NEW YORK—Tuesday night’s election returns were anticlimactic. Bill de Blasio won this race two months ago when he cleared the crowded Democratic primary field. But now it’s official: De Blasio, a far-left Democrat, will be the next mayor of New York. The city, where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans about 7-to-1, hasn’t elected a Democratic mayor since 1989.
De Blasio beat his Republican rival Joe Lhota, the former head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, on a message of change. But exit polls Tuesday showed New Yorkers are mostly satisfied with the job Mayor Michael Bloomberg did: His approval rating is at 52 percent, a solid number. The city is much safer than it was 12 years ago when Bloomberg came into office, and much more prosperous. Still, de Blasio criticized the Bloomberg administration for being tin-eared on issues like the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy and rising income inequality that was forcing the middle class out of the city.
De Blasio’s rise had echoes of President Barack Obama’s in 2008. The mayor-elect was relatively unknown at the beginning of the year, but emerged with a magnetic message and ousted the woman long-favored to win the Democratic primary, New York Council Speaker Christine Quinn. De Blasio has his own charm, and his biracial family became central in the campaign.
In the latter days of the campaign, Lhota warned that de Blasio’s election would turn New York’s progress back to pre-Republican days. Lhota finished his campaigning with his old boss, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, underscoring that message. Republicans have run the city since 1994 (Bloomberg switched from Republican to an independent during his second term). Lhota repeatedly brought up de Blasio’s “old boss,” Democratic Mayor David Dinkins, who is associated with the city’s high crime rate pre-Giuliani.
But de Blasio’s success had much to do with his opposition to the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, which he says should be reformed because it unfairly targets minorities. De Blasio has said he would not keep current Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, but the other candidates he has mentioned are all Kelly’s top deputies. Bill Bratton—the former police chief in New York (under Giuliani), Los Angeles, and Boston—is also reportedly on de Blasio’s list. On one front, where de Blasio has promised change, it might not be as radical as he has indicated.
His other controversial proposal, to tax the wealthiest to pay for public pre-kindergarten, is almost certainly a nonstarter with the state legislature, where the measure would need acceptance.
But de Blasio is the mark of change in other ways: He is unlikely to be as friendly to Wall Street as Bloomberg. And notably, the city won’t have a mayor with billions at his disposal when public funding for projects isn’t available.
De Blasio has four years to flesh out his policies, and demonstrate whether his election is truly a new chapter for New York.