NEW YORK — Bill de Blasio, the insurgent and defiantly progressive New York City mayoral candidate, did not hold his Tuesday night victory party in one of those faux-ornate midtown Manhattan hotel ballrooms, the usual power venue for such festivities.
Instead, he gathered his overjoyed supporters — fellow members of a “movement,” de Blasio insisted — in the hip but unswanky Bell House on Brooklyn’s Seventh Street to celebrate the victory of “an unapologetically progressive alternative to the Bloomberg Era.”
That would be Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose name was not on the ballot in the primaries here this week but whose 12 years in office are now the political Rorschach Test of New York City politics.
More broadly, de Blasio — whose victory was so large that he may well avoid a runoff by tipping above 40 percent of the vote in a nine-candidate field — spoke to a deep discontent fueled by a battered economy whose recovery has not lifted all boats equally. It was a major triumph for progressives but also a warning to Democrats and President Obama: We are still a distance from the happy country where shared, long-term growth is assumed and where most people expect their lives to improve.
Yes, yes, drawing sweeping conclusions from a Democratic primary in which more than half the voters called themselves liberal (including about a quarter who said they were “very liberal”) is a questionable proposition. This fall, de Blasio will face a real contest against the Republican nominee, Joe Lhota, who will run proudly on Bloomberg’s record.
A respected former head of the transit authority and deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, Lhota came right out of the gate on primary night attacking de Blasio for “class warfare,” asserting that his opponent’s brand of liberalism could bring the city back “to the brink of bankruptcy” and a time of “rampant civic decay.” Watch this campaign for a genuine argument (we don’t have many of those) over the sources of urban prosperity and comity.
It’s easy enough to see de Blasio’s campaign as a feat of strategic and tactical acumen. He managed in a way his opponents did not — his main competitors were former comptroller William Thompson, who ran second, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — to speak to the peculiar ambivalence among New Yorkers toward Bloomberg, especially among Democrats.
New York as a whole is better off for Bloomberg’s stewardship. But voters outside of Manhattan, the poor and even many in the middle class felt left aside and doubted that Bloomberg understood their struggles. In an interview at de Blasio’s Brooklyn bash, Harold Ickes, the national Democratic honcho and de Blasio backer, summarized the mood succinctly: “He was a pretty good mayor, but they were tired of him.”