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Who Will Be NYC's Next Mayor?

New York City is going to elect a new mayor this fall and it won't be Anthony Weiner. Who will it be? My money is on Bill de Blasio. Why? Because he's the un-Bloomberg.
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New York City is going to elect a new mayor this fall and it won't be Anthony Weiner. Who will it be? My money is on Bill de Blasio. Why? Because he's the un-Bloomberg.

The September 10th Democratic primary will produce a runoff between de Blasio, the city's elected Public Advocate (whatever that is), and City Council speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn is seen as very close to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She engineered the City Council vote that allowed Bloomberg to run for a third term in 2009 even though the city's voters had voted -- twice! -- for a two-term limit.

In 2011, after discussing the race with Mayor Bloomberg, former Mayor Ed Koch said, "There's no question in my mind that, of all the candidates, he sees Chris Quinn as far better for the city of New York."

De Blasio is an out-and-out liberal and a harsh critic of Mayor Bloomberg. "We are not, by our nature, an elitist city," he told a Democratic gathering in Brooklyn. "We are not a city of the chosen few." That, in a nutshell, is the case against Bloomberg.

The United States has a populist political culture. We don't trust elites. Bloomberg is one of the rare politicians who has succeeded by governing on the elitist model. His message? "Trust us. We know what we're doing. And we know what's good for you." As long as things were going well in New York City, the voters said "O.K."

And things have gone well. New York City is cleaner, safer, richer and more glittering than it's ever been. But the benefits have gone mostly to the rich, the beautiful, the famous and the foreign. For them, New York is a glamorous theme park of multi-million-dollar apartments, exclusive clubs, and trendy restaurants.

There is a pattern in American elections where people elect someone who offers them something they want that they are not getting from the incumbent. Richard Nixon was a crook so the next election gave us the holy Jimmy Carter ("I will never lie to you"). George W. Bush was a cowboy so we elected Professor Barack Obama to replace him.

It works in city elections as well. After eight years of the colorful and controversial John Lindsay, New Yorkers elected a boring accountant, Abraham Beame, in 1973. Ed Koch was seen as racially divisive, so New Yorkers elected their first African-American mayor, David Dinkins, to succeed him.

The New York Times says de Blasio presents "the most sweeping rejection of what New York City has become in the past twelve years." Is that what New Yorkers want?

Mayor Bloomberg's ratings are not bad. His job approval was 51 percent in the June Quinnipiac University poll. The pattern by income is revealing: 42 percent approval among lower-income New Yorkers, 51 percent among middle-income voters, and 66 percent among the rich. Nearly half of New Yorkers are poor or near-poor. They can see and appreciate Bloomberg's gleaming world-class city. But they are not part of it, and it has not done a lot for them except make the city less affordable. In the June Marist poll, 82 percent of New Yorkers said the city was no longer affordable for the average family.

De Blasio's campaign is aimed at them. More precisely, it's aimed at their sympathizers on the left, since most of the poor don't vote. De Blasio's issue is inequality -- the huge and growing disparity between the rich and everybody else. De Blasio says he will raise taxes on the rich to pay for universal pre-school for the poor. "He has a very 1960s, 1970s vision for the city," a deputy mayor in the Bloomberg administration said. That means oh my God! -- another John Lindsay.

Times columnist Bill Keller writes that de Blasio is running on "empathy." Polls show that New Yorkers want a mayor who "understands the needs and problems of people like you." Empathy was Bill Clinton's theme when he ran against the first President Bush in 1992. George H.W. Bush was hopelessly out of touch with ordinary Americans who were suffering in the early '90s recession. Bush seemed unfamiliar with a supermarket scanner. He looked at his watch during a town hall debate as if he couldn't wait to get out of there.

Clinton was pure populism. He felt your pain at a time when millions of Americans were feeling pain. Michael Bloomberg does not have a populist bone in his body. After de Blasio got arrested last month for participating in a sit-in to protest the closing of a public hospital, he remarked, "That is certainly not in the Michael Bloomberg playbook."

The Quinn-de Blasio race is getting hot. De Blasio benefited from Anthony Weiner's self-immolation because they both appeal to outer borough voters. Unions and liberal interest groups have begun running "Anybody but Quinn" ads. Nevertheless, Quinn is likely to be competitive with liberals. She would be the city's first female and first openly gay mayor. It's "Sex and the City" versus "Saturday Night Fever."

The "masters of the universe" who run Wall Street will be horrified to see de Blasio elected. Michael Bloomberg was their guy and under Bloomberg, New York has become their city. The message of the de Blasio campaign is that the un-rich and unfashionable want it back.