Will This Be a Post-Racial Mayoral Election?
A GOP victory in 2013?
Identity politics is an age-old term for voters picking one of their own. Up until the 1940s, the Irish largely dominated New York politics and ticket balancing meant having one Irish candidate, one Italian candidate and one Jewish candidate to appeal to the dominant ethnic groups in the city.
But since the late 1980s, the minority population (African Americans, Latinos and Asians) has been ascendant in Democratic primaries and black or Latino candidates are thought to have a demographic advantage due to identity politics.
In 1989, New York's first (and so far only) African-American Mayor, David Dinkins, swept into office, by winning 91 percent of the African-American vote as well as a broad coalition of Latinos and white liberals who were tired of 12 years of Edward Koch's bombastic rule.
In 1993, although Dinkins still won 83 percent of the African-American vote in a general election rematch against Rudy Giuliani, that drop of eight percentage points in the black community proved to be the swing that allowed Giuliani to eke out a 50,000 vote victory.
Since 1993, the closest a minority candidate has come to Gracie Mansion was Bill Thompson's suprisingly slim 5 percent loss to Mike Bloomberg in 2009.
Will Thompson be able to win 70 percent of the African-American vote in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, which would then virtually assure him a spot in the run-off for the Democratic nomination? That is what his campaign is hoping. The road to Gracie Mansion for Thompson is paved with speed bumps and potholes that could make this "identity politics" strategy a losing one.
As one Harlem activist recently pointed out to me: "John Liu is actually the blackest candidate in this race. People in the black community have more faith in it becoming 'our turn' if he wins, than if Thompson does."
Bill DeBlasio's wife is African-American and no doubt he will promote that in his appeal for black votes in the coming months. Christine Quinn, in her trailblazing attempt to become New York's first woman (and openly gay) mayor, will no doubt win some support from African-American women who find gender more identifiable than race.
Looming behind all this is one scenario that many Democrats fear: if the Democratic nominee comes limping out of a racially bruising run-off, does this leave the door open for yet another GOP victory for mayor in 2013?
Tom Allon, the president of City and State, NY, is a former Liberal Party-backed candidate for mayor. Questions or comments: email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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