Some people celebrate July Fourth by barbecuing or settling their house on fire with an errant sparkler. I prefer annoying all of my house guests by loudly playing a Charles Ives album and questioning their patriotism if they don’t like my music. But to branch out beyond being an annoying host, I think that it could be a good time to look at where things stand in the mayor’s race with the primary a little more than two months away. I'm tackling the Democrats today – and after taking a holiday break – I'll be back on Monday with the Republicans and the independents.
Amazingly, this could really be the first time they win a mayoral election since 1989 -- unless they form a circular firing squad and start shooting like crazy. Which is already sort of happening.
Earlier this year, it seemed that Quinn could actually avoid a primary runoff by getting at least 40 percent of the vote. But with the entry of Anthony Weiner into the race, it’s highly unlikely that a runoff can be avoided – something Quinn admitted on NY1 in an interview last night. Quinn has recently adopted the “I’m the only adult in the room” stance by pointing to her achievements as City Council Speaker. And last night she went nuclear, saying Bill de Blasio is "desperate" and charging that Bill Thompson was "asleep at the switch" as comptroller. But did Quinn wait too long to shift her strategy?
Pros: While Quinn has a legendary temper, she can also be very funny and charming which could help her on the campaign trail. She’s one of the best-prepared candidates and is extremely knowledgeable about issues because of her years at the helm of the City Council. She also has a strong campaign staff. Being the only woman and the only openly-gay candidate could help her in the primary and she could easily rebound from a rocky month.
Cons: Both Peter Vallone Sr. and Gifford Miller thought that being City Council Speaker would be a great platform to run for mayor. And then they were forcibly retired from public service. Will "Nuclear Quinn" scare voters? And that term-limits vote which allowed Mayor Bloomberg to have another four years in office resonates pretty negatively with some primary voters.
Two months ago, Weiner wasn’t even a candidate and people at parties would do a spit take if you told them that you thought he was going to enter the race. If you believe a Marist poll, Weiner is the frontrunner. If you believe a Quinnipiac poll, he’s in a three-way tie for first. In either case, he’s come a long way, baby. With almost no institutional support and a beleaguered skeleton crew for a campaign staff, Weiner is almost the exact opposite of Quinn – which makes him dangerous. Still, it’s easy to paint a scenario where Weiner gets into a runoff and then loses a head-to-head matchup against almost anyone.
Pros: Already playing with house money, Weiner is relaxed and loose at campaign events. Although he sort of mailed it in at the NY1/NY1 Noticias debate, Weiner is generally strong in candidate forums and seems to win over people when they hear him.
Cons: So many questions like, um, how about that sexting scandal and then repeatedly lying about it? Why does he want to be mayor beyond seeing the campaign as therapy? What about that large number of voters who say they won’t vote for him under any circumstances? What about that temper of his that has terrified most of his staffers in the past? What legislation did he pass in Congress? And what happens if the other candidates really start attacking him?
The former City Comptroller was the Democratic mayoral nominee four years ago and did far better than most people predicted on Election Day. This time, Thompson faces rivals who are known a little bit more than his 2009 primary opponent. (Can you name him? It would be a $1,000 question on “Jeopardy!”) Thompson is trying to shed his image of not being hungry by appearing “passionate” and “angry” on the campaign trail. He definitely gained some attention by reviving an essentially-moot issue of a garbage transfer station that’s being built on the Upper East Side -- and then claiming that Christine Quinn was calling him a racist.
Pros: Besides being the only African-American candidate in the race, Thompson may also be the most likeable politician in a very crowded field. This is his fourth run for citywide office – which helps him in the name recognition department. He could easily make a runoff and has the support of the powerful teachers union.
Cons: What can Thompson say are his chief accomplishments over the last four years while he was essentially in the private sector? He also looked weak on Monday when he said he wished he had done more as comptroller to stop the scandal involving the city’s automated payroll system. Does he really have the fire in the belly?
Probably the candidate who’s been hurt most by the Weiner candidacy, De Blasio is shifting his “I’m the only real outer borough candidate” strategy to tacking hard to the left, relentlessly going after Quinn while also seizing on NYPD reform. As Mark Green did as Public Advocate, de Blasio has excelled at using his day job as a bully pulpit.
Pros: De Blasio has been extremely effective at drawing contrasts between himself and Quinn and has also shown a smart instinct on the campaign trail to seize on issues – like the intemperate comments made by the mayor about stop-and-frisk—before his rivals. Running a campaign (Hillary Clinton’s Senate run in 2000) is allowing de Blasio to excel at the game that moves as you play.
Cons: Hatchet men often get damaged by all of the blood they shed. While de Blasio is hurting Quinn, it’s unclear if it will help his candidacy more than benefitting Weiner or Thompson’s. He hasn’t received the kind of labor support he was banking on several months ago. He has a lot of work to do to catch up to Quinn, Thompson, and Weiner.
A scandal that sends your former campaign treasurer and another fundraiser to prison would be enough to derail most candidacies – but not John Liu’s! The City Comptroller is the Energizer bunny on the campaign trail, having arguably the busiest schedule of any of his rivals, while seeming to relish the hand-shaking and baby kissing that is such an integral part of local politics.
Pros: He can point to some accomplishments as comptroller – including blowing the whistle on the CityTime payroll scandal. He has played the victim card in the federal probe of his campaign which has actually helped win him support with people who want to stick it to The Man. He has some ties with organized labor.
Cons: Do New Yorkers want a mayor whose campaign treasurer went to prison? While his opponents haven’t really raised this as an issue, that’s because Liu is in the single digits in most polls. His strong support in the Asian-American community would be more helpful if the Asian-American primary vote was higher than the 10 percent it was in his last race. And he’s still saying that his mother worked in a sweatshop – a claim that seems suspect at best.
A maverick City Councilman, Albanese ran for mayor in 1997 and finished third in the primary and left public office. Now, I guess he's hoping to catch that third-place magic again.
Pros: Albanese seems well-versed on many issues and has done well in the candidate forums. Most of his positions cast him in the center of the race – which could help him when many of the candidates seem to be heading leftward.
Cons: He's the Rip Van Winkle of the field. What's he been doing for the last 16 years? Voters have no idea who he is and he's struggling in the fundraising department. This is like when George McGovern came back from a shellacking in 1972 to run for president in 1984 .
A political rookie, Salgado is a minister who is trying to tap into his evangelical base and gain some traction in this ridiculously-crowded race.
Pros: He's the only Latino – and Staten Island resident – in the Democratic field. Salgado has added plenty of levity to the debates. He likes talking about food.
Cons: He seems dangerously unschooled on the issues compared to his rivals.
So that's my field guide to the Democrats. It's clear that Quinn dropped a major bomb in the race last night – which could dramatically change the tone of the campaign. Could all this infighting help the Republicans or a dark-horse independent? You'll have to wait until Monday for my next installment. Have a great July 4th and excelsior!