Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Thompson

Minding the (Gender) Gap in New York City

Of the several New York Democratic mayoral candidates who lost this week’s primary to Bill de Blasio, only one constituted something of a surprise: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. It’s not that Quinn was ever considered a shoo-in–far from it. But she had media buzz building for quite some time, a consistent early lead in the polls, and the tentative support of Michael Bloomberg (which probably cost her votes in the end, but gave her candidacy an early boost).

Unlike Anthony Weiner, Quinn didn’t seem to have any skeletons refusing to stay in the closet. Unlike Bill Thompson, Quinn was able to poll a lead when matched up against the entire field of candidates, while Thompson needed a second-round run-off to build a lead. And it must be said that her current speakership and the media attention she received for being openly gay (she married her partner last year) gave her at least a head start on both the late entries and the no-names. Yet she placed third. What happened?

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Of the several New York Democratic mayoral candidates who lost this week’s primary to Bill de Blasio, only one constituted something of a surprise: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. It’s not that Quinn was ever considered a shoo-in–far from it. But she had media buzz building for quite some time, a consistent early lead in the polls, and the tentative support of Michael Bloomberg (which probably cost her votes in the end, but gave her candidacy an early boost).

Unlike Anthony Weiner, Quinn didn’t seem to have any skeletons refusing to stay in the closet. Unlike Bill Thompson, Quinn was able to poll a lead when matched up against the entire field of candidates, while Thompson needed a second-round run-off to build a lead. And it must be said that her current speakership and the media attention she received for being openly gay (she married her partner last year) gave her at least a head start on both the late entries and the no-names. Yet she placed third. What happened?

A lot of things. But one thing that does not seem to have played a significant role is her gender. That’s one takeaway from today’s New York Times story, “In Quinn’s Loss, Questions About Role of Gender and Sexuality.” But the article seems to answer those questions pretty effectively:

Exit polls showed no gender gap in the results and indicated that Ms. Quinn lost for a number of reasons — her close association with the plutocratic incumbent mayor, her rivals’ ability to outmaneuver her on the issue of stop-and-frisk policing, and her inability to be a change candidate in an election in which voters sought new direction.

Still, her supporters wonder: Why has New York, home of tough, talented women like Eleanor Roosevelt and Anna Wintour, proven resistant to female candidates? And was it simply too much to expect the electorate to embrace a candidate who would be not just New York’s first female mayor, but its first openly gay one, too?

In interviews with allies and opponents, as well as members of the Quinn campaign team, not one person blamed her loss wholly, or even mostly, on gender.

Exit polls showed no gender gap, and neither her supporters (including those who worked for her) nor her opponents thought it made much difference, if at all. But you get the feeling that this article gets written one way or the other. Had there been a “gender gap” in the exit polls, we’d be reading an article about how the fact that Quinn is a woman worked against her in the race. Now that there wasn’t a gender gap, the Times is concerned: why not? That is, why didn’t New York’s women show some solidarity?

The Times has no trouble finding sources who will blame that on Quinn, but the criticism of her in the article is so gobsmackingly unfair as to leave the reader wondering why anyone would put their names to the comments. One explanation is one that is backed up by the exit polls: Quinn–admirably, I might add–insisted on running a campaign on the issues instead of gender identity. “I don’t get up in the morning thinking about how I’ll approach this as a woman or a lesbian; I think about the issues,” she apparently told a room full of accomplished women who wanted to tell Quinn how to run a campaign as a woman.

Identity politics did work against her, though, in two ways. First, New York City identity politics are ethnic and racial. As the Times story notes, there was neither a gay vote nor a women’s vote. Without such a voter base, it was to Quinn’s disadvantage that she represented swanky neighborhoods in Manhattan and was thus somewhat detached from the lives of so many of the New Yorkers whose votes she wanted.

Second, some of those Manhattanites turned on her. And here is where her gender made a difference. From the story:

Critiques of Ms. Quinn’s physical attributes came from many corners, even the wealthy Upper East Side women who helped raise money for her mayoral bid. “Why can’t she dress better?’” they would ask Rachel Lavine, a Democratic state committeewoman who was on Ms. Quinn’s finance committee.

“I might think that St. John is not the end all and be all of fashion,” Ms. Lavine said, referring to the upscale clothing line favored by wealthy, older women. “But that’s what they’re saying. ‘Why isn’t she wearing a size two St. John’s dress?’ There’s that kind of constant commentary.”

Referring to Ms. Quinn’s rival Bill de Blasio, she said, “You don’t hear that about de Blasio — ‘Why can’t he buy better-looking suits?’ ”

Her female supporters badmouthed her because they didn’t like the brand of clothing she wore. It’s to Quinn’s credit that she showed no interest in playing these games, either by trying to disqualify criticism of her as simple prejudice or by changing her appearance. She lost, but she lost honorably–against the advice of many of her supporters.

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Bloomberg’s de Blasio Disaster Foretold

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s comments in an interview published over the weekend “shook up” the race to succeed him, as the Wall Street Journal describes it. Bloomberg took issue with what he thought has been an overly class- and race-based campaign by the current Democratic primary frontrunner, Bill de Blasio. While that may sound like exactly the sort of campaign a modern liberal Democrat would run–especially in New York City, where identity politics predominate–the charge was actually unfair.

