If you happen to find yourself in any bar in Manhattan south of 96th St. and the conversation turns to politics, try offering this declarative sentence: “There’s a good chance de Blasio gets reelected next year.” If the reactions are anything close to ones I’ve received, expect a mixture of shock, confusion and, in some cases, anger.
The doubters are wrong. Mayor de Blasio remains the odds-on favorite — for very good reasons.
It’s been a particularly rough six months for the mayor. Investigations into his administration have dominated the tabloids and stifled his ability to communicate a coherent message. Polls now show a majority of New Yorkers don’t think he deserves reelection.
Now de Blasio must contend with a potentially well-funded group called NYC Deserves Better, started by a former political aide to Michael Bloomberg, which is holding open casting calls in search of a Democratic primary challenger.
Given these headwinds, why bet long on de Blasio for reelection?
Start with Election Day itself. Don’t be fooled by the accident of 20 recent years of Republican and independent mayoralties. The real 2017 election for mayor will be held Sept. 12, the Democratic primary — not on general Election Day. That’s because there’s a 7-to-1 registered Democratic advantage among the electorate.
The questions are which respected Democrat will step up to challenge de Blasio — and, given the mayor’s record, whether that challenger can articulate an effective message.
Highly unlikely. Only twice in the past 40 years has an incumbent Democrat lost to a primary challenger (Ed Koch to David Dinkins in 1989 and Abe Beame to Koch in 1977). Those conditions — deteriorating race relations in 1989 and the collapse of the city’s finances in the 1970s — are a far cry from today’s environment, with unprecedented low crime rates, rising test scores, job creation and fiscal stability .
De Blasio’s acuity at winning Democratic primaries has been tried and tested. He seemingly came out of nowhere in the 2009 public advocate race to beat Mark Green, and his win of the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2013 still has the political establishment in this town shaking their heads.
That’s partially because of who makes up the Democratic primary electorate these days: public-sector union members, minorities, immigrants, NYCHA residents and the hard left within the party. In short, groups that have been waiting two decades for a progressive mayor to hang a “welcome” sign on the front doors to City Hall.
Match that with de Blasio policy initiatives: Settling labor contracts covering 300,000 public-sector union members. Issuing 850,000 municipal IDs, many of which give immigrants their first real form of identification. Paid sick leave. Free universal pre-K for more than 100,000 kids. Reducing the NYCHA repairs backlog by investing in long-needed infrastructure.
Placating the base alone won’t guarantee success in 2017, though — and de Blasio knows it. After a year of forgoing town hall meetings, he’s now made them routine. He’s traveling more to middle-class neighborhoods like Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; Staten Island, and Throgs Neck in the Bronx, tackling quality-of-life issues important to centrist Democrats.
It’s not all smooth sailing ahead. Nobody disrupts political careers like Preet Bharara. But with little evidence suggesting de Blasio or his staff personally profited from any alleged wrongdoing, the mayor’s chances of being directly implicated are slim.
With no formidable opponents, crime continuing to decline as 1,000 new officers hit the streets, manageable projected deficits and underlying political realities, New Yorkers need to start getting used to seeing Bill de Blasio around for another four years.
Greenspun is a managing director at Mercury Public Affairs, a former commissioner of the Community Affairs Unit under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and an appointee by Mayor de Blasio to the Human Rights Commission.
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