Saturday, October 26, 2013

Queens: The Ohio of NYC

When people ask why New York City has elected Republican mayors for the past twenty years, the answer is to be found in Queens. In their tight victories in 1993 and 2001/2009, Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg owed their wins to getting a large chunk of votes in the borough. According to the last Census, Queens has a population almost 2.5 million, a close second to Brooklyn. 

If Staten Island is the Alabama of NYC and the Bronx is the Massachusetts, Queens is the city's Ohio -- the swing borough, the place where mayors are made. Unlike the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, which are highly urban and Democratic, or Staten Island, which is nearly highly suburban and Republican, Queens is a mixture of urban and suburban, Democrat and Republican. In a diverse city, Queens is its most diverse borough -- ethnically, racially, economically, and politically.

Most of our city's mayors have been Manhattanites or were living there when elected. After all, Manhattan was home to Tammany Hall, the political machine that controlled the city's government for close to two centuries. But Tammany Hall is long gone; Manhattan is no longer "the center of it all." These days, if you believe the hype, New York City is experiencing a Brooklyn Moment. From Girls to food co-ops, Brooklyn is on the rise -- heck, it's become a brand. If Brooklyn-resident Bill De Blasio is elected our 109th mayor on November 5th, the Brooklyn Moment will be complete. 

But his margin of victory and the depth of his support will be determined in Queens.

Assuming he wins, De Blasio will rack up huge margins in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Joe Lhota will probably win Staten Island and still lose the election overwhelmingly (much as Fernando Ferrer won the Bronx in 2005 and still lost the mayoralty by twenty points). Wealthy Manhattan may be more friendly to Lhota, as it was to Bloomberg and Giuliani, but De Blasio should still do well there. But if the middle-class white ethnic vote in Queens turns out for Lhota, and the minority voters in borough don't do the same for De Blasio, De Blasio's margin of victory might not be as huge as most polls predict. While De Blasio will certainly do better in Queens than previous (losing) Democratic candidates, he won't necessarily sweep the borough this year.

Also, Queens is the only borough to feature competitive city council races between Democrats and Republicans -- in areas like Bayside, Howard Beach, and Middle Village. Currently, two of these seats are held by Republicans. The Bayside seat is held by indicted Republican Dan Halloran (who is not running for reelection) and the race to replace him, between Democrat Paul Vallone and Republican Dennis Saffran, is fierce. In Howard Beach, Councilman Erich Ulrich is running for reelection against Democrat Lew Simon, who lost a close special election to Ulrich in 2009. The Middle Village race has Democrat Elizabeth Crowley running for reelection in a seat previously held by Republicans. If either Saffran or Ulrich wins, or if Crowley loses, in the face of a De Blasio landslide, it will show that even in a deeply Democratic city, these conservative pockets in Queens remain strong -- now and in the future.

However, if De Blasio triumphs in the borough and the Republicans lose these council seats, not only will De Blasio's margin of victory be enormous but it will show that the city has most definitively swung in a Democratic direction. His unapologetic progressive agenda will have the people's blessing. Like Ohio in presidential election, Queens will have the final word. 

So if De Blasio wins big, this Brooklyn Moment will have been brought to you courtesy of Queens.

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