By Jennifer Peltz & Jonathan Lemire
With the arduous campaign to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg in its final stage, New Yorkers now have their choices before them: stick with policies that have kept the city relatively safe and prosperous, or break from a past that some residents complain has nurtured income inequality and racial divisions.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio became the undisputed Democratic nominee Monday after primary runner-up Bill Thompson withdrew and eliminated the need for a runoff election. Republican nominee Joseph Lhota quickly went on the attack and painted the Nov. 5 general election as a contest between two major-party opponents with vastly different visions of how the city should function after 12 years of Bloomberg.
"Bill de Blasio's change is radical. My change is practical. It's straightforward. It's to be able to build upon what we have done, not tear down what has happened," Lhota said at a news conference.
Democrats have not elected a mayor since 1989, yet they outnumber Republicans 6 to 1 among registered voters, presenting Lhota with an uphill climb. However, the GOP's unlikely mayoral winning streak could continue if he "runs as a manager," according to Kellyanne Conway, a Washington-based pollster who has followed the race.
"Managers tend to do pretty well in New York City," said Conway, who is not affiliated with any candidate. "He's literally the guy who can keep trains running on time and keep taxes low, and that has appeal to people."
De Blasio, whose current elected post charges him with ensuring city government is serving residents, has run an unabashedly liberal campaign, calling for a tax increase in the city's wealthiest neighborhoods to pay for universal pre-kindergarten, reforming the controversial policing strategy called "stop and frisk," and demanding greater income equality to "put an end to the tale of two cities."
He also placed his interracial family at the center of his campaign. An ad narrated by his 15-year-old son helped fuel his meteoric rise from fourth to first in the primary campaign's final month.
Lhota, who served as the head the region's transit agency and was a deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, has vowed to continue many of Bloomberg's policies.
He is an ardent defender of stop and frisk, which allows officers to stop people deemed to be acting suspiciously, saying it helped drive down crime. A federal judge ruled it discriminates against minorities and ordered a monitor to oversee changes.
Lhota has mocked de Blasio's plan to raise taxes, saying it would never pass the Legislature. He has suggested funding pre-kindergarten by cutting other government expenses. And he has taken issue with de Blasio's campaign theme.
"I actually believe the 'tale of two cities' is a divisive device that he's using," Lhota said. "It's a divide-and-conquer strategy."
Lhota aims to showcase the inclusiveness of his own campaign by meeting with a Democratic powerbroker, the Rev. Al Sharpton, on Tuesday night. Sharpton did not make an endorsement in the Democratic primary. De Blasio has met with him multiple times, including at a rally at the civil rights icon's Harlem headquarters Saturday morning.
An afterthought until early August, de Blasio rocketed past former front-runners Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, and Anthony Weiner, an ex-congressman, in the polls. He also received a boost in the campaign's final days when, in an interview, Bloomberg derided de Blasio's campaign as "racist" and "class warfare," criticisms that galvanized supporters.
Bloomberg, who declined to make an endorsement, refused to answer questions about his comments Monday during his first news conference since the remarks were published. Lhota also dubbed de Blasio's campaign "class warfare" Monday.
De Blasio did not discuss Lhota at the Monday rally. But Thompson's decision to drop out prevents a costly fortnight that would have had Democrats wasting time they could have spent campaigning against Lhota. Had Thompson not dropped out, a runoff election would have been held Oct. 1.
"Bill de Blasio and I want to move the city forward," Thompson said at a news conference Monday morning. "This is bigger than any one of us."
In unofficial returns with 99 percent of precincts reporting, de Blasio had 40.3 percent of the vote, slightly more than the 40 percent threshold needed to win outright. Thompson was second with 26.2 percent.
Independents Adolfo Carrion Jr., a former Bronx borough president, and Jack Hidary, a tech entrepreneur, will also be on the November ballot.