New York poised to usher in de Blasio as new mayor

New York City mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio (centre) arrives at a campaign rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Nov 1, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
New York City mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio (centre) arrives at a campaign rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Nov 1, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Left-wing progressive Bill de Blasio is poised to secure a landslide victory in New York's mayoral elections next week after executing a near-flawless campaign.

De Blasio, whose public sector background and policies sit uneasily with the gigantic wealth of the establishment, appears certain of election victory, possibly by a historic margin on Tuesday.

By placing his black, former lesbian wife and teenage children centre stage, he appears to have connected to ordinary middle-class families and a vastly diverse electorate, if his mammoth poll leads are anything to go by.

New Yorkers voted for outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg three times in a row, but now look set to elect a candidate who could not be more different in background or style than the billionaire incumbent.

Analysts say de Blasio offers voters a package they relate to, leaving his Republican rival Joe Lhota trailing a distant second.

He has campaigned hard against the yawning gulf between rich and poor - "a tale of two cities" or "the 99 percent" against the one percent - and stands up for minority rights.

De Blasio promises to raise taxes on those earning more than US$500,000 (S$621,000) to fund universal pre-kindergarten education and after school programmes.

He calls for reforms to the "stop and frisk" policy, which critics say unfairly targets black and Hispanic minorities, but which supporters say has driven down crime.

And he promises to build 200,000 new affordable housing units and grant two extra school days off for the main Muslim festivals.

"Yes, they are progressive (ideas), yes, they are bold," de Blasio told supporters during a campaign stop in Manhattan's Upper West Side Saturday.

"New Yorkers believe in big ideas, bold ideas, progressive ideas that move us forward. New York has led the nation." Unchallenged now, he was late to emerge as the Democratic frontrunner after lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn flatlined and Anthony Weiner became embroiled in a sexting scandal.

He has traded heavily on his family.

Like the Clintons, he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, have run as a package.

Poet, editor, feminist and activist who famously spurned his initial advances, Chirlane is nothing if not tough.

Their 16-year-old son Dante, instantly recognizable by his father's smile and a halo of Afro hair, has featured prominently in TV ads telling voters how great his dad is.

After winning the Democrat primary, De Blasio, McCray, Dante and 18-year-old sister Chiara were filmed doing a family "smackdown" dance in Brooklyn.

His daughter, too, has featured prominently in the campaign, telling voters how her dad is not "some boring white guy." "He truly cares about everybody in this city, every different type of person, rich, poor, black, white," she told one meeting.

The multiracial family has struck a chord in a city of great ethnic diversity: 33.3 percent white, 25.5 percent black, 28.6 percent Hispanic and 12.7 percent Asian.

De Blasio has spoken candidly about his difficult childhood as the son of an alcoholic, World War II vet who walked out and later committed suicide after being diagnosed with cancer.

In contrast to Bloomberg, he makes much of his ordinary credentials and "modest" home in Park Slope, gentrified Brooklyn.

The New York Times endorsed him last month for giving a voice to New York's poor.

"The 46 percent living in or near poverty, the 50,000 living in homeless shelters, the millions living outside the zones of economic security and gentrified affluence," the paper wrote.

Analysts say de Blasio has oiled his path by playing successfully to the Democratic city's fear of right-wingers and the Tea Party movement.

But there are concerns that his ideals will be sacrificed to his pragmatic streak, the deft politician capable of bargaining.

He has been criticized, for example, for flip-flopping over whether horse-drawn buggy rides through Central Park should be abolished to win support from animal rights' campaigners.

There are also questions about whether he really has the experience to lead a city hall staff of 300,000 and a budget of US$72 billion.

For three years, de Blasio has been public advocate, essentially New York ombudsman. He was on the city council for eight years.

He was a regional housing official under President Bill Clinton and a manager for Hillary Clinton's New York Senate election in 2000.

The Clintons, along with New York celebrity actors Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker, are among those who have endorsed his bid.