While Canadians were riveted to the civic melodrama that is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, New York City changed channels completely yesterday, electing the first Democratic mayor in 20 years.
Bill de Blasio, 52, will take office on Jan. 1 following a landslide win over Republican Joe Lhota in off-year elections Tuesday. That victory may have flown under the radar in Canada, as word of Ford's previous crack cocaine use made international headlines.
The last time a Democrat was mayor of New York City was in 1993. That's when David Dinkins left office, defeated by Republican Rudy Giuliani.
De Blasio — pronounced dih-BLAH-zee-oh — is a former associate of Hillary Clinton and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. At six-foot-five, de Blasio is a physically striking character, but also far different from the man who has led New York for 12 years.
While billionaire Michael Bloomberg was a centrist Republican-independent who could easily afford to fund three of his own multimillion-dollar election campaigns, de Blasio has been in politics since high school.
A graduate of New York University and Columbia University in international affairs, he worked in non-profit organizations on improving health care in Latin America.
According to his campaign website, his public service began as a junior staffer in the office of then New York Mayor Dinkins. From there, he moved through work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and a Brooklyn school board.
In 2000, he managed Hillary Clinton's first campaign for the U.S. Senate in New York. Then it was eight years on New York city council and a stint as the city's Public Advocate, a kind of ombudsman role.
De Blasio ran as the anti-Bloomberg, railing against economic inequality and portraying New York as a "tale of two cities" — one rich, the other working class — under the pro-business, pro-development mayor, who made his fortune from the financial information company that bears his name.
While that angered Bloomberg, it played well with New Yorkers. De Blasio ended the night Tuesday with 73 per cent of the votes, 49 points ahead of Republican Joe Lhota — an unprecedented New York mayoralty win in modern times.
De Blasio's plans include taxing the rich, a plank that obviously put him at odds with Bloomberg (who after three terms wasn’t running again) and may compromise his relationship with New York City's most visible wealth engine: Wall Street.
"If you don't get along with Wall Street, you're really putting yourself behind the 8-ball big time," business writer and commentator William D. Cohan told CBS News in a report aired Wednesday morning.
De Blasio wants to use taxes on higher incomes to fund universal pre-kindergarten care in the city. He has also pledged to improve economic opportunities in minority and working-class neighbourhoods.
There was also a racial element to his campaign.
He decried alleged abuses under the police department's stop-and-frisk policy and got a surge of support when a federal judge ruled that police had unfairly singled out blacks and Hispanics.
The candidate, a white man married to a black woman, also got a boost from a campaign ad featuring their son, a 15-year-old with a big Afro.
That drew untypical criticism from Bloomberg in an interview with New York magazine:
"He's making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing. I do not think he himself is racist. It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote."
Laments divisive appeal
Bloomberg also lamented the divisive appeal to New Yorkers by income.
"His whole campaign is that there are two different cities here. And I’ve never liked that kind of division," he said.
"The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people. They are the ones that pay the bills. The people that would get very badly hurt here if you drive out the very wealthy are the people he professes to try to help.
"Tearing people apart with this 'two cities' thing doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s a destructive strategy for those you want to help the most."