Politics, media and the politics of media.
The twenty-year Republican reign over one of nation’s most liberal cities has officially come to an end: Bill de Blasio, a true progressive, will be the next mayor of New York City.
De Blasio, who ran on both the Democratic and the Working Families Party lines, is expected to beat former Giuliani deputy mayor Joe Lhota in a historic landslide. With 69 percent of the vote in, de Blasio is up by forty-eight points, and exit polls have him winning across the city and with voters “regardless of race, gender, age, education, religion or income.”
Whatever the final numbers are, de Blasio will clearly have the mandate needed to start the long, hard work of shifting power and resources from the 1 percent the last mayor favored to the middle-class and poor.
De Blasio and his team will be up against not only entrenched Wall Street interests but also Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo has already signaled he’s opposed to one of de Blasio’s signature goals, funding pre-K and after-school programs for all New York kids by increasing taxes on those making $500,000 and up.
“Obviously the higher the percentage” of the vote, de Blasio said yesterday, “the more the work ahead is facilitated and strengthened.”
It’s too early, of course, to predict how the city will change under a de Blasio administration, but one thing at least has already changed. As a Nation editorial said, “de Blasio won big in the primary, and then ignored the conventional wisdom that after a primary, Democrats must pivot to the right. He describes himself as an ‘unapologetic progressive.’ ”
De Blasio—and, more important, the voters—also ignored the right’s fear-mongering “soft on crime” and “class warfare” attacks, attacks that had worked only too well for decades. But this year, they became more ludicrous with every repetition—hitting a nadir of self-parody yesterday with a New York Post cover that posed de Blasio’s face next to a hammer and sickle on a commie-red background. The confidence with which voters seemed to flick off these stale tropes indicates we’ve moved into a new era—at least in NYC.
There’s reason to hope that de Blasio’s win will help boost progressives elsewhere, but all politics is local. Indeed, right across the Hudson River in New Jersey, millionaire-protecting, teacher-and union-bashing Governor Chris Christie has won big (but not nearly de Blasio big) against another real progressive, Barbara Buono. It’s different there. Christie manipulated his electorate by calving off Cory Booker’s Senate race a couple weeks ago; some Democratic machine politicians actually endorsed Christie; and, especially after he hugged Barack Obama like a life preserver in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, voters came under the sway of his bluff personality and media that happily mistake him for a moderate.
We might not know for days what percentage of voters who pulled the lever for de Blasio did so under the Working Families Party line. But he and the two other candidates running for citywide office won as Working Families Democrats, and serve as evidence that this progressive victory is not merely the result of “Bloomberg fatigue” or a craze for the latest celebrified pol but rather a conscious vision of a politics that actively, and unashamedly, fights for economic and social justice.
UPDATE: The final numbers: de Blasio's margin of victory—a historic 49 points—is better than the polls predicted, and it's more than double Christie's winning edge of 21.5 points, which is a drop from the 30-plus points that many polls had him at.
The Nation editors endorsed de Blasio for mayor back in August.
We all know that Bill de Blasio will win the New York City mayoral race by a landslide tomorrow—but the right is desperately hoping that maybe, just maybe, some last-minute explosive revelation about de Blasio will help his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, “eke out” a victory, as Lhota told Chuck Todd this morning he would indeed do.
Crazy, huh? But in just the last few days, de Blasio has been hit with negative stories, from the minor to the self-inflicted to the ridiculous, that could ever so slightly knock a few points off his margin of victory, which polls have steadily put at around forty points. Let’s start with the ridiculous:
He’s still a commie! Really!
Having failed earlier in the season to red-bait de Blasio for supporting the Sandinistas in the late ’80s, the New York Post—remarkably, at this late date—is at it again, and with a laughably desperate Hail Mary. On today’s cover, they’ve smeared de Blasio in red ink, literally, showing de Blasio’s face next to a hammer and sickle. The headline: “Back in the USSR!: ‘Progressive’ Bill’s secret Cold War trip.”
It’s hard to say which makes the Post look more frozen in amber: the quotation marks around the word progressive (that’s just code for pinko, see?) or the word secret, a notion that’s belied by the unrevelatory story inside, “De Blasio visited Communist USSR in college.”
De Blasio didn’t try to hide the trip he took as a NYU student in 1983; as the Post itself writes: “De Blasio listed the trip on a résumé from the 1990s. Under ‘travel,’ he said he visited ‘West Africa, Europe, Israel, Puerto Rico, USSR.’ ” These are the sort of places that college students, if they’re lucky, get to write home about. As a spokeswoman for the de Blasio campaign, said, “When he was a presidential scholar at NYU, Bill attended an annual trip that took him to Lithuania and Russia. In other years, he traveled—along with other presidential scholars—to Spain, Israel and Senegal.”
