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Democratic mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio dances on stage after addressing supporters Tuesday night.
Associated Press/Photo by Kathy Willens
Democratic mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio dances on stage after addressing supporters Tuesday night.

Primary picks

Politics | Democrats wait to see if Bill de Blasio avoids a runoff, while Joe Lhota easily wins the Republican primary for New York City mayor

NEW YORK—When the average American visits New York, what he sees is a city of the young. Young models, thin and longhaired. Young bearded men hunched over laptops in coffee shops. Young stand-up comedians, skateboarders, bartenders, street artists, Broadway actors, freelancers, and band members.

The young transients are not New York’s primary voters who cast ballots Tuesday for the next leader of the city of 8.2 million. Pollsters estimated that a mere 800,000 voters would cast ballots in the election, and those voters represent older constituencies that the typical tourist doesn’t see. There are the ultra-conservative Jews of Brooklyn, the hair stylists in Queens, the Dominicans in the Bronx, the Russians at Brighton Beach, the senior citizens on Staten Island. And African-American churchgoers: The New York Times calculated the candidates had spoken at 169 church services, at least.

The polls leading up to Tuesday were just about right on these voters’ inclinations. Democratic primary voters spurned current Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, picking the ultra-liberal Bill de Blasio over the once-presumptive nominee Christine Quinn, who has closer ties to Bloomberg. Quinn helped secure a third term for Bloomberg, an issue that came up in the final Democratic debate. After months of leading the polls she finished in an unremarkable third place. On Tuesday De Blasio led the field, though at midnight he remained right on the edge of the 40 percent of the vote required to avoid a runoff. De Blasio has become a torchbearer for the two biggest issues in the campaign: income inequality in the city and the police department’s stop-and-frisk policy. 

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On Tuesday night, Bill Thompson, who finished second and would face de Blasio in a runoff if one is needed, listened to his aides read the numbers to him before he walked into his Election Night party in Manhattan. He grimaced and smiled like a man who had cheated death: at that moment De Blasio was just a fraction of a percent under 40. Thompson wouldn’t be giving a concession speech just yet. When he walked into the hotel ballroom his supporters chanted, “Three more weeks! Three more weeks!” The runoff would take place Oct. 1. 

Quinn’s mediocre finish was astonishing in the context of the last year. Pastor Bill Devlin, who has been involved in city politics and has fought to roll back the regulation preventing churches from renting public schools for worship services, predicted this result back in April when Quinn still looked unassailable. He said Quinn had underestimated the city’s religious minorities and catered too much to the “bourgeois.”

“People of color will oppose Quinn due to her stalling bills related to sick pay, minimum wage, and right to worship … that’s it,” Devlin emailed in April. “Latino and African-American voters will reject her on Election Day because of her opposition to the poor and the working class.”

“The African-American and Latino community, we are very religious,” said Devlin’s brother in arms, Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who appeared at Thompson’s election night party Tuesday night to offer the opening prayer. Cabrera, a pastor in the Bronx (who won his primary handily), said Thompson had done more outreach to faith communities than any of the other candidates. Thompson pledged to Cabrera that in his first month in office he would repeal the city policy against churches renting public schools for worship services, a major initiative Cabrera has been pushing. De Blasio has also said he would change the policy. But Thompson went further, saying he would establish a faith-based office at City Hall. Either way, Cabrera was thrilled to see Quinn in third place, because she was the only Democratic candidate who opposed churches in public schools.

New Yorkers may not know if there will be a runoff in the Democratic race for some time. The primary voting day was marked with scattered mechanical problems after the city’s board of elections forbade electronic voting, and instead ordered the 1960s-era lever machines out of the mothballs. When levers broke, voters had to file paper ballots. Now that de Blasio is so close to the 40 percent mark, the board of elections will likely have to count paper ballots and absentee ballots. 

Meanwhile, largely on Staten Island, the Republican primary played out as expected: Joe Lhota, the former head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority and deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, squarely beat billionaire John Catsimatidis. The Democratic nominee is expected to beat Lhota in the general election, but analysts aren’t counting Lhota out entirely.

The mayor’s race wasn’t the only one of interest Tuesday, as several pastors ran for office in New York. Pastor Rick del Rio of Abounding Grace Ministries on the Lower East Side, whom WORLD profiled, lost his race to incumbent council member Rosie Mendez by a wide margin. I spoke with del Rio as he was watching results come in and he showed no discouragement. 

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