners in boroughs outside Manhattan, Sheinkopf said.
The “Two Cities” theme, focusing on the 46 percent who he says are poor or struggling in a city where the top 1 percent earn 39 percent of all income, may resonate with those groups, Sheinkopf said.
The prospect of a Democratic victory was enhanced yesterday today as Thompson, a former city comptroller and 2009 mayoral candidate, bowed out under mounting pressure, and Quinn, 47, announced her intention to back de Blasio.
Both candidates had attacked de Blasio for changing his positions on term limits for local officials.
After a Sept. 4 debate, Quinn, an early front-runner who lost her lead late in the campaign, said de Blasio had a record of “changing positions based on where he is getting campaign contributions from.”
Thompson’s campaign created a campaign website called www.BilldeBliar,” which provided examples of what Thompson spokesman John Collins said were inconsistencies between de Blasio’s statements and actions.
The end of the rivalry has brought expressions of support for de Blasio as he takes on Lhota in the general election.
“Bill de Blasio and I want to move the city forward in the same direction,” Thompson said at a news briefing on the steps of City Hall, where he was joined by de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. “The best way to guarantee that we improve our schools, save our hospitals, create good jobs and protect our people and their rights is to come together.”
Cuomo, a 55-year-old Democrat, praised Thompson’s decision, which he called difficult.
“It can be much harder to step back than step forward,” the governor said.
Thompson quit after more than 50 Democratic officials and union leaders joined de Blasio on Sept. 12 at a Brooklyn rally, declaring his victory decisive. Many had backed other candidates or remained neutral. Thompson’s decision came after he consulted with supporters including U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.
As Thompson spoke, city Board of Elections officials said it could take days -- or even weeks -- before returns from voting machines were recounted, along with more than 78,000 paper absentee and affidavit ballots.
“Under those circumstances, it is impossible to campaign, let alone offer a meaningful choice,” Thompson said. “It would be a disservice to Democrats and most of all to the people of New York City who are desperate for new direction after 12 long years” to continue the campaign, Thompson said.
De Blasio led Thompson 40.3 percent to 26.2 percent in a seven-candidate race, according to unofficial returns from 99 percent of the city’s voting machines, as reported by the Associated Press. De Blasio needed more than 40 percent to avoid a runoff. Thompson faced slim odds that de Blasio would fall below 40 percent.
Bloomberg, 71, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, was barred from running for a fourth four-year term.