Jon Stewart, to DeBlasio: "Adopt meee....."
Really. How awesome is that! I mean, compared to this:
Sure, Bloomberg likes calling himself the "manager of the metropole". Very humble, very modest. The chosen title shows that the otherwise ambitious and, frankly, kindof awkward founder of a multi-billion information empire, is more like a facilitator rather than influencer. Someone who's only supposed to channel the natural processes in the city without really influencing their course (or, heaven forbid, stopping them).
But now New York City has a chance of having a leader who's promising a more proactive stance. De Blasio won the Democratic nomination with ideas that weren't being taken seriously just a few weeks ago. And now he'll be facing the almost anonymous kitten-slayer Joe Lhota, and if no huge scandal breaks out, chances are Teh Evil Liburl will be NYC's new mayor.
That makes him the next rising star on the American political sky, doesn't it? And I bet both the media and the voters (but especially the media!) will be scrambling to learn more about him. Besides, the way he won the nomination may've exposed the ages-old ethnic and social divisions within the metropole in a new way, and it could be suggestive of the new dynamics in American society. Same could be said about the economic and political expectations to various metropoles and the shifting role of their administrations these days (but more about that, a bit further down).
Because what's happening in America's biggest city (and undoubtedly its unofficial cultural and economic capital) has always been indicative of the moods elsewhere across the country. Or at least those relevant to the most active and cosmopolitan layer of American society. Most of the important political developments have originated from NYC at some point, or have been tested there first - from the active involvement of minorities in governing, to billionaires eagerly putting their bank checks on the table to push forward their own ideas for governing. And, if we're to trust the revelations of journalists Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, even the paranoid surveillance programs on all communications in and out of the US have their prototype of action at the brink of the law and common sense, exactly in the NYPD who almost seem obsessed with watching every move of every Muslim across town. So, peering closer at what's happening in the Big Apple may give us a good notion of the current transformations in American society and US politics.
See, in NYC the number of registered Democrats beats that of the Republicans by more than 6 to 1. On federal elections the city always votes democrat (81% for Obama in 2012, wow). But! For the last 2 decades and more it's been ruled by Republicans - first Giuliani, then Bloomberg (remember, he was a GOP-er before casting his red cloak away and becoming independent, and that only happened in his last term).
I'm sure our Newyorker pals here would be able to enlighten me better on this, but from where I stand, it seems the reason for this paradox is in the big problem with crime that was in place in the 70s/80s, when NYC was rivaling some Third World cities in terms of crime rates. First the power policies of democrat Ed Koch and then of republican Giuliani must have gradually put an end to the fears of ordinary Newyorkers. Then 9-11 accelerated the tendency for putting extra focus on anti-terrorism during Bloomberg's tenure. A point was reached where former mayor Giuliani couldn't complete a sentence without uttering the "9-11" mantra.
It's worth noting that before De Blasio rose on the sky like a supernova, almost for a year another democrat with an interesting background was being considered the front-runner for the mayoral chair. Christine Quinn was sure to become the first woman and first openly lesbian to sit there. Her major advantage was her long-time partnership with Bloomberg in her capacity of Speaker of the NY City Council. No surprise, she was promising to continue his policies. Even her campaign HQ, coincidence or not, was set up just next to the newly built Freedom Tower and the 9-11 memorial. Even geographically, Ms Quinn was emphasizing on her connection with the two major pillars of Bloomberg's legacy: security, and the city's love affair with Wall Street.
Well, De Blasio must have noticed the pendulum preparing to swing back. Especially since crime has been steadily going down for years. That makes such excesses like Stop&Frisk a bit too much for many Newyorkers. Especially African Americans and Latinos. De Blasio's fierce criticism must have hit on the right spot, and helped him bring the attention upon himself, which in turn allowed him to promote his other ideas. Apparently, many Newyorkers feel the current policies are creating a sort of vacuum for all other important issues.
