Magazine article The New Yorker

Brooklyn Smackdown

Magazine article The New Yorker

Brooklyn Smackdown

Article excerpt

In the final days before last week's primary elections, the mostly lacklustre and occasionally embarrassing mayoral race was flattered by an analogy to the 2008 Presidential contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The idea was that the suddenly surging campaign of Bill de Blasio was reminiscent of Obama's, to the extent that it was tinged with populism, in support of a liberal idealist who had little in the way of real management experience: a lightweight, to his critics. The long-presumed front-runner-in-waiting, Christine Quinn, was Hillary, by contrast: not just a woman but a proven power broker who, whatever your misgivings about the term-limits shuffle, could be trusted to command respect from realists and goo-goos alike. (Anthony Weiner, if we're to extend the metaphor, must have been John Edwards, a sleazy flameout. And poor Bill Thompson: underestimated again.) That this comparison was as likely to be invoked by supporters of Quinn's as by those of de Blasio may be proof of its improbable merits. The establishment seldom respects a cultural movement until it's too late. Quinn swept Park Avenue.

In retrospect, it is hard to conceive of a candidate better designed than de Blasio to neutralize the identity politics favoring Thompson (African-American) and Quinn (gay, female). His sixteen-year-old son, Dante, has an Afro that would have humbled a young Julius Erving, and his wife, Chirlane McCray, is an ex-radical lesbian. At the Bell House, a hip music venue in Gowanus, last Tuesday night, de Blasio backers cheered the results of exit polling as they appeared on a large screen, broken down by demographics. "Look at that!" someone said, when the data showed de Blasio edging Thompson by three points among African-American voters. "Go black people." An ostensibly nonpartisan guest, turning around and expecting to see that this remark had come from a pale ironist, discovered instead that the speaker was black. Next, the screen showed de Blasio with an eight-point lead over Quinn among L.G.B.T. voters. Nearby, the actress Cynthia Nixon was waiting to make an appearance onstage.

So what if he was born Warren Wilhelm and later adopted his mother's Italian surname and was raised a Red Sox fan? (De Blasio's father was an alcoholic, and largely absent from his childhood.) Welcome to the post-Marty Markowitz era of Brooklyn politics, in which fealty need no longer be paid to Junior's cheesecake or "fuhgeddaboudit. …

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