But the Post, forever trying to frame its foes, wants to make the trip sound subversive, if only because it went against the prevailing group-think of the time: “It was the same year,” the Murdoch paper reminds us, “that President Ronald Reagan referred to the country’s regime as ‘The Evil Empire.’ ”
The Belafonte Bump
Introducing de Blasio at a Harlem church on Sunday, Harry Belafonte likened the Koch brothers—actually, their supporters—to the KKK. From the Politicker:
“Already, we have lost 14 states in this union to the most corrupt group of citizens I’ve ever known,” he said near the end of his speech. “They make up the heart and the thinking in the mind of those who would belong to the Ku Klux clan. They are white supremacists. They are men of evil. They have names. They are flooding our country with money. They’ve come into New York City.… The Koch brothers, that’s their name,” he said, adding, “They must be stopped.”
As Mr. de Blasio took to the stage, he greeted Mr. Belafonte with a big hug, before heaping praise on the singer and civil rights activist, who remained seated by his side.
Asked about Belafonte's comments afterwards, de Blasio said, “I have great respect for Harry Belanfonte, but I think that was the wrong way to talk about them and I don’t think that’s fair.” He rightly reminded reporters what’s wrong with the Tea Party–supporting Koch empire: “I do think the Koch brothers have hurt the American Democratic process greatly. I think they have been amongst the most aggressive at trying to undermine campaign finance laws that keep money out of the political system.”
It’s too late for even the New York Post to turn Belafonte into de Blasio’s Rev. Wright. But Lhota’s campaign gave it a shot, releasing its own over-the-top statement, saying: “It’s reprehensible that a candidate for mayor of the city of New York would closely associate himself with an individual who has equated the American government to al Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers and has a long history of hateful, racist remarks.”
David Koch gave big money to a pro-Lhota PAC before the general election kicked in, and just a few days ago, donated $200,000 to a second pro-Lhota PAC after it won a Citizens United–like court decision to lift New York State contribution limits.
Stop-and-Frisk Lives to See Another Day
At least for a while. Conservatives are hoping that another court decision will hurt de Blasio. On Thursday, a federal appeals court temporarily halted reforms of the city’s stop-and-frisk policy that de Blasio has fought hard against and that a judge had earlier determined was unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.
Former Mayor Giuliani campaigned in Staten Island with Lhota, who served as one of his deputy mayors, hailed the latest decision. “The court of appeals has just basically said to [de Blasio]: that is a bunch of malarkey,” he said. “I hope it had a dramatic effect on the race.” He later added, “I think [Lhota’s] gonna to win the election,” he said.
But de Blasio has said that, if elected mayor, he’d drop the city’s lawsuit, effectively stopping the worst of stop-and-frisk.
Sleep for Me but Not for Thee?
This was one of those self-inflicted wounds. De Blasio is known for being late. No huge deal, lots of pols are late (remember Bill Clinton and his “Elvis time”?). But on Saturday, de Blasio screwed up beyond the usual:
From The New York Times:
Even with a relatively light schedule for the final Saturday before the election, Mr. de Blasio was an hour late for his first rally, on the Upper West Side. “I am not a morning person,” he told reporters later, explaining that he had been awakened by a phone call at 5 a.m. and then had to rest for a few more hours. (A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio’s Republican opponent, Joseph J. Lhota, posted on Twitter that he wakes up at 5:15 a.m. every day—even on weekends.)
At a “Women for de Blasio” rally later that day
Mr. de Blasio encouraged his supporters to go without sleep in the final days of the campaign. “A combination of espresso and Red Bull will take you all the way through,” he said, “and people will admire you for it.”
None of these developments will derail de Blasio, as the right would wish. At most, they might cut into his margin a tiny bit, becoming footnotes to a historical victory.
Katrina vanden Heuvel throws her support behind Bill de Blasio on the Working Families Party line.
The morning after Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota’s third and final debate in the NYC mayoral race, Lhota went on Fox 5 TV and talked about his latest ad. He said he hoped the TV spot, the first in which he actually speaks, would “send a message out directly from me to the people…about my sincerity and what I can do as their next mayor.”
The ad fails to convey sincerity (in it he repeats his not-credible line that “we are one bad mayor away from unsafe streets, failing schools and fiscal chaos”)—but in the debate last night, he was sincerity central. In fact, despite some of Lhota’s short-sighted policies and an apparent blindness to the folly of, say, trickle-down economics, I found myself liking the guy.
I’m a chump for underdogs, especially when they’re halfway out the door, but last night Lhota showed heart and concern—on racial profiling (“There’s no room for racial profiling in New York,” Lhota said emphatically. “If a store [like Barneys] racially profiles, that store should be punished”), for the homeless (treat them like “humans,” he said, but only shelter the New Yorkers among them), and for the unrelentingly hard work of “union members” during Hurricane Sandy.
Lhota evinces empathy, at least as much as progressive de Blasio, but not quite enough to follow through with helpful or even logical policies (how, for instance, do you ascertain the residency of homeless people?), and not enough to overcome an inability to see the problems obvious to most everyone else.
Was Rudy Giuliani, the mayor for whom Lhota served as a capable deputy, “divisive,” as de Blasio charged, and as most New Yorkers saw firsthand? Not to Lhota. “The divisiveness,” he said, “was minute compared to” all the good things he did.
Lhota couldn’t even see how his boss was divisive in the Patrick Dorismond case. After Dorismond was killed in a police shooting, Giuliani released his sealed juvenile records in order to prove he was “no altar boy.” “I don’t think that was divisive,” Lhota said last night.
“The fact that Mr. Lhotoa doesn’t even see that is divisive” is the problem in a nutshell, de Blasio replied.
Likewise, on tax issues: When de Blasio asked Lhota why he believes trickle-down economics would work in New York, Lhota simply insisted that his proposal to cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy in order to create more jobs down the line is “not trickle-down.” It is, of course, the definition of trickle-down and, as de Blasio said, “the same policy that failed nationally.”
That’s the problem with a lot of moderate Republicans, like Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma or former Senator John Danforth of Missouri: their hearts often are in the right place, but they refuse to connect that to policy.
But I got to say, another reason Lhota began to grow on me during this race is that he isn’t slick, and in fact is less so than de Blasio.
Lhota is an experienced manager, and maybe he’d be good at running the city’s bureaucracy of 300,000 workers, as the New York Times portrays him today. But Lhota, who hadn’t run for public office before this race, is a lousy politician. He doesn’t sell himself—on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, he didn’t mention that as MTA chief, he restored subway service when so many other services faltered (“I’m not going to use this as a day to politic,” he said), and he barely mentioned the MTA in the debate the next day.
And he often speaks in unnuanced, un-thought-out clunkers: like saying on radio this morning, “Bill de Blasio is absolutely no different than David Dinkins, [he] wants to divide us between black and white, rich and poor.”
Being mayor is as much as a politician’s job as is getting the trains to run on time, and time after time, de Blasio’s showed he’s an experienced politician.
In fact, in two profiles of de Blasio, he’s coming across as a minor master of long-game, three-dimensional chess.
The Times writes today that on when he served on the city council, de Blasio “Blended Idealism With Push for Power,” and that he “showed a zest for taking care of, and taking up the causes of, those important to him,” including his mother and his dentist as well as constituents and the larger progressive community.
New York magazine, meanwhile, quotes a top democratic strategist saying of de Blasio, “He’s more pragmatic than progressive. He’s a deal guy—which is why Wall Street should love him. They’re deal people, too!”
Not that being more prag than prog is necessarily a bad thing. As Bob Master of the Working Families Party also told NY mag, “But look, do I think this is a guy who will never compromise? No. And we don’t want somebody like that. We want somebody who understands how to push things as far as you can go and make the best possible deal when it’s available.”
It looks like we got that guy.
Read Leslie Savan's take on the second NYC mayoral race.
Even without reading the stories on Bill de Blasio’s and Joe Lhota’s families, you can see from the photos just how the New York mayoral race is playing out.
The timing and the lead photos of a New York magazine cover story, “Meet the de Blasios,” and a New York Post three-page spread, “Livin’ La Vida Lhota,” are strikingly similar: both came out yesterday, ten days before the election, and both feature the candidate warmly embracing his all-smiles family in a classical pyramidal composition—the wives and kids forming gentle slopes that lead to the paterfamilias at the peak.
The de Blasio family glows in light. In fact, they all but dissolve into it, fading into the white background, as if floating in heaven. NY mag airbrushed in the halo effect to suggest that expectations of NYC’s future first family may be running too high; the cover photo is captioned, “Their holiday card is going to be great. Then what?”
But there’s nothing airbrushed about the tangle of arms and hands holding each other: the de Blasio family is tight, as united, it seems, as they are racially diverse. The photo also speaks to a diversity of heights. At 6 foot 5, Bill normally towers over the petite Chirlane McCray, his wife, but here he’s bending down into his family, minimizing any separateness, holding them together—as, the picture implies, he would hold together the ethnic, economic and borough-bickering diversity of New York City.
That de Blasio is a skyscraper among six- and eight-floor buildings is more evident in photos of him next to the very short Mayor Bloomberg, the mid-sized Lhota, and the tall Obama. De Blasio’s height, I think, appeals to voters—who doesn’t feel a little more protected by a giant? It might be an unfair advantage, but de Blasio’s physical presence makes Lhota’s warnings that he’d be soft on crime even harder to believe.
