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Is Bill de Blasio the future of the Democratic Party?
De Blasio is expected to become New York City's first avowedly liberal mayor in 40 years. Will the Democratic Party follow?
A de Blasio victory would be a big opportunity for progressives.
A de Blasio victory would be a big opportunity for progressives. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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n an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from Marist released Monday — the last one of the New York City mayoral race — Democrat Bill de Blasio is leading Republican Joe Lhota 65 percent to 24 percent. That's consistent with weeks of polling suggesting a blowout election on Tuesday that will hand New York City back to the Democrats for the first time in 20 years.

But de Blasio is more than just a Democrat — he's an "avowedly liberal Democrat," says John Cassidy at The New Yorker. That's something New York hasn't had for a long time, Cassidy notes. The last real liberal in City Hall was John Lindsey, who was first elected in 1966 — as a Republican.

De Blasio's unexpected rise in the polls and even more unexpectedly easy romp over Lhota is a big opportunity for the more liberal, populist faction of the Democratic Party — and a challenge to the Democratic centrists.

"Since the days of Bill Clinton and the New Democrats," says Cassidy, "it has been a totem of faith in some liberal-progressive circles that the key to lifting up the lower ranks lies in downplaying social and economic conflicts, cozying up to business interests, and tackling inequality covertly, through largely invisible subsidies such as the Earned Income Tax Credit." That's not de Blasio's plan.

De Blasio and the "mix of young progressives, reconstituted '60s- and '70s-era lefties," and union activists likely to be elected alongside him "say government shouldn't just allow for change — it should force new change on the city and private sector," says Edward-Isaac Dovere at Politico.

That means universal pre-K; closed tax loopholes; pensions divested from fossil fuel companies; family-friendlier work policies, including financial support for single parents; and paid sick leave requirements. And on the housing front: More market regulation, leveraging of privately owned real estate that's in trouble, and greater community power over developers' plans. [Politico]

De Blasio won't be the only progressive-activist mayor in America, but "the importance and size of New York make de Blasio and the incoming officials a much bigger deal for the movement, in both spotlight and potential," says Isaac-Dovere.

New York is also a unique city, with a glaringly large divide between the super wealthy and those struggling to get by. So, does de Blasio's likely win signal a bigger shift in the Democratic Party?

It should, if Democrats will just ignore the "Beltway insiders," says Richard Eskow at The Huffington Post. On Tuesday, "de Blasio's victory will be dismissed by most pundits," he says, who will instead point to the gubernatorial wins by the supposedly "centrist" Terry McAuliffe (D) in Virginia and Chris Christie (R) in New Jersey as the big stories of the night.

That's hogwash, Eskow says. McAuliffe will win because he's slightly less unpopular than his opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, while Christie is just an "extraordinarily gifted politician" who understands how to use his power. Democrats are going to have to look at outsider candidates like de Blasio if they want to succeed. That's partly because of America's changing demographics, but also because de Blasio's ideas are really quite popular.

Poll after poll has reported that Americans want more done on jobs. They want higher taxes for the wealthy and corporations. They want more educational opportunity, more social mobility, and more confidence in their economic future. These are policy planks that win. [The Huffington Post]

If de Blasio represents the more egalitarian faction of the Democrats, newly minted Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) exemplifies the corporate wing, says Harold Meyerson at The American Prospect. And "each personifies a distinct future for the Democratic Party — futures that ultimately are mutually exclusive."

At a basic level, Booker and his ideological allies, like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), view "the corporate and financial sectors as allies in helping America's poor," says Meyerson. De Blasio and his side, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Jeff Merkley (Oregon), see "the corporate and financial sectors as the groups that have used their power to rig the economy in their favor and at everyone else's expense." The base is on de Blasio's side, Meyerson adds.

Perhaps the largest question for Democrats is how the party's presumptive presidential nominee will respond to this rift. If Hillary Clinton continues to take counsel from her family's retinue of economic retainers — Robert Rubin and his many protégés — that would signal a continuation of Bill-Clintonomics.... To connect with that new generation of Democratic activists, however, Hillary Clinton would need a new generation of advisers who'd recommend policies that would more forcefully take on America's plutocratic order. More de Blasio, less Booker. Therein lies the Democratic future — if that future is to last. [The American Prospect]

De Blasio is more pragmatic than many of his fans and critics acknowledge — the New York Post's "'Che de Blasio' tag" is a willfully blind caricature, says The New Yorker's Cassidy. "In fashioning his populist campaign message, de Blasio was reacting to a changed political environment, one that was buoyed by the energy of the Occupy Wall Street movement," but he's hardly "a left-wing bogeyman who will send the bankers fleeing to Greenwich." The bigger question for his future, and the future of the Democratic faction he now represents, is this: Will he be a good mayor?

Will de Blasio be able to make the step up from critic and advocate to leader and administrator? Will he be able to reach agreements with the municipal unions and wring out of the budget more services for the city's residents? Can he persuade Albany to raise taxes on the rich?... Some people remain skeptical, especially the establishment types who would gladly have handed [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg yet another four years. But, given the skillful campaign that de Blasio has run and the huge mandate that a record-breaking victory would confer, he could well prove to be a more formidable mayor than they suggest. In any case, a de Blasio mayoralty will be widely viewed as a test case for liberal reformers everywhere. [The New Yorker]

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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