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Black vote: A prime target for mayoral candidates

Jonathan P Hicks | 8/29/2013, 9:56 a.m. | Updated on 8/29/2013, 9:56 a.m.
So now we find something of a battle for the hearts and votes of African-American New Yorkers in the upcoming ...
Jonathan P. Hicks

So now we find something of a battle for the hearts and votes of African-American New Yorkers in the upcoming Democratic primary for mayor.

It has been chronicled in a number of media platforms, from The New York Times to BET. It seems that the Black vote is largely divided between two mayoral candidates in this year’s crowded primary: William C. Thompson Jr., the former New York City comptroller, and Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate.

While the polls suggest that the Black vote is significantly divided between those two candidates, with each garnering an equal share, the others in the Democratic primary are also assiduously courting African-American voters, particularly John C. Liu, the current city comptroller, and Anthony Weiner, the former United States congressman.

But the strategy to win votes has focused largely on television ads by de Blasio and Thompson on the topic of stop-and-frisk, a subject on which most Black and Latino New Yorkers harbor strong emotion. In one ad, de Blasio is speaking alongside his biracial son, Dante, who has a large Afro. In the ad, de Blasio talks about his own concern that his son could be stopped by the police.

Thompson’s ad offers a highly personal discussion of his own perspective on stop-and-frisk. “I’ve lived it,” he says in the ad.

The good news here is that the African-American is a highly coveted segment of the electorate. For this brief moment that is the mayoral primary season, the concerns of African-Americans and other marginalized New Yorkers are getting the attention they deserve but far too rarely receive.

It has been particularly interesting to see the candidates seek to outdo each other in their denunciations of the horrendous stop-and-frisk program that has been so deeply cherished and supported by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. As the controversial practice sank from an initiative condemned by civil rights groups to a policy condemned by a federal judge as a violation of the rights of New Yorkers, the mayoral candidates have stepped up their own criticisms.

Even City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has made something of a professional routine of lovingly supporting Bloomberg’s agenda, has undertaken a harsh tone when it comes to stop-and-frisk. It is a sign of not just how fully the city is now censuring the practice, but also of how strongly the views and opinions of Black New Yorkers have become the focus of the mayoral candidates.

In the meantime, it is a fascinating moment in New York’s political theater to see the Black vote moving between Thompson, the African-American candidate who came close to toppling Bloomberg four years ago, and de Blasio, a white city-wide official who has made criticism of stop-and-frisk a cornerstone of his television advertising campaign.

But now that the issue of stop-and-frisk has been addressed by a federal judge, it is time for a similar depth of discussion of the other issues that threaten to further erode the quality of life for working-class New Yorkers.

An equal in-depth exploration of various ideas and strategies to solve the city’s other problems should now be fully underway. For example, it’s a good time to examine the problem with the city’s underperforming schools and explore techniques to create jobs for New Yorkers and policies that would help create and expand affordable housing in New York City. That would provide a significant contribution during this mayoral season that would be truly worthwhile for all of New York City.