In a photo inside the magazine, de Blasio tamps down his height still more. As he and Chirlane lean together into their children, Bill landing below Dante’s Afro, the parents function as a wall of support for their kids. Will they do the same for the city’s much, much larger family?
Bill de Blasio and his family (Source: New York magazine)
Here’s the lead photo in the New York Post story:
Joe Lhota and his family (Source: New York Post)
The Lhotas also glow, but the light surrounding them comes from more earthly sources: light from the window reflects off of the stainless steel pots, the white tiles and glass cabinets of their apartment-sized kitchen, and the blonde hair of Joe’s wife, Tamra, and 22-year-old daughter, Kathryn, not to mention from their smiles.
This photo (unlike several photos lower down in the story) doesn’t say “tight family” as the de Blasios’s does: limbs don’t interweave, Tamra has one hand (and her mind?) preoccupied elsewhere, and you don’t see Joe’s arms at all.
And, most obviously, when compared to the de Blasio photo, this photo says Lhota’s family is white. Maybe the Post was trying to compensate for a lack of diversity by spicing up the print version of the story with the aforementioned headline, “Livin’ La Vida Lhota.” Online, where readers are more likely to snark, the piece is simply called “Life with the Lhotas.” We also learn from the piece that Lhota’s background is not whitebread but “a melting pot of Czech, Russian-Jewish and Italian ancestors.”
The two family portraits come at a time when Bill de Blasio’s family has been front and center—the kids doing TV ads for him and Chirlane usually with him campaigning—while Lhota’s family is rarely seen. As Kathryn Lhota told the Post, “We’re such a private family to begin with and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to maintain it.”
But forty or more points behind, Lhota needed them to step out. And perhaps the New York Post needed it even more, to combat the liberal media. You can almost see Rupert Murdoch’s Post, sibling to the Roger Ailes–run Fox News, saying, “The liberal media’s not going to give Joe a fair shake, we gotta do it ourselves, we’re going to go glow for glow, candidate’s child for candidate’s child. That’s fair and balanced.”
This must not have been easy for Lhota, not only because his family prefers privacy, but because Lhota has been insisting that Bill de Blasio “is using his family because he has no policies.” “Heck, if you didn’t have any policies and plans you’d put your lovely family out there. It’s as simple as that.”
That’s ridiculous: it’s de Blasio’s policies—on housing, taxes, policing—that Lhota has been railing against all along. It is true, though, that de Blasio’s family helped catapult him above better-known rivals in the Democratic primary—particularly helpful was that now-famous TV ad in which Dante vouches for his dad as someone who’ll end “a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color.” It’s also true that “diversity” can be used merely symbolically. But in de Blasio’s case, it’s part and parcel of all those policies that Lhota claims de Blasio lacks.
Lhota has also said that de Blasio “has a wonderful family, and he uses that to get across that he’s a nice guy.” But the Post piece ends with Lhota’s family, including their Labrador, making him look super-nice—and maybe even taller than de Blasio. Lhota, who had taken his daughter to all the Harry Potter movies, is asked which Potter character he is most like. From the Post:
“I identify with Hagrid,” the giant groundskeeper. “Big guy with a heart of gold.”
Lindy wags her tail, her big brown eyes fixed on his as she hopes for another treat. Helpless, Lhota slips her more macaroni.
“A heart of gold,” Tamra says. “Absolutely!”
Leslie Savan wonders whether de Blasio will dissapoint progressives, when and if he is elected NYC mayor.
As much as NYC mayoral candidate Joe Lhota has tried to divorce himself from the national, shutdown Republicans, he’s eager and ready to benefit from one of their signature goals: abolishing campaign finance reform. Yesterday, a federal appellate court ruled in favor of a pro-Lhota PAC, saying that New York State’s $150,000 annual limit on individual contributions to political action committees “reduces constitutionally protected political speech.”
This latest money-is-speech decision allows the pro-Lhota group, New York Progress and Protection PAC (NYPPP), to immediately accept a $200,000 donation from an Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon. (McCutcheon just happens to be waging a similar battle in the US Supreme Court.)
NYPPP, by the way, is not to be confused with another Lhota-supporting PAC, New Yorkers for Proven Leadership, which was financed largely by right-wing billionaire David Koch and ran ads on Lhota’s behalf during the primaries. But this latest ruling can free up “speech” for billionaires everywhere.
Lis Smith, spokeswoman for Democrat Bill de Blasio, slammed the decision by the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, saying it “will empower the right-wing billionaires, like the Koch [b]rothers, and Tea Party groups who support Joe Lhota to drown out the voices of New Yorkers.”
