Tuesday night, Bill de Blasio became New York City’s 109th mayor in a landslide victory, one achieved through a coalition of constituencies, and no group turned out more for de Blasio than black voters.
He was elected by a margin of nearly 50 percent, according to exit polls, securing an estimated 752,604 votes Tuesday. It was a victory that swept across the city: every borough, age group, racial category and income level. But in an election where black voters were expected to comprise nearly 30 percent of the electorate, black voters anchored de Blasio’s win with 95 percent going for the Democrat — up nearly 20 points from 2009.
Voters in large wanted a change, specifically a shift from Bloomberg’s Stop and Frisk policing program, and De Blasio promised to reconcile New York from a tale of two cities and end its legacy of racial profiling and division. On Election Day, voters issued a mandate to do just that.
“Public safety is a prerequisite for the thriving neighborhoods that create opportunity in this city. And so is respect for civil liberties. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, we must have both,” de Blasio told a crowd in his victory speech from the Park Slope Armory in Brooklyn. “We must work to promote a real partnership between the best police force in the world and the communities they protect from danger, be it local or global. New Yorkers on both sides of the badge understand this.”
Desiree Marshall lives in Brooklyn. She’s been a community organizer in New York City for the last seven years and voted Tuesday for de Blasio because of his commitment to communities of color.
“Bloomberg completely shut out the communities I worked with and am part of,” says Marshall. “De Blasio, in his role as Public Advocate, advocated strongly for those communities. And more than any other candidate running, I feel he understands what my community is up against and really wants to make changes.”
It was that message that the de Blasio campaign drove home to voters almost from the very beginning of his campaign and, throughout the race, he overshadowed his opponents in the primary and general elections by honing in on voters’ number one issue with the help of his photogenic interracial family.
De Blasio ran the campaign’s first television ad on Stop and Frisk in August, a wildly popular spot featuring his son Dante, whose afro and connection to the issue – as a young biracial man — made an impact on voters. Buzz around the ad and Dante’s hair reached such a height that it spawned a social media hashtag for the de Blasio campaign – #GoWithTheFro.
Over the next few months, De Blasio’s large team of volunteers crisscrossed the city with a significant number of stops in New York’s predominately black neighborhoods. The Sunday before Election Day, he made a high-profile appearance with entertainer and civil rights legend Harry Belafonte at Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church. The candidate’s final stop of the campaign was in the predominately black Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
During the general election, de Blasio was also able to connect with voters – black voters in particular – through a social media outreach unmatched by his opponent. “I ask for your vote, and I ask you to tell your friends, your family – even your Twitter followers – to vote, too.” That was the email message that went out to de Blasio supporters in the last hours on the eve of Election Day.
Research has, of course, shown that Twitter’s population is disproportionately black. In fact, Edison Research’s annual report on the social networking site found that black people represent 25 percent of Twitter users, roughly twice their share of the general population. And it was on Twitter where de Blasio had, perhaps, the greatest advantage. Over the course of the campaign, he clocked 4,255 tweets, compared to his opponent’s 1,647. De Blasio had more than six times the followers and, in the last month of the campaign, was mentioned nearly three times more often, according to an analysis by Topsy Labs.
It seems though that it was de Blasio’s progressive ideas and steadfast denunciation of Stop and Frisk, bolstered by a relatable family, that really won over voters. For that, De Blasio will be the first Democrat in twenty years to be sworn in as mayor of New York City. His multiracial family will become the new face of Gracie Mansion. But, as New York magazine asked in its cover story on the de Blasios, “The holiday card is going to be great. Then what?” His supporters are hopeful the de Blasio administration will meet its campaign promises with the help of all New Yorkers.
“I feel optimistic for the future,” says Desiree Marshall. “But I also fear de Blasio will suffer from the same criticism as Obama and be expected to fix everything that’s wrong. That shouldn’t be the case. De Blasio will only be successful as a mayor if NYC gives him a chance to be but also demands it from him and holds him to be accountable. He can’t fix everything for everyone. As his constituents, we need to be persistent with our demands but also have patience to see things get done. We need to work together. That was damn near impossible for the last decade.”
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR.