While the corridors of power would really prefer a fourth term of Michael Bloomberg, by last year they’d grudgingly accepted the idea that the Pax Bloombergiana was coming to its end. No Republican would take his place; a Democrat would become Mayor of New York. And they knew just who she’d be: Christine Quinn, speaker of the City Council, a reliable Bloomberg ally when it counted, who changed the law so he could serve his previously-illegal third term.
She’s gay and has an activist history that would appeal to Democratic primary voters, but would maintain the fundamental policy building-blocks of the Bloomberg era: minority-frisker and anti-Muslim espionage artist Ray Kelly as police chief, a comfortable set of relationships between the major real estate developers and city hall, no living wage, corporatist charter-focused education reform. One by one, they lined up to support her: the editorial board of the New York Times, Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge, the Related companies (massive developers behind Hudson Yards), and so on. Here’s how that worked: last June, Quinn exempted Related from living wage requirements in exchange for a cool $48,000 in campaign cash.
The strategy was simple. All she had to do was appeal to two groups. The first: rich Manhattan/Park Slope liberals; who, like Bloomberg, tend to be pro-charter, pro-bike-lane, anti-smoking, and silent on racist policing and the slow but steady squeezing of the creative and working classes. The second: outer-borough white voters who wouldn’t feel comfortable voting for someone too lefty – Rudy Giuliani voters, Ed Koch voters.
It sounds great. It didn’t work.
The election is next Tuesday, September 10th. 40% is enough to avoid a top-two runoff to become the Democratic nominee, and given the state of the Republican field, the presumptive Mayor. A recent poll had one candidate far and above all the rest, at 36% – lefty Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, running on an anti-Bloomberg message focused on income inequality and raising taxes on the rich. Quinn lagged behind at 21%, just one percentage point away from third. How did this happen? The more voters learn about Christine Quinn, the less they like her. Her negatives among Democrats have risen to an astounding 45%.
De Blasio’s rise and Quinn’s fall map out a larger narrative around the resurgence of lefty-populist Democratic stars. Like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, de Blasio is proving that there is fertile political ground to be occupied in challenging the full-frontal assault middle-class and working-class Americans have endured since the Reagan era.
Since Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council reformed the Democratic Party throughout the 1990s, American liberalism has largely refused to challenge a fundamental conservative consensus around major issues including deregulation, charter-focused education ‘reform,’ lack of interest in or responsiveness to organized labor. Quinn represents that kind of Democratic politics. De Blasio represents something different. So far, New Yorkers seem ready to accept that vision.