In April of last year, I mentioned that although former city comptroller Bill Thompson had run a surprisingly close race against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009–despite being vastly underfunded and written off by the national Democratic Party–heading into this year’s race to replace Bloomberg, Thompson quickly found himself the underdog. The presumed frontrunner was (and is) City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
I noted that one major difference between the two was in their respective approaches to the New York City Police Department amid the controversy over the city’s effective “stop and frisk” tactics that helped improve safety in some dangerous neighborhoods. Thompson threatened to fire Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; Quinn recognized the good work of the NYPD, though she expressed modest reservations about “stop and frisk.” I suggested voters would be prepared to punish Thompson and that his position on the NYPD was hurting his poll numbers. Today Quinnipiac released the results of a survey whose findings buttress my argument considerably:
In the wake of the Newtown massacre of the innocents and the growing gun control debate, New York City voters approve 75 – 18 percent of the job Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is doing, his highest approval rating ever, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
Voters also approve 70 – 23 percent of the job New York police are doing, the highest score since a 76 – 18 percent approval rating February 7, 2002, in the wake of 9/11, by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll.
Kelly’s approval is 81 – 14 percent among white voters, 63 – 27 percent among black voters and 76 – 18 percent among Hispanic voters. Approval for the police overall is 80 – 14 percent among white voters, 56 – 37 percent among black voters and 67 – 23 percent among Hispanic voters. There is almost no gender gap in approval for Kelly or the police.
Voters disapprove of the police use of the stop-and-frisk tactic 50 – 46 percent.
New York City voters say 63 – 19 percent, including 53 – 31 percent among black voters, that it would positively affect their decision to vote for a candidate for mayor if the candidate promises to ask Kelly to stay as police commissioner.
Voters surely care who their next mayor is, but they seem to care even more who the police commissioner is. This also transcends identity politics, as the results clearly show. Liberals spilled much ink–usually getting the story wrong–in attempts to gin up animosity between the city’s minorities, especially New York’s black population, and the NYPD. Yet black voters overwhelmingly approve of the job Kelly and the NYPD are doing. That may help explain why Thompson, who is black, has gained no traction with voters by trashing the NYPD.
It also explains why Republicans have not stopped trying to convince Kelly to run for mayor. After all, many attributed Bloomberg’s poor showing in the 2009 election to the fact that some New Yorkers were just tired of Bloomberg’s never-ending mayoralty–yet Kelly has been police commissioner for as long as Bloomberg has been mayor, and he’s currently enjoying approval ratings significantly higher than Bloomberg’s. But it also may explain why Kelly keeps resisting the calls to jump in the race. He’s good at his job, New Yorkers agree, and he gets to stay out of the political fray, for the most part. And even though he’s not running in the election, he gets quite the vote of support during the campaign: the more clearly candidates express their approval of the NYPD, the more voters seem inclined to support them. With the mayoral race still wide open, the candidates could do worse than to take Quinnipiac’s free advice.