What’s more, Bloomberg seemed realize this as he said it, as his explanation for his comments indicates:

Mr. Bloomberg said in the interview published Saturday in New York magazine that he thought Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the front-runner, was running a “class-warfare and racist” campaign because he had persistently highlighted income inequality and his biracial family. Mr. de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, is African-American.

“I mean he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing. I do not think he himself is racist,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote. You tailor messages to your audiences and address issues you think your audience cares about.”

Not to split hairs, but it’s not quite like Bloomberg pointing out his Jewish background. De Blasio isn’t black; given the degree of controversy over race-related issues both in the city and the country recently, it’s not outrageous at all that de Blasio would feel compelled to demonstrate that he can understand issues facing the African-American community through personal connection.

At any rate, what you sense from Bloomberg is frustration, not outrage. I don’t think Bloomberg cares about ethnic political appeals by de Blasio or anyone else. What most likely bothers him much more is that de Blasio appears to be a disaster waiting to happen. His ideas for the city range from the terrible to the dangerous. De Blasio is leading the “Dinkins Democrats,” as I referred to them here.

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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s comments in an interview published over the weekend “shook up” the race to succeed him, as the Wall Street Journal describes it. Bloomberg took issue with what he thought has been an overly class- and race-based campaign by the current Democratic primary frontrunner, Bill de Blasio. While that may sound like exactly the sort of campaign a modern liberal Democrat would run–especially in New York City, where identity politics predominate–the charge was actually unfair.

What’s more, Bloomberg seemed realize this as he said it, as his explanation for his comments indicates:

Mr. Bloomberg said in the interview published Saturday in New York magazine that he thought Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the front-runner, was running a “class-warfare and racist” campaign because he had persistently highlighted income inequality and his biracial family. Mr. de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, is African-American.

“I mean he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing. I do not think he himself is racist,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote. You tailor messages to your audiences and address issues you think your audience cares about.”

Not to split hairs, but it’s not quite like Bloomberg pointing out his Jewish background. De Blasio isn’t black; given the degree of controversy over race-related issues both in the city and the country recently, it’s not outrageous at all that de Blasio would feel compelled to demonstrate that he can understand issues facing the African-American community through personal connection.

At any rate, what you sense from Bloomberg is frustration, not outrage. I don’t think Bloomberg cares about ethnic political appeals by de Blasio or anyone else. What most likely bothers him much more is that de Blasio appears to be a disaster waiting to happen. His ideas for the city range from the terrible to the dangerous. De Blasio is leading the “Dinkins Democrats,” as I referred to them here.

De Blasio attacked rival candidate Christine Quinn for her qualified support for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, whose leadership of the NYPD has helped keep the city safe and make it a model for the rest of the country. Kelly’s name has even been floated to run the federal Department of Homeland Security, a suggestion supported by Republicans and Democrats. De Blasio’s idea of city governance is to locate what has worked in the past–a focus on safe streets and a pro-business atmosphere that has enabled the city to rake in the tax revenue that keeps services running and the social safety net intact–and promise to shred it.

So, if de Blasio is such an irresponsible choice for mayor–and to be fair, he may not intend to keep his promises (threats?) if he wins the election–why would he win in the first place? The answer is because a meager minority of Democratic primary voters will choose the Democratic nominee tomorrow, and because of the Democrats’ partisan advantage in the city that party’s nominee will become the favorite–though far from guaranteed victor–in the general election.

And de Blasio is poised to take a commanding lead into the primary because of the weakness of the rest of the field. Anthony Weiner has cratered in the polls after new scandals arose and he began speaking in a British accent and taunting elderly voters. (A strange, but perhaps not too unexpected, sentence to write.) That left the election without a traditional candidate from the boroughs, putting Queens in play and giving an advantage to the Brooklyn-based de Blasio.

Bill Thompson is another candidate whose weak poll standing has always hidden his strength in a second-round runoff, which takes place if no candidate gets 40 percent of the vote. And of course there is the once-putative frontrunner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has been startlingly unable to connect with voters and has run a campaign that suggests she never took her competition too seriously, inexcusably in the case of Thompson.

And that brings us back to Bloomberg. The mayor had tentatively sided with Quinn as his successor, but that was only among the likely candidates. He spent his final term in office undermining any credibility Quinn had by desperately casting about for a different successor. He was even willing to import one; he reportedly asked Hillary Clinton and Ed Rendell to run.

The whole circus left the impression that Bloomberg feared leaving his legacy in Quinn’s hands. But the recent Democratic primary contest suggests he feared a Quinn candidacy, not a Quinn mayoralty. He might have expected Quinn to fumble the handoff, which is exactly what happened. If that’s the case, Bloomberg gets points for prescience.

