The lanky de Blasio was digging into a bowl of penne pasta at a corner restaurant near his home in Brooklyn. It was a day after his first general election debate against Republican Joe Lhota, and the press reviews noted that the front-runner acted almost like the underdog, pounding his opponent rather than sitting on his lead. “In general I believe in an aggressive strategy,” he told me. “I’m not a rope-a-dope kind of guy.”
Not so many months ago, de Blasio was a distinct underdog in a four-way Democratic primary, overshadowed by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the early favorite, and Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman who decided to seek redemption by running for mayor.
In the end his rivals faded, and de Blasio won the primary without a runoff. Today, polls show him with a lead of roughly 40 points. If current trends hold, he would be headed toward one of the biggest victories in an open-seat race in the modern history of the city.
De Blasio’s campaign theme is “a tale of two cities.” He represents a clear departure from many of the policies of the Bloomberg administration, as well as the national Republican Party, to which he has sought to tie Lhota. He wants to sound an alarm about a city in which nearly half the population lives on incomes of 150 percent of the poverty level or less.
“I talk about a crisis of inequality because it’s not just about the cost of living,” he said. “It’s not just about the dumbing down of wages and benefits. It’s not just about the effects of the recession. It is all that plus continuing inequalities in education, continuing inequalities in health care, obviously deeper inequalities in policing that we experienced, say, a decade ago.”
De Blasio wants to raise income tax rates on the wealthy to pay for early childhood and after-school programs. He advocates more-generous paid sick leave for families. He has challenged the Bloomberg administration’s charter school policies, particularly the policy of allowing such schools to use city facilities rent-free. He was sharply critical of the city’s stop-and-frisk policy, a key element of its anti-crime efforts that was later declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.
“He is poised to be the most progressive big-city mayor in America,” said Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor under Bloomberg and someone who has known de Blasio for many years.