With only hours to go before polls opened, the race to become the next mayor of New York City had became a contest for second place.
On Monday candidates crisscrossed the five boroughs, shaking hands with any hand willing, giving out palm cards by the hundreds, and clogging the airwaves with last-minute pitches.
Surveys out Monday morning revealed that public advocate Bill de Blasio’s unlikely surge had given no indication of abating, and as workers prepared to bring the city’s voting machines out of storage, the major question facing the race was whether he would clear the 40 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff.
Bill Thompson and Christine Quinn both banked that he would not. If they are wrong, however, and de Blasio is able to focus his fire on his Republican opponent in the general election in November instead of fending off a fellow Democrat in a runoff for the next three weeks, he will defy the conventional wisdom about New York politics.
Even a month ago, de Blasio was thought to be an also-ran. His careful cultivation of labor unions had come to little as labor split under the assumption he couldn’t win. If Thompson, a former city comptroller who lost narrowly to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009, fails to make the runoff, it will likely be because black voters rallied in large numbers for de Blasio. The public advocate, who is white, made made his African-American wife and their biracial children a central part of his appeal, but a loss by Thompson, the lone black candidate, would upend longstanding black voting patterns.
If Quinn’s political career ends Tuesday night, it will be a stunning campaign implosion. Quinn has led in polls for much of the past three years and secured the endorsement of all three major metropolitan daily newspapers and a handful of powerful labor unions. She has been closely aligned with Bloomberg, but polls show that women and gay voters remain unenthused about putting the first lesbian in the top job at City Hall.
And even though their campaigns privately acknowledge that they are in a race for second place, both Quinn and Thompson largely kept their focus on de Blasio, honing a populist pitch that echoes the “tale of two cities” campaign theme he used to vault himself into the frontrunner’s position and accusing him of being all talk and little action.
“The future of this city is making sure that no one gets left behind, that progress gets extended to everyone and every neighborhood, so we can give everyone the opportunity to get into the middle class, and that we make sure every child regardless of their gender or sexual orientation has the ability to live to their greatest dreams,” Quinn told reporters Monday morning. “And that means a electing a mayor who has both the vision and a record and the capability to lead this city.”
A few hours later, Thompson kept up the heat.
“We know they are promises that can’t be kept. We know they will say anything to get a vote. That is not what New Yorkers want. New Yorkers want the truth.”
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “We are looking at others who are coming up with imaginary proposals, who are out there promising the world to the people of the city of New York, and we know it is not serious. We know they are promises that can’t be kept. We know they will say anything to get a vote. That is not what New Yorkers want. New Yorkers want the truth.”
Quinn spent the morning on the vote-rich Upper West Side before heading to Queens, stumping for votes in centrist Forest Hills and Astoria and in the immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Flushing. She did a spot on AM radio and another on MSNBC, which on the final day of the race became something of local community access network, hosting not just the council speaker but also de Blasio and onetime frontrunner Anthony Weiner (remember him?), who insisted that voters were genuinely more interested in his plan to cut down on police overtime than in his history of sending photos of his genitals across social media.
For her TV hit, Quinn was dogged by the subject that has hovered over the campaign: Bloomberg, who despite overall high approval ratings is unpopular among the sliver of Democratic primary voters expected to turn out Tuesday. Hizzoner did his legislative ally no favors by accusing de Blasio in New York magazine of running a “racist” campaign for featuring his family so prominently.
Rather than talk about how she pushed to make kindergarten mandatory in the city of New York, she was asked about the incumbent.
“I couldn’t disagree with Mayor Bloomberg more,” she said. “His comments were totally inappropriate, never should have been made.”
Quinn was asked if she was now in awkward spot, defending de Blasio from the mayor.
“When people say something that is wrong, particularly about public officials’ families, you have to respond. It doesn’t matter who said it,” she replied.
At an elementary school on 93rd Street earlier in the day, Quinn was on firmer ground, insisting that she knew her early lead would deflate.
“I knew this campaign would be tough,” she said. “I knew it would be tight up until the end, that things would move around, that early polls were almost always about name recognition, and that the speaker’s office has a higher profile than some of the other positions the other candidates hold. I am looking forward to today and tomorrow.”
Thompson, meanwhile, stayed far away from the Upper West Side, spending the day in the mostly African-American precincts of the Bronx, central Brooklyn, eastern Queens, and Harlem. His only foray south of 110th Street in Manhattan was to attend a energetic rally on the steps of City Hall surrounded by members of the United Federation of Teachers, a major backer of his campaign.
Thompson, who has been dogged by accusations that he lacks the necessary passion to be mayor, thundered to cheering throngs when he stepped up to the microphone: “I think it is pretty clear. We. Are. Doing. Well!”
His most passionate defense came from Ruben Diaz, the borough president of the Bronx, who said to sum up the long campaign: “This is not a race about personality. This is not a race about who is on Twitter. This is not a race about hairdos. This is a race about serious business.”