It’s surely possible Quinn could still win, of course. If there’s a runoff, the calculus changes–though, it should be noted, probably not to Quinn’s benefit, demographically. There is some irony here for Quinn. She ran to the left once she saw her rivals do so. That was probably a mistake, and it could cost her the election. Had she secured her place as the “responsible” Democrat, she could have portrayed de Blasio as the extreme candidate he is–well-meaning but eminently naïve and dangerous if given a job with real citywide responsibility, which he has never had.

Instead, Quinn may have convinced voters that there wasn’t enough daylight between her and de Blasio ideologically to make much of a difference. At that point, the election becomes solely about personality and, yes, identity politics. That’s where Bloomberg’s frustration finally boiled over, because that’s where Quinn is most likely to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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The NYPD’s Sky-High Approval Numbers

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:

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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.

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Identity Politics in the Empire City

The recent political history of New York City would suggest that Bill Thompson, the former city comptroller, should be in pole position heading into the 2013 mayoral election. That’s because when Thompson challenged current Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009 he went into the election the longest of long shots and managed to come within five points of the mayor, who also happens to be a billionaire and global brand.

That the election turned out to have been winnable for the unknown Democrat left the national Democratic Party–which completely ignored its nominee–furiously shifting the blame. Anthony Weiner (remember him?), who considered running against Bloomberg that year, suggested one of President Obama’s futile trips out to New Jersey to help the sinking political fortunes of Jon Corzine might have been better spent helping Thompson. “Maybe,” the White House viciously shot back, “Anthony Weiner should have manned-up and run against Michael Bloomberg.”

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The recent political history of New York City would suggest that Bill Thompson, the former city comptroller, should be in pole position heading into the 2013 mayoral election. That’s because when Thompson challenged current Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009 he went into the election the longest of long shots and managed to come within five points of the mayor, who also happens to be a billionaire and global brand.

That the election turned out to have been winnable for the unknown Democrat left the national Democratic Party–which completely ignored its nominee–furiously shifting the blame. Anthony Weiner (remember him?), who considered running against Bloomberg that year, suggested one of President Obama’s futile trips out to New Jersey to help the sinking political fortunes of Jon Corzine might have been better spent helping Thompson. “Maybe,” the White House viciously shot back, “Anthony Weiner should have manned-up and run against Michael Bloomberg.”

But for obvious reasons, Weiner won’t run for the Democratic mayoral nomination this time either, and Bloomberg will not attempt to run for his third second term. So it should fall to Thompson, logic tells us, to become New York’s next mayor. Yet Thompson is already an underdog. The frontrunner is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Quinn has establishment support and is generating some excitement for the fact that the city has never had a woman mayor. She is also openly gay, and planning to marry her partner this year. Identity politics are never far from the spotlight during New York mayoral elections, but the fact that Quinn is running against Thompson, who is black, virtually guarantees this element of city politics will be present during the 2013 contest.

And in New York, such politics often place New York’s Finest, the NYPD, at the center of attention. The police department’s stop-and-frisk policy has come under fire from minority advocates claiming racial profiling, which is how to understand this part of Thompson’s platform, as reported by the New York Times:

He pledged to replace the current police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, and he said he would oppose any tax increases.

Kelly, however, is currently enjoying a 64 percent approval rating (ten points higher than the mayor), and the NYPD earns an approval rating of 63 percent from New Yorkers. But black New Yorkers give Kelly only a 51-percent approval rating, and give his NYPD only 42. (Fifty percent of the city’s black voters disapprove of the NYPD.) So if you’re Christine Quinn, and the city’s minority residents are giving the NYPD a bit of the cold shoulder, how do you support the very popular police commissioner and his very popular police department without alienating black voters?

Quinn had an answer. While Thompson responded to the stop-and-frisk policy by threatening to fire Kelly, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who is also likely running for the Democratic nomination, lashed out at both the possible profiling element and the efficacy of the policy, Quinn took a more thoughtful tack. She suggested some changes to the policy in a letter to Kelly, but did not advocate scrapping it. She also included some praise for the policy: “We understand the vast majority of the lives saved were men of color and that part of the NYPD’s policing strategy that led to this decline is based on stop, question and frisk.”

“Politically, that line is important,” wrote Capital New York’s Azi Paybarah. It’s also true, and carries echoes of the unmatched and dramatic drop in crime in New York City that began in the 1990s. As Heather Mac Donald recently reflected on that time:

This massive crime rout has transformed the entire metropolis, but the most dramatic benefits have been concentrated in minority neighborhoods. Mothers no longer put their children to sleep in bathtubs to protect them from stray bullets, and senior citizens can walk to the grocery store without fear of getting mugged. New businesses and restaurants have revitalized once desolate commercial strips now that proprietors no longer have to worry about violence from the drug trade. Over ten thousand minority males are alive today who would have been killed had homicide remained at its earlier levels; the steep decline in killings among black males under the age of twenty-five has cut the death rate for all young men in New York by half.

New York is still a liberal city with liberal sensibilities, but if the NYPD’s poll numbers are any indication, it remains a city with a deep and abiding respect for its renowned police force. That respect is hard-earned and well-deserved, and it’s no surprise that the candidate who appears to share that sentiment has found herself at the front of the pack.

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