The de Blasio campaign also released the web ad above. “The Koch brothers, the secretive oil billionaires,” it says, have “set their sights on New York City” trying “to elect extreme rightwing ideologues here in New York City. And their billionaire friends are trying to change the rules with a lawsuit…so they can funnel millions of dollars more to defeat Bill de Blasio and elect their Tea Party friends into office.”
Although the sky’s now the limit in how much an individual can give to the NYPPP, the conventional wisdom is that it’s too late to help Lhota.
In today’s New York Times, for instance Thomas Caplan, writes, “The ruling, 12 days before the mayoral election, is not likely to change the dynamics of the race, given the wide lead of the Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, and a presumed reluctance by many potential big donors to donate to an underdog candidate this late in the game.” (The Times figures that the decision will, however, “have a much bigger impact next year” in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election bid and other New York state races.)
But I don’t know. Of course, Lhota can’t win, but he can narrow the gap—and, more important, plant a big, fat “I told you so” and establish his influence should a de Blasio administration start to falter.
Lhota had already been on the rise—a bit—since showing a new aggressiveness in the candidates’ second debate, on Tuesday; and with a pro-Lhota group winning this legal case, Lhota himself looks like more of a winner, especially in the eyes of voters and donors who might have otherwise sat out the election.
He’s certainly bringing a new gusto to his insistence that a Mayor de Blasio would cause crime to explode. In addition to the scary Lhota ad that de Blasio has called “race-baiting,” Lhota has lately been fear-mongering on the stump in almost novelistic detail.
Last night, he warned the Juniper Park Civic Association in Queens that de Blasio would bring back the bad old days of the ’70s and ’80s when, he said, “Somebody would smash your window and rip out the dashboard and take your radio and sell it for 25 bucks so they could get a quick hit of whatever their problem was.… I remember walking the streets and thinking I was walking on glass, but I was walking on crack vials.”
Writes Politicker: “The civic association, one of the larger and more organized neighborhood groups in the borough, murmured approvingly.”
But ultimately, economic insecurity will prove scarier than ghost stories of the past. A poll commissioned by AM New York (which just endorsed Lhota for mayor, by the way) that has de Blasio beating Lhota by forty-one points, also found that:
After 12 years under Bloomberg, majorities wanted city government to provide fewer incentives and favorable policies for corporations and developers while doing more for small business and workers. More than two-thirds believed that under Bloomberg city government paid too much attention to the rich and not enough to the middle class and poor.
At least in this race, too much money from the Kochs and related Citizens United–type groups could backfire.
In writing about last night’s raucous NYC mayoral debate between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota, Michael Powell of the New York Times nailed de Blasio as a Nation sort of guy, but suggested that he might not be so forever.
“The man likely to be the next mayor, Mr. de Blasio now sometimes seems less suggestive of a Nation magazine star than a savvy, even cool-eyed pol. (It’s worth noting that he barred reporters from his fund-raiser and declined to make public a list of the guests),” writes Powell. He’s been doing some of the best, most contextual coverage of the race, and he doesn’t pose either candidate’s shortcomings in fatalistic terms, but rather as something to be aware of.
“Being mayor is an indisputably complicated business, and his feints in directions other than to the liberal North Star are intriguing to watch.”
It wasn’t always easy to see those feints in the bitter second debate last night. They came between arguments over who was playing the race card and whose former boss was the more divisive (de Blasio called Lhota “the right-hand man of Rudy Giuliani when he was going out of his way to divide this city,” while Lhota characterized the Mayor Dinkins era as “the last time we had a race riot in the city of New York”).
But between the fireworks, there were indeed de Blasio’s more subtle movements—call them fudges, inconsistencies or measured calculations—that made the debate feel at times like a preview of possible disappointments to come for the left. Not that a Mayor de Blasio would disappoint on the scale of Obama—de Blasio has an authentic and longstanding commitment to progressive causes—but he is a politician.
As to whether the city should allow a stadium to be built in one of Queens’s densest parks, for instance, Powell pointed out the two candidates’ unexpected answers. De Blasio, he writes, “cleared his throat with some populist rumbling about city tax giveaways. Then he allowed that, well, perhaps, maybe, a pro soccer stadium might raise the money needed to give that dowdy dowager of a park a face-lift.” Lhota gave a flat no, saying, “We don’t have enough park space in this city as it is.”
Neither man supported Mayor Bloomberg’s “green taxi” initiative, which would bring more environmentally friendly taxis to the underserved outer boroughs. Powell writes that de Blasio “suggested that taxi service was fine out there, a claim that disintegrated like a meteor slamming into the troposphere. As I listened to him, I could not help recalling—banish the mean thought!—that Mr. de Blasio raised $250,000 from the taxi industry.” (Read more on that from Wayne Barrett.)
