NEW YORK (AFP) – New Yorkers were voting Tuesday for a Republican and a Democratic candidate who will battle it out in November to replace billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Big Apple has been under the bold and brash leadership of its richest man for 12 years and, amid much soul-searching over Bloomberg’s legacy, many remain torn over who should succeed him.
“I really vacillated until the last minute,” said Rosemary Wakeman, a professor at Fordham University, after voting in 55th street, Manhattan.
In the end, Wakeman went with left-leaning Democrat Bill de Blasio, 52, who has firmly led polls since mid-August on an anti-Bloomberg platform, accusing the mayor of overseeing a widening gap between rich and poor.
“I think I became less supportive of Bloomberg’s policies,” said Wakeman outside the polling station where there were no queues. New York is known for extremely poor voter turnout, but a coordinator said there had been “a good flow” of voters.
The city is overwhelmingly Democratic even though it has not elected a mayor from that party in two decades.
Candidates will have to secure 40 percent of the primary vote to avoid an October 1 run-off. The mayoral election is on November 1.
A Quinnipiac University poll on Monday said De Blasio would win with 39 percent if the mayoral election were held now.
Former frontrunner Christine Quinn, the city’s openly gay speaker, has presented herself as Bloomberg’s natural successor, vaunting her accomplishments in office.
She was endorsed by the New York Times and the Daily News, but her support had waned to 18 percent just before the election.
Administrative assistant Sade Alleyne, 24, had not voted yet, and said she was still torn between Quinn and De Blasio.
“I guess I will think about it a little longer. Both have very good points but I think Quinn has more of a handle over the city. I think he can deliver but not as much as she would.”
The former city comptroller and sole African American candidate, Bill Thompson, was placed second by the pollsters, with 25 percent.
Thompson came close to beating Bloomberg in 2009, but has lost some support from black voters to De Blasio, who has campaigned hard against stop-and-frisk — a police tactic loathed by minority communities who see themselves as unfairly targeted.
Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, now polling at six percent, has seen his support obliterated by revelations he sent sexually explicit messages to young women online.
The city’s six-foot-five, greying public advocate, De Blasio has hinged his campaign on inequality, describing New York as “a tale of two cities,” the rich and the poor.
Rhetoric has heated up in recent days, with outrage over an exit interview given by Bloomberg to New York magazine, in which he accuses De Blasio of running a racist campaign.
Bloomberg attacked De Blasio’s campaign as “class-warfare and racist” for his use of his black wife and bi-racial son in promotional videos.
De Blasio’s boldest proposal is a tax on those who earn over $500,000 to pay for after-school care for young children.
“He is a very populist, very left-wing guy, but this city is not two groups, and if to some extent it is, it’s one group paying for the services of the other,” said Bloomberg.
Bloomberg, who scored a third term after cajoling City Council into lifting a two-term limit in 2009, has presided over a falling murder rate and aggressively pushed sweeping public health policies.
However, he has been accused of governing for the rich, a charge he strongly rejects.
Bloomberg also defended the stop-and-frisk campaign, seen by many as key to bringing crime down in the once violence-wracked city, but ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge two weeks ago for racial profiling.
“We have not racial profiled. We’ve gone where the crime is,” he said.
The Republican primary is seen as a race between former public transport chief Joe Lhota, who is in the lead over billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis.