If de Blasio wins, he’ll have to face the music
By Michael Goodwin
October 23, 2013 | 5:33am
Having pulled a shocking upset, the winning candidate is, well, shocked. “What do we do now?” he asks his handler.
The question is left hanging in the 1972 movie “The Candidate,” where Robert Redford plays a politician who, never expecting to win, had given no thought to governing.
I suspect Bill de Blasio is familiar with the terrifying feeling.
Polls show the Democrat with a huge lead, but his weak performance at last night’s mayoral debate should spark buyers’ remorse among supporters. He gave incoherent and at times dishonest answers about the most important issues facing New York, raising fresh doubts about whether de Blasio is ready for the job.
Republican Joe Lhota, on the other hand, passed crucial tests about his own convictions and qualifications. The punch-pulling hesitancy he showed in last week’s debate was gone, replaced with a forceful vision for keeping the city safe and supporting parental choice on schools. And befitting his underdog status, he repeatedly took the fight to de Blasio.
As a result, the contrasts on key issues were stark. And despite de Blasio’s attempts to fudge his attacks on the NYPD, the veneer came off to reveal a thin skin and a nasty habit of making wild charges.
Pressed by Lhota about his work for David Dinkins during the Crown Heights anti-Semitic riots 22 years ago, de Blasio quickly reached for the race card. He called Lhota’s ad on the Dinkins years “race baiting and fear mongering” only a few minutes after urging Lhota “to not use incendiary terms.”
He also alternately praised the NYPD and accused it of racial profiling and spying on Muslims, then said the department should use “overwhelming force” in riots. Wanting it both ways made him look casually conniving and lacking conviction, a charge his primary opponents often made.
The excellent moderator, Channel 2 anchor Maurice DuBois, began by zeroing in on crime, and kept coming back to it.
He asked de Blasio about the fact that the public, by 62 percent to 30 in a Quinnipiac poll, thinks keeping crime low is more important than reforming stop-and-frisk. It’s an important distinction because many of de Blasio’s supporters don’t support big parts of his agenda. The gap could mean victory would come with a short leash and not much of a mandate.
That should alarm de Blasio, who barely mentions crime itself, leaving the impression he sees cops as more of a problem than criminals. Similarly, another poll found 62 percent want Ray Kelly to remain police commissioner, even as de Blasio says he will fire him.
The pattern is clear: After 20 years of falling crime, New Yorkers have come to expect safe streets, and woe is the mayor who allows murder to make a comeback.
That concern is Lhota’s strong suit and he played it well. He credited his former boss Rudy Giuliani with starting “the renaissance” in New York, a point he shied away from in the first debate. And when de Blasio accused Giuliani of being “divisive,” Lhota made the same charge of Dinkins and said that’s why he was fired after one term. Touché.
The exchange highlighted my belief that this election, featuring loyalists from both camps, is something of a referendum on the last 20 years. On facts alone, Lhota has the upper hand and is better prepared to be mayor.
But de Blasio is an experienced politician who, although he won the primary with only 40 percent, inherits the Dems’ 6-1 registration advantage. After 20 years of being shut out of City Hall, the party is hungry for power and patronage. De Blasio stokes that appetite by sneering that Lhota is a Republican.
All’s fair in politics, but only in Hollywood can the winner escape the question of how he will govern. If the polls hold, de Blasio will have to face the music, ready or not.