Others pointed out that de Blasio seems to have suddenly switched positions on the popular pedestrian plazas, where tables and chairs have replaced honking cars in congested areas like Times Square.
“I have profoundly mixed feelings on this issue,” said de Blasio, citing his frustration as a motorist, adding “the jury’s still out” on its impact on traffic and surrounding businesses. But Dana Rubinstein noted in Capital New York that de Blasio had previously “’singled out Times Square and Herald Square,’ describing them ‘as wildly successful.’
“De Blasio’s shifting rhetoric provoked immediate anger among pedestrian advocates.
(Lhota’s crazy suggestion was that the hundreds of chairs and tables be put out there “on a part-time basis, open it up during periods of time when there’s a lot of traffic during rush hour and then put it back.” Rush hour, it should be noted, is twice a day.)
There wasn’t much press follow-up, however, on one of the more contentious issues: developer Bruce Ratner’s enormous Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, which de Blasio supports, even though the long-promised affordable housing there is far from being built.
“You know why?” Lhota asked in the debate. “Bill de Blasio keeps taking contributions from Bruce Ratner. Bruce Ratner actually paid for his fiftieth birthday party.” De Blasio replied, “I am proud of the fact that that development, when it is done, will yield thousands of units of affordable housing for the people of Brooklyn and I’ll make sure it happens.” But he didn’t answer the part about the donation.
A headline in Norman Oder’s Atlantic Yards Report blog, characterized the exchange as “wobbly charges met with evasive rhetoric, but no follow-up.” Oder added, “de Blasio has surely avoided every opportunity to criticize the developer, but he sure isn’t the main culprit. Ratner did help pay for that 2011 birthday party/fundraiser, but he was one of many hosts.”
Even de Blasio ally Letitia James, a city councilwoman running for de Blasio’s current job as public advocate, is disappointed on this score. “Not one [elected official] has made any comment with regard to the fact that New Yorkers and taxpayers were basically duped. And that includes the current public advocate, Bill de Blasio, and others.”
It’s premature to be disappointed in de Blasio—I’d be disappointed if he didn’t adjust and evolve enough to lead the whole city, not just the people of Nation-nation. But I do detect in him a need to please too many sides; and, assuming he’s the next mayor, we should watch closely how he deals with developers and financiers. And I’m certainly not disappointed in his overall political instincts—on income inequality, housing, education and policing—they're the best this city has seen in a long time.
Leslie Savan analyzes round one of the New York City mayoral debates.
Before their second debate tonight, both New York City mayoral candidates are trying to adjust their tone—in their ads, in handling the press and in talking about a riot in the city from twenty years ago.
Republican Joe Lhota has been facing criticism from the right that he wimped out in the first debate last Tuesday. Nicole Gelinas complained in the New York Post that “on critical topics, Lhota punted.”
On policing, the moderator lobbed him a softball: “Is New York City going to be less safe with [Bill de Blasio]?”
Lhota should’ve said yes. Instead, he paused before settling on: “It might be less safe with him.”
Lhota’s been trying to make up for such errors ever since. “I will have a different tone” in tonight’s debate, he promised yesterday.
And he overcompensated for any perceived mildness with a highly inaccurate, much disputed ad insisting that Democrat Bill de Blasio will hurl the city back to the bloody, crime-ridden days of the ’70s and ’80s.
And in an interview with Juan Manual Benitez of the Spanish-language NY1 Noticias, Lhota also came out sounding annoyed. From The Politicker:
Mr. Lhota grew infuriated when Mr. Benitez cited anonymous former subordinates who claimed they would never work for Mr. Lhota again. (In his defense, when Politicker profiled Mr. Lhota earlier this year, his former employees had nothing but praise for him.)
“You are just reading a script from Bill de Blasio,” he declared while pointing his finger at Mr. Benitez. “You’re nothing but a tool of Bill de Blasio if you believe that…”
But Lhota has been throwing around his own unsubstantiated claims, saying that when de Blasio was an aide in Mayor Dinkins’s administration he didn’t relay information that more police were urgently needed to control the racially charged Crown Heights riot.
“It’s so emblematic of Bill de Blasio’s complete and total experience to be the mayor,” Lhota said yesterday. “He doesn’t understand what you need to do…as a mayor. He worked as a mayoral staffer, he didn’t provide information up to his boss. That’s just purely [mis]understanding the chain of command.”
De Blasio tried to explain: “I was in City Hall working on the staff. I did receive calls from concerned community leaders around the city and that’s all.… I was not on the site. I came away with very strong views, but I did not participate directly.” He added, “There should have been a very, very strong show of force from the very beginning.”
Like that ’70s ad, the twenty-year-old riot seems to be putting de Blasio on the defensive. Yesterday when a Daily News reporter asked him about it, he seemed more testy than usual. The subject is sure to come up tonight.
