Sometimes elections seem stuck more in the past than pointing toward the future. This mayoral campaign is certainly headed that way.
Between the Sandinistas, the Crown Heights Riots, and Giuliani Time, the rhetoric in the race often requires New Yorkers to consult their historical decoder ring to make sense of anything. (I'm just waiting for Bernhard Goetz or Walter Mondale to be invoked by someone.) And listening to the two candidates feels a little like we're reliving a rematch of the brutal David Dinkins-Rudy Giuliani campaigns of 1989 and 1993.
Yesterday, Bill De Blasio once again went after Giuliani, the former boss of his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, saying: "My opponent needs to think about when he is bragging about his experience, he is bragging about being the right-hand man to the most divisive mayor we have ever had."
Lhota last week fired back at de Blasio's former employer, asking: "Like David Dinkins wasn’t a divisive mayor? The man who crime went to levels that we have never seen before in the city of New York."
In his latest campaign ad, Lhota plays history teacher, showing images of a scarier New York – including a shot from the 1991 Crown Heights riots – which served as Dinkins' Waterloo. The Daily News' Greg Smith yesterday looked at de Blasio's role during the riots and concluded that he basically fielded phone calls in City Hall from irate Jewish leaders. Smith notes: "De Blasio’s campaign refused to make him available for a more in-depth interview or answer written questions about his role."
Meanwhile, de Blasio is embracing Dinkins' "gorgeous mosaic" mantra in a powerful new campaign video that declares: "Bill de Blasio understands that we are at our best when no one is left behind. That is our city. That is New York."
Another touchstone from De Blasio's past – Hillary Clinton – is joining him at a major fundraiser at the Roosevelt Hotel tonight. (All we need is a Rick Lazio Lovefest for Lhota to complete this weird Mobius Strip.)
Whether or not any of this is really relevant to New Yorkers who are more concerned about New York in 2014 than what it was like in 1990, it seems clear that we're on a collision course with history for tomorrow night's debate. Get your hyperlink to Wikipedia ready.