My favorite paragraph in coverage of the 2013 elections came at the end of the New York Times story reporting on Democrat Bill de Blasio's landslide victory for mayor of New York. This, on observing Mayor Michael Bloomberg vote:
He quietly cast his vote at an Upper East Side school, amid reminders that his time at the pinnacle of municipal power was drawing to a close. When Mr. Bloomberg, dressed in a crimson tie and a crisp winter coat, showed up, the poll worker had a question. What was his first name, again?
Of course, Michael Bloomberg's name and that of his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, won't be forgotten in New York City and many other places. But the results of the election show that voters in New York are seeing their records over the past 20 years in a new light.
De Blasio ran his Democratic primary campaign against Bloomberg, and thus indirectly at the early favorite in the race, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Her cooperation with Bloomberg went so far that she supported his politically toxic plan to change the city's term limits law to his own benefit, overriding two referenda. After Anthony Weiner's "second chance" campaign self-destructed in July, the anti-Bloomberg vote shifted to de Blasio, polls showed.
De Blasio ran his general election campaign against Giuliani, with whom his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, was closely associated. Lhota started out the campaign by trying to differentiate himself from Giuliani, but that didn't last long.
As a City Hall reporter for Newsday in the mid 1990s, I had covered the Giuliani administration, which was quite hostile to the news media in general and my paper in particular. But I always enjoyed dealing with Lhota, who served Giuliani as budget director and then deputy mayor. He was funny, down to earth and very knowledgeable about even the most arcane points of municipal governance. It wasn't the grouchy, dour persona voters saw during the election campaign.
I am not the only former City Hall reporter from those years to notice that in his mayoral campaign, Lhota so closely imitated Giuliani that he spoke in the same rhythms, with the same word choices. Giuliani's issues where his. Even Giuliani's mayoral pet peeves were his.
In his debates with de Blasio, Lhota seemed thunderstruck that anyone could question that Giuliani was a great mayor. But de Blasio kept hammering away at Giuliani's divisiveness, and meanwhile defended the administration of Mayor David Dinkins, in which he was a low-level aide. If someone had told me in 1997 that this argument would help carry a candidate to a 3-to-1 victory, I would have thought it very strange. But it's not 1997; Lhota didn't seem to realize that.
Giuliani, campaigning at Lhota's side, kept up a barrage of the sort of negative attacks he was known for in the past. This time, no one seemed to be listening to him.
Many reasons are being offered for de Blasio's lopsided victory, "Bloomberg fatigue" being chief among them.
Let's give voters some credit, though. Many people had come to feel alienated in their own city, and they voted on that. They may have been frisked by police for no good reason, or feared that their children would be. They may have sensed that they no longer have any meaningful voice in their children's education. Rising housing costs may have displaced them from their homes, or made them worry about the possibility. Occupy Wall Street, whether one supported it or not, heightened awareness of the especially stark financial inequities in New York.
Dinkins, Giuliani, Bloomberg: all of them got to build on predecessors' achievements, but also had to correct problems they caused. Now it's de Blasio's turn.