But de Blasio is still ahead by about forty to fifty points, and in his latest ad, he’s nothing but the good-neighbor candidate.
Leslie Savan writes about one of Lhota’s incredibly misleading political ads.
Joe Lhota campaign ad. (Source: Joe Lohta for Mayor, Inc)
So is Joe Lhota’s attack ad against Bill de Blasio in the NYC mayor’s race the latest incarnation of Willie Horton, or is it merely a color-blind piece of highly misleading fear-mongering?
Released the day after de Blasio trounced Lhota in Tuesday’s debate, the ad flashes photos of riots and corpses to claim that “Bill de Blasio’s recklessly dangerous agenda on crime will take us back” to the bad old days of high crime and graffiti gone wild. The ad starts, though, with that viral video of bikers attacking an SUV in Manhattan:
Those are indeed some scary photos, all presumably from before mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg made the city safe. But in some terrific digging, AM New York discovered that the photo of a body laying near a shopping cart is from December 2, 2012, when Mayor Bloomberg was fully in charge (as he will be until January 1, 2014). Changing the original color photo to black and white does help age it bit.
And that still shot of a man with a ’fro drawing a gun in a stairwell? Well, that’s an undercover police officer (from 1978), not, as you might think given the fear-inducing context, a gunman caught in the act.
But what about the ad’s specific charges, like that “Bill de Blasio voted to take over 5,000 cops off our streets”? Turns out that was a Bloomberg initiative. “It is true,” says a New York Times factcheck, “that Mr. de Blasio, as a councilman, voted in favor of budgets proposed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that led to a reduction of the Police Department’s work force.”
OK, but after that biker attack (which occurred, of course, in the dark old days of a few weeks ago), did de Blasio respond by saying cops should “visit motorcycle clubs and talk to bikers,” as you might conclude from the quotation marks? No. Those words come from a New York Post paraphrase; its story did at least go on to quote de Blasio’s actual words: “Democrat Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, has urged that cops visit motorcycle clubs and talk to bikers. ‘We have to be very tough on this one—this is an unacceptable state of affairs,’ de Blasio said.”
The Republican candidate’s word-twisting could be worse: Lhota claimed early last week that de Blasio would “dispatch the NYPD to sit down and have coffee with the bikers.”
Lhota’s ad, called “Can’t Go Back,” never specifies why he thinks de Blasio would be so dangerous. But he’s referring to de Blasio’s opposition to the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, which a federal judge recently ruled unconstitutional, saying it was a “form of racial profiling.”
“Can’t Go Back” itself is a kind of decade profiling: not all the still images include black people, but they’re represented enough—by shots of the racially charged Crown Heights riots, of a black man in the graffiti-covered subway car, and by that Afro’d cop you don’t know is a cop. Lhota’s “dog whistle” signalling “the days of racial unrest and polarization” is loud and clear, as de Blasio ally Letitia James, running for his current job as public advocate, puts it.
De Blasio went further, saying, “This is just like the Willy Horton ad,” the infamous spot that associated a convicted black murderer with Mike Dukakis on behalf of George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential race. “It’s divisive and negative,” De Blasio continued. “The images are so far over the top, it’s unbelievable that anybody responsible would ever authorize such a thing.”
“It’s not using scare tactics,” Lhota insisted. “Bill de Blasio has no background whatsoever when it comes to public safety. And what he has said about public safety shows a level of naïveté that would throw us back to what New York City once was.”
De Blasio’s team responded today with a low-key positive ad, featuring his daughter, Chiara. (Watch it below.)
But Lhota’s overall attack, that de Blasio would be soft on crime, might be having an effect. The Times implied as much: “Despite his anger [over Lhota’s ad], there were signs on Wednesday that Mr. de Blasio…was staking out a more nuanced tone on policing. After spending much of the primary criticizing the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly [for promoting stop-and-frisk], Mr. de Blasio told reporters that he had no plans to entirely dismiss Mr. Kelly’s policies.”
In any case, Lhota says to expect more ads like this one: “This is the first of many commercials that I know will define and describe what I believe Bill de Blasio is.”
Read about the time that Lhota called de Blasio a communist (Leslie Savan reports).
New York City Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio shake hands at the conclusion of their first televised debate. (AP Photo/Daily News, James Keivom, Pool)
Grudgingly or not, most media pundits had to give it to Bill de Blasio. The progressive Democrat is already forty to fifty points ahead of Republican Joe Lhota in the New York City mayoral race, but after their first head-to-head debate last night, de Blasio “sealed the deal,” Politico’s Mike Allen, the voice of conventional wisdom, said on Morning Joe today.
