NEW YORK CITY SEPTEMBER 16, 2013
Habemus Democratic mayoral nominee! This morning, in front of City Hall, former Comptroller Bill Thompson conceded to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, forestalling what may (or may not) have been a run-off on October 1 and instead directly setting de Blasio up against Republican former deputy mayor Joe Lhota. (Two other candidates—former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión, Jr., on the Independence Party ticket, and businessman Jack Hidary, running as an independent—are considered not irrelevant.) Though Thompson had the right to wait for all the votes to be counted—and some, including me, urged that he do so—the writing was on the wall in the form of the media essentially treating de Blasio as the nominee; city and state Democrats’ lining up behind de Blasio; and a count that continued to show de Blasio ever so slightly above the 40 percent threshold, which if confirmed would have obviated a run-off anyway.
There will be plenty of time in the coming weeks—the general election is seven weeks from Tuesday—to discuss the match-up, as well as the embarrassment that the Board of Elections cannot give us an exact count of several hundred thousand votes nearly a week after the election (“a disgrace,” Thompson rightly called it). The notable thing to take away from today’s event is who, ultimately, was responsible for its going down: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with whom de Blasio goes way back.
I have frequently been asked by non-New Yorkers why they should care about the politics of just one city, which they happen not to live in. The easy answer, which I’m glad to supply, is that these politics happen to be incredibly fun, and the reporting on it happens to be unusually spectacular, because New York happens to be the city where lots of the media lives and works.
But the more important answer is that—in part because the city is the country’s biggest and most vital, as well as its media (and financial) capital—what happens there tends to reverberate across the Hudson River and through, you know, Utah, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Nebraska, and the rest of the country. Cuomo is a major Democratic Party player who would shoot to the top echelon of the Democratic presidential field should Hillary Clinton—also known as the former senator from New York—decide not to run. His motives and actions here are of national significance. And whether or not it is fair to extrapolate from de Blasio’s victory to paint a picture of all American liberals, it is true that should he become mayor, that bully pulpit will leave him in an enviable position to shape the national party and the national conversation, much as the current and prior New York City mayors (both of whom were seen as credible presidential candidates) did.
Gotham politics, in other words, is not just a handy metonym of national politics—it actually goes a long way toward embodying and influencing national politics. It is therefore worth paying attention to. All politics is local. But these local politics are national.
And in politics, as in every other field of human activity, New York tends to produce stars. Capital’s Josh Benson noted that the last time something like this happened, Cuomo was the guy bowing out: Just before the 2002 gubernatorial primary, he conceded to eventual nominee Carl McCall (who lost to incumbent Republican George Pataki, who flirted seriously with a national bid). Eleven years ago, who brokered it? To quote from a contemporaneous account: “City Council member Bill de Blasio, a Cuomo loyalist who is close to Mr. Ickes, Mr. Lynch, and Bill and Hillary Clinton.” Makes you wonder where Cuomo and de Blasio will be a decade hence, and makes you wonder which current bit player we’ll be reading about then.