Musing from your Post Master General
In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a six to one margin, winning the Democratic primary is a big deal. And when that city has nationally followed race for arguably the more important mayoral job in the country, than it’s a huge deal. The city is New York and the man poised to take control of its government is Bill de Blasio. Now of course, a Democrat hasn’t been elected mayor of New York City in twenty years, which was mostly due to outlying security factors and the fact that centrist Republican Rudy Giuliani and quasi-independent Mike Bloomberg ran efficient campaigns against a slate of weaker candidates (no offense Fernando Ferrer). However, this election is widely expected to go the way of the donkey and on Tuesday September 10, Bill de Blasio secured what looks to be the 40% of the primary vote needed to avoid a runoff for the right to take on Republican primary winner Joe Lhota in the general election. Bill Thompson, the second place finisher is currently taking the fight for a recount to court, as well as he should as it is within his rights to do so, but barring a miracle, de Blasio will be the favorite to win the election as Mayor of New York City, all thanks to a smiling kid with a kick ass afro.
Now, I am aware that I may be over simplifying things. Bill de Blasio would probably argue that his surge in popularity was due to his progressive message. Mr. de Blasio might also argue that his agenda offers a clean break from the twelve Bloomberg years, which, despite having its critics like de Blasio and others, saw this city rise to levels of prosperity and safety unmatched in previous decades. However it is that prosperity, de Blasio contends, that hasn’t been felt by all New Yorkers. Bill de Blasio has campaigned against the premise of “two New Yorks”, one enjoyed by the rich and in one which the poor has yet to see the fruits of their labor. Perhaps it’s this message that has resonated with Democratic New Yorkers, who seem to always be searching for the next great progressive superstar. Yes, this is all possible, but I keep thinking back to the kid.
I remember sometime in early August I was discussing a mayoral race with my mother at her home in New Jersey. Despite living in the suburbs now and not having a voting interest, most of her family still lives in New York and she herself was born and raised in the five boroughs. We discussed Anthony Weiner’s sexting follies and Christine Quinn’s prospects among other issues. She then pointed to the screen and asked me “Who is that tall guy?”
I paused and answered “That’s Bill de Blasio. I met him and his wife in Albany when Dad took me up there for a legislative convention a bunch of years ago.” Which was true, I briefly met de Blasio when he was still a city counsel member. It was the first time I’d every heard of him but I remember he came off as really genuine and nice. After that encounter I have followed his political career from afar. I ended the conversation by telling my mother that “he really didn’t have a shot to win, but I’m glad he is getting himself out there.” I said this because this is what I had read on nearly every search I made when I looked the candidate up on Google. So of course, I believed it to be true. Those are the so called experts, right? It turns out that I, along with the experts were wrong.
A couple of days later I got a phone call from my mother. She said “Hey, did you see the new commercial your friend has out?” I didn’t know who she was talking about. “That de Blasio guy. The tall one. So I’m watching this younger black kid with a huge afro talk and he was saying some good things about Bill de Blasio and all of the sudden, he says that he is his son. I was shocked.”
I instantly pegged my mother for being a racist “Why are you shocked? His wife is black. I met her, remember?” Bill de Blasio, who is white, has been married to Chirlane McCray, who is black, since 1994. The couple live in Brooklyn and have two children.
“I never said I was shocked in a bad way. I just didn’t expect it, that’s all. It was a great commercial. It was nice to see his son. He spoke so well.” She answered back.
“Oh really? That’s great. I’ll have to check it out.” I replied, still thinking my mother only enjoyed the ad for the archaic novelty factor. As soon as I hung up, I went to my phone and searched for the ad. When I was done watching I came to the same conclusion as my mother did. “Wow, that was a great ad.” I remember saying out loud to myself.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought this. After the ad first aired, de Blasio’s poll numbers shot up. From 17% according to most polls on August 9th to around 34% and the overall lead a month later. The articulate young man who captivated the city’s attention, Dante de Blasio, became an instant celebrity. As soon as the ad began receiving regular circulation Google searches of Bill de Blasio were up at enormous levels. Were people paying attention because of Dante or was it because of the agenda he was expressing? Who knows? It’s probably a little bit of both. Flash forward to today; Bill de Blasio is poised to etch his name in history of this great city and Dante along with his super cool afro hairstyle have gained somewhat of a cult following in all five boroughs.
Not everyone however is a fan of Dante, his afro, and his father’s ad campaign. Outgoing Mayor Mike Bloomberg considers the campaign to be racist. In an interview with New York Magazine, Bloomberg said of the ad campaign, “It’s comparable to me pointing out that I’m Jewish to attract Jewish voters.” First of all, with a surname like Bloomberg, even though he may not point out his Jewish roots, I’m sure some voters assumed all along that the Mayor may have some Hebrew roots. Never the less, the Mayor may have a point. But is this really anything new in the “winner take all” game of politics?
The fact of the matter is, Bill de Blasio was highlighting the family he has, something politicians do all the time. In the past, his mixed race family might have been something advisers would have asked him to hide, or at the very least, keep to the background but thankfully we no longer live in an age where that mindset is prevalent. For years, images of “perfect” families graced campaign leaflets and television ads as a way of drawing in voters. While I am personally not a fan of some ones personal life having anything to do with their policies, family life is still something people are curious about. Has anyone seen the ratings for shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians? Let’s be honest with ourselves, a good percentage of the American people love to know what is happening inside public figure’s homes. Was there one candidate running for Mayor who did not try to introduce the voting populace to their family? Was there one candidate who wouldn’t increase exposure of their family to a degree if they knew it mean securing the nomination? The answer is no to both.
Why was de Blasio successful in creating positive buzz around his campaign through his family? It was largely because of the same reason I liked him the first and only time I met him. He seemed real. Dante’s commercial didn’t seem like it was forced. It seemed real as well. Bill de Blasio doesn’t come off as distant from is family. He genuinely looks like he loves and enjoys having his family around, something that can’t be said about all people in power. Could it all be a show? Smoke and mirrors to create the illusion of a relate-able person? Perhaps. But to be honest with you, it would really surprise me if that were the case. And that’s saying a lot because almost nothing surprises me in this current political climate.
Regardless of whether it was Dante himself who brought his father the votes or it was the political message he was sharing, de Blasio benefited greatly from the ad that featured his son. As the numbers trickle in, it appears that Bill de Blasio garnered broad support among all ethnic and social groups in the Democratic party. He was able to secure more female votes than the female candidate Christine Quinn and almost as many black votes as the black candidate Bill Thompson. In fact, he captured at least a third of the votes from every major ethnic and social demographic. That is evidence of broad based support in his party. So perhaps his message of ending the idea of “two New Yorks” does resonate with people. Never the less, for people like my mother, it was Dante who first brought that message to them.
New York City has always been seen as a barometer for the entire country. In the past, historians have said that when change happens, often it happens in New York City first. It’s evident that Bill de Blasio wants change. His policies in most areas couldn’t be more different than those of Mike Bloomberg’s so there is a good chance if he beats Joe Lhota and wins the general election that we may see that change in this city. That is, if he proves his competence, which of course we won’t know until he takes office. But if change does occur, it’s amazing to think that a smiling kid with an afro may have changed the face of New York City and maybe this country forever.
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Photos courtesy of Associated Press, and billdeblasio.com. Video courtesy of YouTube.