Criticized, Investigated and Scorned, De Blasio Is Poised to Win

  • Despite setbacks, NYC Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1
  • Malliotakis says widespread discontent will push her ahead

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term was punctuated by probes into his fundraising, arguments with Governor Andrew Cuomo, ugly clashes with his own police force, rising homelessness and the widely publicized failure of his national agenda.

He’s set to cruise to re-election Tuesday.

Bill de Blasio

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 7-to-1, de Blasio’s Republican opponent, state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, is overmatched in name recognition and campaign donations. She trailed de Blasio by 42 percentage points in a Marist poll of likely voters last month. Even so, the margin is narrower than in de Blasio’s 2013 victory, and just 42 percent of New Yorkers rate his performance as excellent or good.

“The gap between his approval rating and the vote he’ll get is huge,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York. “There’s no overwhelming sense that he’s done a terrific job, but he knows where his votes are, and in a low-turnout election you can’t beat an incumbent with just anybody."

Since 1954, just two New York mayors have lost re-election -- one during a fiscal crisis and the other during a crime wave. No such extraordinary circumstances exist this year.

Grouchy Base

De Blasio, 56, claims credit for economic growth that’s created the most private-sector jobs in city history, and crime at an all-time low. He counts among his accomplishments free universal all-day pre-kindergarten, and about 80,000 below-market housing units financed toward a goal of 300,000 in the next 10 years. 

His record hasn’t satisfied activists who made up part of his base four years ago, when he won with the largest percentage-point margin of any non-incumbent.

Lumumba Bandele, spokesman for Communities United for Police Reform, said the police department under de Blasio is less transparent than in previous administrations, hiding abuse and corruption from scrutiny. Jonathan Westin, executive director of the advocacy group New York Communities for Change faults the mayor’s policies for being too generous to real-estate developers.

“He’s let them turn more neighborhoods into playgrounds for the rich,” Westin said. “That has angered many low-income New Yorkers, who don’t think they have a future here.”

Going Alone

In southern Brooklyn, Justin Brannan, a Democrat running for city council in a district that includes mostly-white areas such as Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge, hasn’t invited de Blasio to campaign with him and doesn’t want his endorsement. Even though Clinton won 55 percent of the vote last year, de Blasio isn’t as popular, he said.

“My opponent, all he can do is tie me to de Blasio so he can tap into people who aren’t his fans,” said Brannan, who worked in his education department. “My message is, I’m going to be independent.”

De Blasio’s popularity took a hit early in his first term when law-enforcement unions criticized him, saying he tolerated protests over the death of an unarmed man placed in a chokehold during an attempted arrest, and accused him of creating an anti-police atmosphere. Hundreds of officers turned their backs on him at a funeral of a slain cop.

Homeless Shelters

The mayor’s support for decriminalizing public urination and marijuana possession, and his plans to scatter homeless shelters and satellite jails across the city have hurt the mayor, said George Arzt, a Democratic consultant and press secretary to former Mayor Edward Koch.

“A lot of people feel he doesn’t represent their values,” Arzt said. “They read about him insisting it’s OK to arrive late at City Hall after mornings at a gym in Brooklyn. They see him on television running from a news conference when the questions get tough.”

It doesn’t help that he’s a Boston Red Sox fan.

De Blasio’s questionable fundraising, which spurred year-long federal and state probes that ended without charges, continues to dog him. Last week, a real-estate investor testified in an unrelated corruption trial that he raised and gave about $160,000 to de Blasio’s political projects and gained weekly access to the mayor on his personal cell phone. De Blasio, who was cleared by federal and state prosecutors of any criminal wrongdoing, has repeatedly said the donor didn’t get any favors.

“These are nothing but reheated, repackaged accusations that have been extensively reviewed and passed on by authorities at multiple levels,” said mayoral press secretary Eric Phillips. “The administration has never and will never make government decisions based on campaign contributions.”

Despite the static, de Blasio will win because he caters to his base -- African-Americans, Latinos, labor unions and affluent liberals -- just as President Donald Trump focuses on his core support, said Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and self-described de Blasio nemesis.

Casual Critics

Tusk created a website last year that sought a rival for de Blasio. After prosecutors declined to charge de Blasio in connection with his fundraising, potential candidates decided to wait four years until term limits bar him from office, Tusk said.

“He understands just 300,000 people are the key to winning a low-turnout election,” said Tusk, who was communications director for U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York and managed former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s second re-election campaign in 2009. “As long as he can keep them happy he’s going to keep his job, even if that’s to the exclusion of the city’s other 8.3 million.”

Low Turnout

De Blasio’s 42 percent approval among registered voters, in an Oct. 5 Marist College poll, is lower than the scores for both Bloomberg and Giuliani in Quinnipiac surveys at the end of their reelection campaigns, according to Marist’s Miringoff.

Dan Levitan, a de Blasio campaign spokesman, cited an Oct. 5 Quinnipiac University poll in which 58 percent of probable voters approved of the mayor. Marist’s wider sampling is a better measure of popularity, said William Cunningham, an adviser to Bloomberg, who is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

“In an off-year election with low turn-out you get the most partisan and motivated when you restrict the survey to likely voters and miss a vast majority of registered voters who may be turned off to a particular candidate and not see a viable alternative,” Cunningham said.

Malliotakis, 36, who represents Staten Island, the city’s most sparsely populated and conservative borough, says the polls don’t reflect disenchantment she hears while campaigning. In her first race for Assembly seven years ago, observers wrote her off, but she beat the incumbent, she said.

“I’m not out to fight an ideological war or make the city a social experiment, like he is,” she said Tuesday. “If all the people who are fed up with the deteriorating quality of life and the corruption at City Hall come out to vote, we will be victorious.”

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