Even New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin had to concede, “The difference was striking. Lhota had a few good moments and articulated key economic differences, but too often got trapped defending and explaining. De Blasio was confidently commanding, never stopped attacking and added to the sense his election is inevitable.”
All that attacking was unfair, and unworthy of a front-runner, says Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: “[I]t seemed to be de Blasio’s mission to make Lhota into some New York City version of Sen. Ted Cruz, or some of the other Republican nuts from the Congress. Of course de Blasio knows that Lhota is anything but, even as he kept trying to act as if Lhota speaking in front of a Tea Party group in Staten Island was some kind of political felony, worse than anything Anthony Weiner ever did with babes.”
Babes aside, I have to agree: Lhota’s not Cruz, far from it. For moments last night I almost felt sorry for the man who served as a Giuliani deputy mayor. He came off as reasonable, decent guy, and he did accomplish one thing—he proved he’s not a scary winger.
But Lhota had done exactly what de Blasio said he had done. By supporting a year’s delay in Obamacare, which would be tantamount to killing it, Lhota “is enabling the same worldview that has put us in this crisis,” de Blasio said at the debate, referring to the GOP’s shutdown/debt-ceiling disaster.
But it’s not all a loss for the right and the mainstream media. Assuming that de Blasio wins, they’ll have at least four years to use him as a false-equivalency voodoo doll.
As moderate GOP consultant Mike Murphy said on Morning Joe today (starting around 9:00), de Blasio might help Republicans survive their own implosion.
“We have a path forward,” Murphy said. “I believe the Democrats are heading for their own meltdown. Because while the dogma on the populist right of the Republican Party is getting all the press…, the Democratic Party is lurching lefter and lefter and lefter. In New York, Bill de Blasio—Trotsky would say, ‘Too much, he’s a good guy, but he is no centrist Democrat.’”
Joe Scarborough laughed heartily at that.
You’ve read the post-game analysis, now check out Leslie Savan’s primer for the NYC mayoral debate.
Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio (AP Photo/File)
One of the more striking things about Bill de Blasio is that he’s not a “character.” The probable next mayor of New York City isn’t easy to caricature—and I mean that not in a political sense (he’s been easy enough to cast as a Marxist who’ll bring back the grimy, crime-ridden ’70s and cede City Hall to a squeegee-man collective), but in terms of personality. Recent mayors of America’s most theatrical city can usually be held in the imagination with a personal quality or two: Bloomberg, the fussy plutocrat; Giuliani, the pit bull; Dinkins was a beleaguered gentleman; Koch, an irrepressible loudmouth.
Over time and under pressure of a media that will create characters where none exist, de Blasio’s image may change, but right now he doesn’t hit us over the head with a core, ever-so-slightly comical persona. It’s not that he’s bland; it’s more that his prominent qualities—highly intelligent, good listener, cares about those on society’s lower rungs—aren’t grafting onto the usual egghead and bleeding-heart stereotypes. Maybe that’s because his most prominent physical characteristic—his height—militates against casting him as some kind of weak sister. At the same time, though, his non-cartoonishess may be due to him pulling back on that height. “His towering height (he is six foot five) seems to have given way to a compensatingly soft delivery,” Michael Greenberg writes in The New York Review of Books, “as if he has conditioned himself not to intimidate or overwhelm.”
In fact, the real “character” in de Blasio’s candidacy is his family. As Greenberg puts it: “He represents an almost fairy-tale idea of how many New Yorkers wish to see their city: racially harmonious, enlightened, empathetic—a wish that finds assurance, perhaps, in de Blasio’s ever-so-vaguely patrician demeanor.”
De Blasio will go up against his GOP rival, Joe Lhota, in their first of three debates tonight. Lhota, though he comes off as more hard-edged and impatient than de Blasio, isn’t a sharply drawn Noo Yawk type, either. Neither man is nondescript exactly—and they're “descript” enough for the Times today to chart each man’s “Go-To-Gesture” (de Blasio: “Constant Clintonian figure jab”; Lhota: “Arms outstretched for a hug that never comes”) and to advise de Blasio to cut the “didactic delivery” and Lhota to “smile more, mumble less.”
But not being a character has its upsides. These are two smart, accomplished men, and without a cartoon version to get in the way, we might be able to more clearly see their crisp ideological differences. They have strong, almost diametrically opposed ideas on charter schools, stop-and-frisk police tactics, taxes, and visions of the city. Things to look for: Will de Blasio bland-out about real-estate developers, with whom he’s been accused of being too friendly? Will Lhota come off as overwrought and out of touch, trying to pin de Blasio as a socialist, when the city is thirsty to balance its growing economic inequality?
Of course, the real question, in this or any other race, isn’t “Are they characters?” but “Do they have character?” Debates don’t always answer that question.
Leslie Savan discusses the character of Bill de Blasio’s parents.