For the first time in more than three decades, New York City, a national liberal stronghold that historically balks at ideological leadership inside its own narrow borders, has re-elected a Democratic mayor — one with unabashed progressive politics and an eye on Washington.
Mayor Bill de Blasio easily defeated Republican state lawmaker Nicole Malliotakis and several third-party candidates on Tuesday. The Associated Press called the election for de Blasio shortly after polls closed in the city, which leans heavily Democratic.
On the campaign trail the mayor touted his success enacting universal pre-K and cited efforts to expand affordable housing and keep the city affordable for all income levels. He said if given a second term he would pursue further investments in education and housing and stand up to the policies of President Donald Trump.
The 56-year-old mayor's first term was dogged by feuds with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and investigations into campaign donations and pay-to-play politics.
De Blasio has operated under near constant assault from the city's boisterous tabloid newspapers, while doing little himself to smooth over sometimes testy relations with eye-rolling New Yorkers. De Blasio shocked the city's political elite when he won the Democratic primary in 2013 and locked up a second term after running a campaign without a serious challenge from anyone inside his own party or, in this fall's general election, city Republicans, who all but ceded the race.
For progressives in the Trump era, de Blasio's success — an October poll showed him with a 44-point lead over his GOP rival — represents new evidence to back an argument that ambitious, broad-based economic reforms can win over political skeptics.
De Blasio scores high — or even up — with a diverse assortment of constituencies. Perhaps most surprising is the evolution of his relationship with the city's police, a fraught one that threatened to derail his mayoralty in its first year. After two officers were shot and killed while sitting in their patrol car in December 2014, hundreds of police turned their backs on de Blasio at the slain officers' memorial services.
De Blasio's open discussion of a warning he'd given his biracial son, telling him to be especially cautious if he were stopped by police, along with past criticism of controversial practices like "stop and frisk" and long-running labor angst all fed what seemed like a doomed alliance.
But those concerns, a few notable blips aside, have mostly drifted into the background. In early 2017, he agreed to a new contract with the largest police union, which had been working without one for years. As election season approached, the union chose not to make an endorsement—which many scored as a political win for the mayor.
"Had they endorsed (Republican challenger) Nicole Malliotakis, it definitely would have been embarrassing," Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said on Monday. "But then again, he's given the police a lot. They asked for a few hundred more police, he gave them a thousand. They're supposed to do this (implicit bias) training, it hasn't begun yet. He promoted Jimmy O'Neill, who is widely respected among the rank-and-file."
In the meantime, controversial tactics like "stop and frisk" are all but gone and crime has continued to plummet. In an op-ed published this week, former police commissioner Bill Bratton called the combined work of the mayor and police a "New York City miracle."
De Blasio's most prominent political success, though, came in delivering on his most deeply progressive campaign promise from 2013, a pledge to bring universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds. The budget deal, struck with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, delivered nearly $350 million in funds for the program. There is talk now of expanding it to include three-year-olds.
"It's about kids," said the Working Families Party New York state director Bill Lipton, explaining the popularity of the program. "Lots of people understand that the science is on it is really solid and people support government when they believe are effective. People know the data on this. And the rollout was universally applauded. It demonstrated competence."
Greer, a past critic of the mayor, said de Blasio's delivery of pre-K scored him points across class and race lines.
"We know that it's helped working class New Yorkers, but I think it's also helped a lot of middle class New Yorkers stay in the city," she told CNN. "This helps a lot of two-income, middle class families that are making a good amount of money but might have either a new home or larger rental responsibilities or school loans" and who might otherwise have considered leaving the city for cheaper real estate.
The mechanics of the program, which by definition is "universal" and not targeted or means-tested, and its underlying ideology puts de Blasio in near political lockstep with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who endorsed the mayor and campaigned with him here last week.
"This mayor is leading the city in a way to bring us together to create a better life for all of our people," Sanders said during an October 30 event. "Everything that Mayor de Blasio is trying to do is exactly the opposite of what (President) Donald Trump is trying to do."
Asked about his own future plans, de Blasio was predictably coy.
"I'm entirely focused on being mayor of the greatest city in the world," he said on Tuesday afternoon. Now he has four more years to prove it.