Progressive De Blasio Leads New York Mayoral Race

It's been 24 years since New York City voters elected a Democrat mayor. The candidate who's the most progressive is the favorite to win Tuesday's crowded primary.

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New York City voters go to the polls next Tuesday to choose their party's candidates to try to succeed three-term mayor Michael Bloomberg. Anna Sale of member station WNYC has this look at the Democratic frontrunner.

ANNA SALE, BYLINE: Summer in New York began with former congressman Anthony Weiner leaping to the top of polls when he entered the mayor's race. Within weeks though, he admitted his sexting habit didn't end when he resigned from Congress. He's been dogged by embarrassing questions since, like in this confrontation this week with a Jewish voter that went viral.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE ARGUING)

SAUL KESSLER: ...disgusting things, you have the nerve to even walk around in public...

ANTHONY WEINER: And you're a perfect person? You're my judge? You're...

KESSLER: But I didn't do what you did.

WEINER: What rabbi taught you that?

SALE: Weiner's now polling in the single digits. And in the last days of this primary campaign, there's a new candidate on top. Bill De Blasio, who was elected New York's public advocate four years ago. De Blasio has been running all along as the anti-Bloomberg. His campaign's focused a relentless critique on New York's income gap, which he repeated in the final Democratic debate this week.

BILL DE BLASIO: We're living a tale of two cities. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer; 46 percent of New Yorkers at or near the poverty level.

SALE: De Blasio has also prominently featured his mixed-race family. De Blasio is white, his wife is black. His biracial teenage son, Dante, has started in several TV commercials.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

DANTE DE BLASIO: He's the only candidate who has the guts to really break through the Bloomberg years, the only one who will raise taxes on the rich, to fund early childhood and after-school programs.

SALE: Dante has a prominent Afro, and the De Blasio campaign urged supporters on Twitter to use the hashtag #gowiththefro. It's made the 16-year-old a celebrity on the campaign trail, like at the West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn where Caribbean-American voter Deyon Roman watched the De Blasio family march by.

DEYON ROMAN: Listen, I think that family's awesome. When I see the kids, they look like my kid, so you know what? We are one happy family.

SALE: De Blasio is now polling better with likely black voters than the only black candidate, former city comptroller Bill Thompson. He also has a substantial edge with likely women voters, with double the support of the woman candidate, city council speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn was once the frontrunner and would be the city's first woman and openly gay mayor, but she's also been a sometime ally of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

That gives Lana Hill, a Democratic voter in Manhattan, some pause.

LANA HILL: Times are definitely changing and I think that would be a beautiful thing. I'm just afraid she's going to carry on a little bit of the Bloomberg legacy.

SALE: So it's not just Weiner's fallen star that's helped lift De Blasio. It's also the shadow of Mayor Bloomberg. Marist College poll director Lee Miringoff says the Democrats are increasingly focused on issues where they differ from Bloomberg, like affordability and reforming the policing tactic known as stop-and-frisk.

LEE MIRINGOFF: He's close to the business community, understandably, to the financial community. The stop-and-frisk policy has been very controversial, especially with the large number of minority voters who are part of the Democratic primary electorate.

SALE: So Tuesday's primary does not decide the next mayor, but Democrats really like their chances. They've long held a registration advantage and early polls showed any of the leading Democrats with wide leads in Republican match-ups. But as De Blasio's fortunes have risen, so has fundraising on the other side.

A poll this week showed De Blasio breaking the 40 percent threshold, which means he could avoid a runoff, the same week billionaire activist David Koch and his wife Julia donated $290,000 to an independent group backing a Republican in the race. For NPR News, I'm Anna Sale in New York.

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