Politics
3:26 pm
Sat July 6, 2013

Big Personalities Are Front And Center In NYC Mayoral Race

Originally published on Fri July 12, 2013 11:49 am

Everything about the New York City mayor's race is supersized.

No less than a dozen candidates are vying to succeed Michael Bloomberg as leader of the nation's biggest city — five Republicans and seven Democrats. The candidates have appeared at more than 100 forums and debates, and the primary is still two months away.

Observers say that the crowded field could favor big personalities.

"The primary may well come down to personality, as opposed to substance," says Kenneth Sherrill, an emeritus professor of political science at Hunter College who has watched every New York mayoral primary since 1961.

"Personality is easy for the voter to understand," Sherrill adds. "Issues are complex and difficult. So emphasizing personality is frequently a wise strategy, if not good for democracy."

The leading Democratic candidates seem to be heeding that advice.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn recently published With Patience and Fortitude, a memoir of her struggles with bulimia and alcoholism. "It's not a political book," she said in an interview last month with CBS This Morning. "That was purposeful. I want to talk about who I am personally and how I got here."

If she wins, Quinn would be the city's first openly gay mayor. She was considered the early front-runner. But lately, her poll numbers have been slipping. And that may have a lot to do with the deal Quinn struck to overturn the city's term-limits law, allowing Bloomberg to win a third term in 2009.

"The third term is hanging around her neck," says Christina Greer, assistant professor of political science at Fordham University. "[Quinn] has essentially been branded with the mantle of 'You are Bloomberg's mini-me, and you made the third term happen,' " Greer says. "I don't think that that's necessarily 100 percent of the story. But that is the narrative that's attached to her that she just can't shake."

Quinn's slide in the polls has coincided with the rise of another big personality: former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. The married Weiner resigned after tweeting lewd pictures of himself to other women and then lying about it.

Weiner has gotten a lot of attention since he jumped into the race in May, though he acknowledges that some voters will never trust him again.

"I completely understand it," Weiner said in an interview with local TV station PIX 11. "But even for those people, even for the people who say, 'You know what, Weiner, I never want to vote for you again,' I even want them to read my ideas and think about what they want in the next mayor."

That next mayor might just turn out to be Weiner: One recent poll shows him leading the Democratic field; another has him running second to Quinn.

And there's a third Democrat who's mounting a serious charge.

Former city Comptroller Bill Thompson has racked up some major endorsements, including one earlier this week from the Transport Workers Union.

"These are the working, middle-class New Yorkers who continue to be squeezed each and every day," Thompson said after accepting the endorsement. "And we need to stand with them to make sure that this city continues to bounce back for all New Yorkers."

Thompson would be the city's first African-American mayor in a generation. He won the Democratic nomination four years ago, but he's running a distant third this year.

It's unlikely that any of the Democratic hopefuls will get enough votes on Sept. 10 to avoid a runoff election. That means the top two finishers will probably face off again in early October. Many observers believe that the eventual Democratic nominee has a good chance of winning in November.

And Hunter College's Sherrill expects a big fight to the finish. "The mud will be flowing; blood will be splattering," he says. "It'll be great fun."

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Transcript

REBECCA SHEIR, HOST:

We'll turn now to New York City where, in just a few months, voters will head to the polls to choose a successor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. No fewer than a dozen candidates are vying to lead the nation's largest city. Many observers believe that the Democratic nominee has a good chance of winning in November. But there are few other predictions you can make about this wide-open race, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Everything about the New York City mayor's race is supersized. The candidates have appeared at more than 100 forums and debates, and the primary is still two months away. The field itself is big too: five Republicans and seven Democrats. And that could favor big personalities.

KENNETH SHERRILL: The primary may well come down to personality as opposed to substance. That's not unusual in primaries.

ROSE: Ken Sherrill has watched every New York mayoral primary since 1961. He's an emeritus professor of political science at Hunter College.

SHERRILL: Personality is easy for the voter to understand. Issues are complex and difficult. So emphasizing personality is frequently a wise strategy, if not good for democracy.

ROSE: The leading Democratic candidates seem to be heeding that advice. The city council speaker Christine Quinn published a memoir of her struggles with bulimia and alcohol addiction. Here she is last month on "CBS This Morning."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS THIS MORNING")

CHRISTINE QUINN: Well, as I say in the book, it's a personal memoir. It's not a political book, and that was purposeful. I wanted to talk about who I am personally and how I got here.

ROSE: Quinn would be the city's first openly gay mayor. She was considered the early front-runner. But lately, her poll numbers have been slipping. And that may have a lot to do with the deal Quinn struck to overturn the city's term-limits law, allowing Mayor Michael Bloomberg to win a third term.

CHRISTINA GREER: The third term is hanging around her neck.

ROSE: Christina Greer teaches political science at Fordham University.

GREER: She's essentially been branded with the mantle of, you are Bloomberg's mini-me, and you made the third term happen. I don't think that that's necessarily 100 percent of the story. But that is the narrative that's attached to her that she just can't shake.

ROSE: Quinn's slide in the polls has coincided with the rise of another big personality: Anthony Weiner, the former congressman who resigned after tweeting lewd pictures of himself to women who are not his wife and then lying about it. Weiner has gotten a lot of attention since he jumped into the race in May, though he acknowledges that some voters will never trust him again.

ANTHONY WEINER: I completely understand it. But even for those people, even for the people who say, you know what, Weiner, I never want to vote for you again, I even want them to read my ideas and think about what they want in the next mayor and to have...

ROSE: The next mayor who might be Anthony Weiner. A recent poll shows him leading the Democratic field; another has him running second to Quinn. And there's a third Democrat who's mounting a serious charge.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So without further ado, Bill Thompson.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BILL THOMPSON: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Our candidate for mayor.

ROSE: Former city comptroller Bill Thompson has racked up some major endorsements, including one earlier this week from the Transport Workers Union.

These are the working, middle-class New Yorkers who continue to be squeezed each and every day. And we need to stand with them and make sure that this city continues to bounce back for all New Yorkers.

Thompson would be the city's first African-American mayor in a generation. He won the Democratic nomination four years ago, but he's running a distant third this year. It's unlikely that any of the Democratic hopefuls will get enough votes on September 10 to avoid a runoff election. That means the top two finishers will probably face off again in early October. And Hunter College's Ken Sherrill expects a big fight to the finish.

SHERRILL: The mud will be flowing, blood will be splattering. It'll be great fun.

ROSE: Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

SHEIR: Now an update on the ongoing news this hour. A passenger jet crashed while it was landing earlier morning at San Francisco International Airport. At this time, there are reports of at least two fatalities and area hospitals have received at least 70 people with injuries, as many as 10 of them critical. At a press conference this evening, Debbie Hersman of the National transportation Safety Board said the agency has very little information at this point.

DEBBIE HERSMAN: We're certainly going to be looking at the aircraft to try to find the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorders are functioning at the time of the accident. We'll be looking to get information from them as well as document the accident scene.

SHEIR: Debbie Hersman, part of the National Transportation Safety Board team that will be investigating the crash. Passenger Elliott Stone was on the plan and spoke to CNN.

ELLIOTT STONE: Well, the first announcement was, everybody stay calm. We were like, what? We're - and everyone was leaving still, just buckle up and - or buckled out and just rushed out the doors. There wasn't any slides or anything. We didn't have a slide. We just jumped off.

SHEIR: Passenger Elliott Stone talking to CNN. The Asiana Airlines jet was coming from Seoul, South Korea. People were seeing escaping the aircraft through emergency exit slides. Flights are delayed at airports across the country as a result of the crash. We'll get the latest from San Francisco coming up. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.