It is still early in the year’s mayoral race, even though we are almost into the fall season. New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson has considerably less money to spend in this race, and so it’s fair to say that he has to start his mailing blitz and advertising later than the mayor, who has already hit the airwaves with his message on jobs and education.
According to a Quinnipiac poll in late June, the mayor has a commanding 54 to 32 percentage point lead. But this race is closer than it looks and will be closer than the mayoral contest four years ago. Mayor Bloomberg has performed well on big issues and has been rewarded for his independent streak. He stands to score good votes in Staten Island, Queens, and parts of Manhattan. Thompson is pretty strong in upper Manhattan, the Bronx, and parts of Brooklyn.
What makes Thompson stronger than Freddy Ferrer, the mayor’s opponent four years ago, is that Ferrer missed his moment. His year to run was really 2001. Thompson is running a year after the first African American was elected president (in heavy numbers in New York City), so the newly registered voters probably will not hurt Thompson. Remember that David Dinkins defeated Mayor Koch in a primary in 1989 – a year after Jesse Jackson registered new voters. None of this is to say that new voters will vote for Thompson over Bloomberg, but it creates an opportunity for Thompson that Ferrer did not have in 2001.
Mayor Bloomberg has not ignored Queens like a few “Manhattan Mayors” in the past may have. He loves Bayside, and his centrist positioning kind of mirrors how Queens voters – many of them union Democrats – think. Bloomberg can win close to 60 percent in Queens, but Thompson has made efforts to put a dent into Bloomberg’s stronghold in the borough. The comptroller often editorializes in Queens newspapers, and has been visible at more than a few events.
The mayor has to hold a strong lead in Queens and parts of Brooklyn in order to win by a comfortable margin. Remember that in 1993 a lot of people figured Christine Todd Whitman to lose to Governor Jim Florio in New Jersey. Since people thought Florio would win, they voted for Whitman just as a protest vote against Florio. It could be that a number of people who do not even know Bill Thompson will vote for him as a way to send a message to the mayor about term limits. Add those protest votes to the newly registered voters and you have a closer race than four years ago.
There is one other factor in this race that makes it closer, and that is likability. The Quinnipiac poll suggested that 62 to 28 percent of New Yorkers would rather sit at a picnic with Mayor Bloomberg during the Fourth of July. Those numbers can only be attributed to people not really knowing Thompson. Bloomberg was clearly more likable in his contest with Mark Green - it would impossible not to be. But Thompson is a very likable personality, and does not limit himself to a few core constituencies. Perhaps the people polled figured that a Bloomberg picnic would have more bells and whistles.
The mayor is a strong candidate because he really does not have any big negatives. He never stood with one constituency. People are unhappy that their vote on term limits was sidestepped, but they were unhappy when the mayor upped property taxes, and he was able to get around that when he was re-elected.
The mayor's big strength is his independence. Thompson is sometimes described as a machine Democrat that might be slow to buck the party line. Even though this is a city of Democrats, people like an independent streak, especially in Queens. Queens is the pivotal section of this race. Thompson needs to explain to people that he is not going to turn the clock back on the city if he is elected mayor. Pretty soon, he needs to start spending money to get his message out there.