Bill de Blasio’s Mixed-Race Strategy

You’ve seen this Bill de Blasio campaign ad now about a million times now, and it still resonates. Even with the sound off, muting the tight mix of progressive sloganeering (tax the rich, create affordable housing, stop stop and frisk), the message comes through. Here is a family living a happy middle class life, acting as if it were the most normal thing in the world that they are a mix of races. It’s a progressive ideal that may have seemed risky in the past, but whose time has finally come.

But although the visual signifying going on here would seem to be a gambit to attract our city’s non-white voters, the numbers in the latest Quinnipiac College poll, which puts de Blasio into first with a 10 percentage point lead, tell a different story. African-American candidate Bill Thompson has a sizable lead, 39-22 per cent, over de Blasio among black voters. (Apparently for Quinnipiac College’s concerns, Latinos do not exist–no breakdown is given here.) This may change in the near future if there is a sense that de Blasio’s momentum is growing, but for now, there is apparently only a limited mixed-race strategy benefit in attracting the African-American vote.

That Thompson’s support is clearly based in the African-American community is evidenced by another indicator: whether or not you approve of outgoing Mayor Bloomberg. Only 16% of Thompson voters approve of Bloomberg, while 32% of de Blasio’s do. The African-American community almost universally disapproves of Bloomberg, who is perceived as tone deaf on issues like the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy, which was declared unconstitutional on Monday in a court ruling. This means de Blasio is capturing that middle ground of voter who is not necessarily disapproving of Bloomberg but wants some kind of change. Christine Quinn, who had the highest rate of Bloomberg-approving voters, is beginning to slip because of the perception–pushed by de Blasio and other progressives–that she won’t deviate much from Bloomberg’s position.

De Blasio is a stronger and more aggressively progressive candidate than Thompson, despite not having made much of a mark during his term as Public Advocate. By proudly displaying his family’s mixed-race reality, de Blasio is neutralizing the appeal to non-white voters that Thompson should have if he were as formidable a candidate as our last (and only) African-American mayor, David Dinkins. He is also leading Quinn by five points with women voters. (Among women, Anthony Weiner now only leads John Liu and Sal Albanese, who are pretty much dead in the water.)

The perception of Bloomberg as the mayor of the rich, the middleman angling for the best deals for Wall Street and the real estate crowd continues to erode his legacy in the waning days of his lame-duck term. De Blasio represents a refreshing alternative, although he’s basically just recycling Fernando Ferrer’s Two Cities platform–the one that made him so unpopular in the wake of 9-11. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard to imagine a firebrand for bringing an end to wealth inequality arising from one of Brooklyn’s most elitist neighborhoods. I guess we’ll have to give it a shot. That’s the reality of New York right now–eroding political leadership from the African American and Latino community, and the most progressive voices coming from gentrifying neighborhoods fantasizing about a new version of our town’s elusive goal of racial harmony.

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