Even NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly's "warnings" to all candidates ("Do not forget 9-11, etc, etc") could not swing the moods away from De Blasio. Sure, a party preliminary could hardly be qualified as a "revolution", but De Blasio's triumph there indicates that America is witnessing a wave of pushback against excessive indulgence into police measures and the temptation to curb personal liberties as an excuse for providing security.
What must have perplexed a lot of people is how a seemingly trivial candidate (white middle-aged guy with PhDs from prestigious US universities but without too much experience in government) now finds himself at pole position in what looks to me like the most colorful campaign in the history of New York. I mean, just look at the other candidates in the Democratic camp! Quinn, a woman and lesbian; Thompson, an Afro-American; John Liu, Asian-American; and don't even get me started on Señor Carlos Danger (hey, a Jew married to a Muslim, and one that's got a lot of heat for that, mind you). And yet, women, minorities and the gay community have all picked up De Blasio to be "their" politician. Kinda weird, huh?
Christine Quinn must be particularly disappointed, because despite her historic candidacy she ended up 3rd in the vote. Some are now post-factum complaining how she only figured out towards the end of her campaign she could use her gender and sexual orientation as a "card" to her own benefit. But that's not exactly true. After all, she did have town-hall meetings as early as spring, just at Stonewall Inn, the bar of the 1969 riots that started the modern gay movement. An exercise she repeated in the run-up to the primaries. So that's no argument.
In fact this election was choke-full of minority candidates (which made them the majority of runners, lol). So, just being member of a marginalized group is not enough any more. The presence of so many diverse fates and backgrounds has taken the fave labels of "the only one", "the first one", "a historic one" away from the media, and allowed the public interest to focus on the actual ideas of the candidates (if any). Turns out that the desire for "making history" alone is not a sufficient argument for giving your vote to a particular candidate. Indeed, in Christine Quinn's case there are occasions where she may've not defended women's interests that much. Or, as Susan Sarandon remarked, "You can't just vote with your vagina".
The famous sociologist John Zogby who presented his new book First Globals as the vote was going, even sees an important tendency in all this. He argues that those of his generation who grew up at the time of the struggle for civil rights, used to assume that as soon as many African Americans occupied important posts, all would change. But when they actually did, turned out those were as corrupt as the white politicians. He makes a similar case about women's involvement in politics: while acknowledging that some changes have happened, they're nowhere near as many as anticipated. So the newer generations who've seen minority politicians at the high ranks, are a bit more skeptical about these things. It's not labels that matter so much for them, but the policies. And that's something that has the potential to break the status quo of the American social and political model.
Despite the concerns of some paranoid folks on the far-right, De Blasio is far from being the radical socialist who'd seize Wall Street's billions (if for anything, at least because, just like most other candidates, he does have some serious donors from there). Even his anti-Bloomberg rhetoric was mainly about not having enough cycling lanes and parks around town, and about the state of the city infrastructure. And more importantly, he argues that the incumbent is viewing the increasing gap between poor and wealthy as some sort of natural process - while De Blasio himself is promising to be a more active mayor in this respect, which may've helped him resonate better with the moods of the voters. Call it populist if you like, but there it is.
Now this is a recent book from Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institute, The Metropolitan Revolution. In a nutshell, the idea is that, being tired of the political standoff in DC, the major US cities are gradually taking their fate in their own hands. The local administrations are no longer waiting for money and ideas to come from above (because those won't come anyway), but instead are beginning to initiate their own changes.
The same is valid globaly as well, by the way. Metropoles like New York, London, Shanghai and Sydney are already competing with each other for attracting economic, public and cultural resources, without waiting for help from the clumsy national governments that are often intertwined with other interests that are not necessarily favorable to the needs of the particular city.
That's why it's logical that America's most populous city would fall in love with a politician who, at least at first sight, doesn't look very much in line with the general moods and policies from around the nation. But one who can put his finger on the pulse of his city's problems, and then articulate the relevant proposals for solutions.