That De Blasio lives in Brooklyn should help his chances—if Liu doesn’t run, De Blasio will be the only outer-borough resident in the field—as does the fact that De Blasio’s wife happens to be Barbadian-American.* His camp also sees opportunity in the absence of a Latino candidate; it’s no accident De Blasio has been featured in several recent stories in El Diario. He’s got plenty of ground to make up, in all languages: A recent Marist poll on 2013 contenders—most meaningful as a measure of name recognition—showed De Blasio in single digits. But at least he was one point ahead of Scott Stringer.
His first fund-raiser tonight was at the Plaza, with tickets going for up to $20,000. Now Stringer has packed the Jane Hotel’s swank lounge with still more paying supporters and hustled his star attraction, actress Scarlett Johansson, into a tiny closet doubling as an office behind a bar. Johansson’s grandmother was a West Side tenant activist and met Stringer when he was an aide to then–State Assemblyman Jerry Nadler. Years later Stringer hired Johansson’s twin brother to work in his office, and tonight she’s repaying the favor. Stringer is grinning so broadly, he seems about to burst out of his blue suit, and minutes later, when he steps to the microphone after ScarJo’s introduction of him as “my candidate for mayor, 2013,” he lets out a bellowing, “Wowwww!” It isn’t long before his core wonk reappears, however, and Stringer is shouting over the noisy crowd about “environmental justice.”
Stringer, the 51-year-old son of a former city councilwoman and the cousin of former congresswoman Bella Abzug, has made the most of the limited powers of the borough president’s office, and he has been very good at raising money, with more than $3 million in the bank. He will be aggressive, whacking Quinn as “Bloomberg four,” and his confidence abounds. “People have tired of a management style that is top-down and less collaborative,” Stringer says. “I think I’m in a unique position, like an Ed Koch, who was at the right moment in time. I’ve demonstrated an ability to work collectively on a lot of controversial issues.” Stringer is the sole Jewish elected official in the field, and his home district on the Upper West Side is a rich source of reliable Democratic voters. But he still needs Quinn or Thompson to falter, because even Manhattan isn’t big enough for three candidates.
And certainly not for four. Tom Allon is the feisty chief executive of Manhattan Media, which publishes community newspapers Our Town and the West Side Spirit. His experiences attending and briefly teaching at Stuyvesant, plus the educational odysseys of his own kids, animate his quest to overhaul the public schools. “I don’t think Bill Thompson has the fire in the belly to be a great mayor,” Allon says. “The flip side is Christine, who I think has all fire and no independence to be a great leader. Herding the cats of the City Council is not like running a company that’s in five boroughs, which I’ve done. I have a real shot to win this thing.” Allon is only 48, but his campaign has a throwback lefty flavor to it—he’s friends with vintage feminist Ronnie Eldridge, he has enlisted sixties Esquire art director George Lois to shoot TV ads, and he wants the city to try a “very Scandinavian” part-time schedule for working parents. Allon is talking with the Liberal Party about running under its banner. “Then even if I don’t come out of the Democratic primary a winner, I’m a force to be reckoned with,” he says. “If there’s somebody who comes out of a bloody Democratic primary, and there’s a Republican, and there’s me, who knows?”
Nobody does, of course. Gentrification and immigration have shuffled the city’s demographics significantly since Bloomberg was first elected, and Allon’s candidacy is one sign of how wide open the race to succeed him will be. Another is the restlessness in the business community. “It is a common conversation among CEOs and businesspeople: Is there a business candidate out there who would step in and make everybody feel comfortable?” one wealthy entrepreneur says. “It can’t be a Wall Street person—that’s the wrong marketing right now. We need a story of someone who is creating jobs in a new sector. All of us are open to finding someone like that, but the name hasn’t come up.” Media and private-equity executive Leo Hindery Jr. is the latest rumored option. “It’s a great job,” the entrepreneur says. “I’m surprised we don’t have a good candidate.”
Many old-school Democrats believe that Bloomberg’s 2001 victory over Mark Green was a terrorist-provoked, money-soaked aberration—that at heart New York is still a righteously liberal, good-government kind of town. Yet the Democratic mayoral losing streak dates back all the way to 1993, when Rudy Giuliani ousted incumbent David Dinkins. Voters claim they want a mayor who empathizes and gives them a hug, but we’ve elected the take-no-shit candidate five times in a row. Maybe the streak gets broken because this time the contest is decided in the left-leaning primary instead of the general election. Tactically, the campaign is most likely to evolve into a contest to see which white candidate faces Thompson in a runoff. But the ultimate winner will be—or should be—whoever constructs the most plausible agenda for a post-Bloomberg city, a plan that sorts the good and bad of school reform, delivers basic services efficiently despite looming deficits, and changes the perception that New York is governed for and by its elites. If somehow the pretenders’ strengths—De Blasio’s cunning, Quinn’s tenacity, Liu’s common touch, Thompson’s calm, Stringer’s policy nerdiness, and Allon’s obsessiveness—could be magically combined into a single candidate, the city would be in good hands come January 1, 2014. Hey, weirder things will happen in the next two years of New York’s political life.
*This article has been corrected to show that Bill de Blasio's wife is Barbadian-American, not Haitian-American.