The Little Neck–Douglaston Memorial Day Parade is one of New York’s great big-city small-town events. It begins with an appropriately somber wreath-laying ceremony at the local veterans’ monument. Then there are free burgers for kids and vets at St. Anastasia’s Parish Hall and American flags waving all along the mile-long march down Northern Boulevard. The parade touts itself as the country’s largest Memorial Day commemoration—making it a magnet for politicians every year. This year, though, the mayoral candidates nearly outnumber the marching bands.
The pomp is perfectly timed. Memorial Day marks the true, if unofficial, start of the race for City Hall. The contenders have been out there for months already, of course, glad-handing at grocery-store openings and chattering through double- and triple-header candidate forums. But Primary Day is now just fifteen weeks away; important endorsements will be landing shortly; the press is dialing up its attention. It’s pure coincidence, but this year the holiday marker arrives at an especially appropriate moment: The four major Democratic candidates are closer than ever in the polls, with a fifth, wild-card contender jumping in last week to scramble the field even more.
Oh, and after Memorial Day, the voters will be watching more closely. True, most civilians will be busy going to the beach. But in between the fun stuff will come moments of civic clarity, sharpened by the growing realization that after twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg, leadership of the city is truly up for grabs: One third of likely primary voters say they’re willing to switch horses. That’s a huge, highly persuadable bloc. As the race resets and the summer campaign unfolds, here are five pivotal trends and twists to scrutinize.
(1) Anthony Weiner will own June.
What promises to be the weirdest mayoral candidacy ever (sorry, Jimmy McMillan) is off to a fittingly weird start. Weiner posted a video in the middle of the night announcing his run, then spent the rest of the day refusing to emerge from his apartment while reporters camped outside the building. The next day, a roiling horde of cameras and microphones surrounded him from Harlem to Soho to the Bronx. Weiner immediately became the campaign’s biggest story. Just how big depends on how much he cracks wise and how much he stays on the high road of talking about issues. Either way, Weiner will dominate coverage for the next several weeks. This is good news for Christine Quinn, in the short run: It denies her rivals the spotlight they very much need to gain name recognition and ground, and it takes more time off the clock. But Weiner could be a serious headache for the vulnerable front-runner, if he chooses to aggressively articulate the case against her and grabs a decent share of outer-borough white votes. We’ll know whether Weiner is a real force or a sideshow by July 4. First, though …
(2) The labor unions will flex their muscle.
There are four, maybe five labor unions that matter in local elections, because they have sizable memberships and sophisticated political operations. “Each one has specific policy issues it cares about,” a labor insider says. “But what they all care about most with their endorsements is backing a winner.” SEIU 1199, the hospital-workers union, got an early jump, endorsing Bill de Blasio—an absolutely essential boost for the candidate as he tried to get ahead of Weiner’s entry and pry minority votes away from Bill Thompson. Two smaller but highly potent unions—the Hotel Trades Council and 32BJ, which represents building-service workers—are very much in play. Quinn, as Council speaker, has helped pass legislation friendly to both. De Blasio has deep ties to the movement. Racial politics would seem to favor Thompson: Hotels and 32BJ have sizable minority memberships. And John Liu has won hearts. “We had a candidates forum, and afterward John hung around for 35, 40 minutes, going around and connecting with the hardest-core activists we’ve got,” says a union boss who is still on the fence. “John is a great campaigner.” Then there’s the United Federation of Teachers. With 200,000 members and an experienced get-out-the-vote machine, the UFT is probably the biggest prize. It also has a leader, Michael Mulgrew, who isn’t shy about playing kingmaker. “We don’t pick winners, we make them,” he says, shrugging off the suggestion that his anointed candidate will look beholden to the UFT. “We’ve been in a street war for four years with this mayor, okay?” Mulgrew says. “My membership dislikes [Bloomberg] probably more than any individual in the history of the union. They didn’t like Giuliani, but they really don’t like this guy.” Which would seem to bode ill for Quinn. The UFT announces its choice on June 19. There’s a frantic effort going on to get the teachers, hotels, and 32BJ behind the same Democrat. But if the unions split their endorsements, it increases the likelihood that …