Following an eventful campaign, New Yorkers are heading to the polls today for the city's primary elections. The Democratic mayoral primary has been the focus of the most headlines, with "a scandal over lewd pictures, an accusation of racism, a council leader vying to be the city's first female, openly gay mayor, and a see-sawing list of front-runners," writes Edith Honan at Reuters.
Among the Democrats, the lead has bounced from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to sexting-scandal-plagued former congressman Anthony Weiner to current favorite Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate. Tuesday's vote is much more than the finale of a political carnival, though. Primary voters will be picking their parties' candidates for a November general election that will decide who will succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has left an indelible mark on the nation's most populous city since he won the first of his three terms in 2001.
Here are five key questions to keep an eye on, even if you're not from New York:
1. Will Bill de Blasio be forced into a run-off?
Late polls have de Blasio at 36 percent or more, putting him 14 percentage points ahead of Quinn and former city Comptroller Bill Thompson. The main question for Democrats is whether de Blasio can win 40 percent of the vote, which would give him the nomination without the need for an October run-off. Weiner is out of contention — he polls in single digits — but Quinn or Thompson could force de Blasio into another round in three weeks. The dynamic between de Blasio and Quinn has been likened to Hillary and Obama circa 2008, and you can expect that comparison to continue if they're in a run-off together.
2. Will New York City finally elect a Democrat?
Gotham has a reputation for being very liberal, but New York City hasn't elected a Democratic mayor since 1989, when David Dinkins became the first African-American to win the job. "This is shaping up to be the year that streak ends," says Peter Hamby at CNN. Without a strong Republican in the field, the Democratic primary winner will be the strong favorite in November. After 12 years, "Bloomberg fatigue" is running high, Hamby says, and voters are focusing on issues that serve Democrats well, including affordable housing, income inequality, education, and the New York Police Department's controversial tactic known as stop-and-frisk. Should a Democrat win the election and de-fang stop-and-frisk, the move could help prevent similar policies from spreading to other cities.
3. How big of a role will race play on Election Day?
De Blasio was in the second tier of candidates until his staunch opposition to stop-and-frisk helped catapult him into the lead. Many campaign watchers credited de Blasio's biracial, 15-year old son Dante, who starred in a TV ad denouncing the tactic. In the commercial, Dante, sporting an impressive afro, looks at the camera and touts his dad as "the only Democrat with the guts to really break from the Bloomberg years" and "end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color." De Blasio went into today's vote leading Thompson, the lone black candidate, 39 percent to 25 percent among African-American voters.
Bloomberg blasted de Blasio, telling New York that the front-runner was using his biracial family as part of a "class-warfare and racist" campaign. Keith Boykin at BET says that if de Blasio wins it might indeed be due to the influence of a black teenage boy — but it won't be Dante. "Instead, I'm talking about Trayvon Martin," he says. "After all, it was the Martin case, and the Zimmerman verdict that followed, that prepared New Yorkers for Dante de Blasio's subtle but powerful message against racial profiling."
4. What does this mean for Bloomberg's legacy?
Bloomberg has criticized de Blasio and his rivals in the final days before the vote, and it is easy to see why. The campaign "has increasingly turned on crucial elements of his legacy on public safety and income inequality," notes The New York Times. De Blasio in particular has been promising a clean break from the reign of Bloomberg, a business-friendly billionaire, says Hamby, and is "running as an unabashed liberal, pledging to raise taxes on the wealthy and end stop-and-frisk."
De Blasio has clearly "gotten under the mayor's skin," says Frank Bruni at The New York Times, by hammering the fact that income inequality has increased in New York City under Bloomberg. That reflects a national trend, though, Bruni says, and not Bloomberg's policies. Like other politicians, he has "worshiped at the altar of Wall Street," Bruni says, but his agenda has been more focused on green initiatives and improving public health.
However the election ends, this won't be the last you'll hear from Bloomberg. While he has said he won't run for president when his term's up, he'll still own Bloomberg News and have his very own, very wealthy PAC. He won't be out of the national limelight for long.
5. How willing are voters to forgive and forget?
Anthony Weiner wasn't the only disgraced politician who had hoped to resurrect his career in the city's elections. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 after a prostitution scandal, is in the running for the Democratic nomination for comptroller. "It's been a year of both successful (Rep. Mark Sanford [R-S.C.]) and disastrous (former congressman Anthony Weiner) comeback bids," says Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post, and Spitzer "is the next big question mark."
Spitzer entered election day essentially tied in the polls with rival Scott Stringer. Spitzer, thanks to his family's real-estate fortune, has outspent Stringer, $9.3 million to $5.6 million. But Stringer has the endorsement of the city's labor unions and many elected officials. Since this election has often felt like the perfect PR experiment in voter forgiveness, a Spitzer victory could lay the groundwork for other fallen pols to resurrect their careers — John Edwards 2016 anyone?