by Jeremy Loudenback
Tomorrow marks an important date for New Yorkers. As polls open for the mayoral election, the city will be guaranteed a new face in the mayor’s office for the first time since 2001. Michael Bloomberg has held the reins through three mostly prosperous terms, though he has faced controversy for seeking an unprecedented third term in 2009 and his unrepentant endorsement of policing programs enacted during his tenure that encourage racial profiling of Black and Latino residents.
As the race to replace him winds down, commentators are lining up to consider his complicated legacy of leadership for the nation’s largest and wealthiest city. Bloomberg weathered the tricky post-9/11 climate as well as the 2007 meltdown of the financial industry, a huge part of New York’s economy. Even many of Bloomberg’s critics are hard-pressed to disagree with the smooth operation of the city during his tenure; the “businessman mayor” is credited with running the city on a corporate level and promoting efficiency and innovation, including an embrace of data. Perceptions of New York a safe, vibrant tourist destination have never been higher.
Despite coming to the mayor’s job as a well-heeled entrepreneur with a $27 billion fortune, Bloomberg surprised many with his support of behavior modifications in public health: initiatives to encourage bike riding, restrict smoking, and curtail the sale of large containers of soda. His stances on food, immigration reform, climate change, and gun control earned him a prominent profile nationally, though he has received significant criticism in New York for the expansion of aggressive policing techniques during his third term, the so-called “stop and frisk” program. Some have described his efforts to promote public education reform as his most personal crusade, though opinions about the success of those decisions are split.
According to a recent New York Times poll, nearly half of New Yorkers said they approve of Bloomberg’s time in office, while 40% disapprove. Despite New York’s overall prosperity, feelings about the mayor are complex for many residents, with some bemoaning the cost-of-living increases that have squeezed out housing for middle and lower classes. And it’s notable that the candidates vying to replace him have tried to distance themselves from him.
Bill de Blasio, the New York City public advocate, has emerged as a strong critic of the mayor’s stop and frisk policies and the frontrunner for the mayor’s office, surging past City Council Speaker Christine Quinn with 39% of the vote, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Longtime Bloomberg ally Quinn was at one time considered the likely heir apparent to the mayor, but the prospect of her election success now seems less likely. At 18%, she trails both de Blasio and former Comptroller William Thompson, who is projected to capture 25% of the vote. Disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner had 6% of the vote, state Comptroller John Liu had 4%, and former Council member Sal Albanese tallied 1%, with 8% of voters undecided.
If no candidate receives more than 40% of the vote, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held on October 1.