The New York City mayoral race has finally become engaged. How should we analyze this race?
First, let’s internalize the full implication of New York City’s electorate being a minority majority. The aggregate minority vote (black, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial) will this year cast 56 to 58 percent of the total vote (slightly higher in the Democratic primary than the general election).
This means that a candidate emerging from a white base would have to garner 40 percent of that aggregate minority vote to win a Democratic runoff or a two-person general election.
Alternatively, a candidate with a unified minority base (no mean achievement, as there is tremendous diversity within each of the black, Hispanic and Asian communities) would need only a third of the white vote to win a Democratic runoff or a general election.
The close 2009 race—when the minority vote was at 54 percent—shocked almost everybody, because Bill Thompson was able to get 80 percent of blacks, just shy of 65 percent of Hispanics, a narrow majority of Asians and 29 percent of white voters against Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Given the growth of the minority population, any candidate who could replicate the breadth of this coalition would come even closer to victory this year.
Why do pundits favor Joe Lhota in the multicandidate GOP field? Simple. With the single exception of 1981, when Ed Koch beat a little-known assemblyman named John Esposito in the GOP mayoral primary, no Italian-American has lost a Republican primary citywide or statewide in almost a half century (e.g., Marchi in 1969, D’Amato in 1980, Giuliani in 1989 and DioGuardi in 2010).
In New York City, 78 percent of the GOP’s registration base is in the outer boroughs, where Italian-American homeowners cast an overwhelming share of the GOP’s primary vote. Consequently, Joe Lhota, backed to the hilt by Rudy Giuliani, is understandably favored to win the Republican primary.
However, if John Catsimatidis runs, his resources could damage Lhota in the primary, just as Ron Lauder did to Giuliani in 1989. Catsimatidis could leapfrog Lhota, or his anti-Lhota barrage could open the door for George McDonald, Tom Allon or Adolfo Carrión (if he is granted a Wilson-Pakula to enter the GOP primary) to walk over the rugby scrum in victory, much as Bob Abrams did against Geraldine Ferraro and Liz Holtzman in the 1992 U.S. Senate primary.
As for turnout, most pundits project that around 500,000 votes will be cast in the Democratic primary. I disagree.
Prime New York’s Jerry Skurnik, whose knowledge of electoral trends is encyclopedic, recently reminded me that in every Democratic primary for mayor in which Democratic voters felt the winner of the primary could be the next mayor, turnout was at least 700,000 (1961, 1965, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1989 and 2001).
Democratic turnout only dipped below 700,000 in a mayoral race when voters sensed there was no real contest (1981 and 1985 with Koch) or when they knew the outcome would be determined in November (1993 and 1997 with Giuliani and the 2005 and 2009 Bloomberg re-elections, when turnouts dropped below 500,000 votes).
The winner of this Democratic primary will be seen as the likely victor in the general election, thus driving turnout to 700,000 votes.
Another factor to follow in this race will be the two competing majorities within the Democratic primary, for not only will 56 to 58 percent of the vote be minority, but 56 to 58 percent will also be female. Will minority women vote as minorities or as women?
If Quinn can trigger a gender gap in her favor, especially from minority women, she will win this primary. Yet the ranks of female candidates who could not achieve this feat (e.g., Bella Abzug and Carol Bellamy for mayor, Mary Anne Krupsak for governor, Ferraro for Senate and Leslie Crocker Snyder for Manhattan DA) are far larger than those who succeeded (e.g., Krupsak for lieutenant governor and Bellamy for City Council president).
There are simply too many precedents foreshadowing a bumpy ride for anyone to now be anointed a true mayoral frontrunner. Buckle your seat belts. This roller-coaster ride has just begun.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political consultant with Corning Place Communications and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.
Tags: Adolfo Carrion, African-American, black, Bob Abrams, Bruce Gyory, Christine Quinn, Ed Koch, election, George McDonald, Geraldine Ferraro, Hispanic, Jerry Skurnik, joe lhota, John Catsimatidis, liz-holtzman, mayor, Michael Bloomberg, New York City, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Allon