The headline said it all. “Mayor de Blasio Has Lost Support of White New Yorkers, Poll Finds,” The New York Times reported.
It’s understandable why the paper of record would play the poll findings this way. Racial tensions are on the rise across New York City and the country. Even a sober and responsible paper like the Times needs to capture people’s attention by playing up this simmering conflict.
Here’s the thing: the headline doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
No, I’m not suggesting that there is, in fact, a bunch of white folks out there who actually love Mayor de Blasio. The problem with the headline is that it says de Blasio has “lost support,” when, really, he never actually had the support of many white folks in the first place.
Some numbers first.
De Blasio won election two years ago handily, capturing nearly 75 percent of the vote. It is well known that he ran on the theme of a “tale of two cities,” emphasizing the gaps between the wealthy one percent and the city’s average folks.
De Blasio’s message was obviously popular with many, but it’s important to note that his support was highly concentrated. De Blasio managed to capture vote percentages in the high 90s and even 100 in some electoral districts throughout Brooklyn and the Bronx.
But that’s just one of the “two cities,” if you will. Call the other one “Lhota-land” which voted very heavily for de Blasio’s opponent Joe Lhota – perhaps simply because he was anyone other than Bill de Blasio.
As a Times report noted right after the election, “Mr. de Blasio didn’t fare so well in white Catholic areas in places like Staten Island, Middle Village and Howard Beach.”
In one voting district in heavily Irish Catholic Breezy Point, Queens, de Blasio barely got 10 percent of the vote. In traditionally Irish/Italian (in other words, white Catholic) Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, four out of five voters went against de Blasio. And in one Far Rockaways, Queens, precinct, de Blasio could not even get eight percent of the vote.
The fact that de Blasio’s numbers are down even further among whites suggests he’s losing support among Jewish New Yorkers as well, perhaps, as the droves of newly-arrived hipsters who thought crime looked kind of cool when they lived in Iowa have changed their mind a tad now that they’ve settle in Bushwick. It is these folks who helped de Blasio actually win the overall white vote (barely) in 2013.
The latest Times polling data does not break things down by neighborhood or religion, focusing instead on race.
This obscures important details. Among them? This is not exactly a new story.
Fifty years ago a Democratic mayor could still rely heavily on the Irish and other white Catholic New Yorkers. But during the tumultuous mayoralty of liberal Democrat John Lindsay (1965-‘73) all of this started to change.
White ethnic Catholics fled their old neighborhoods but did not flee New York City, settling in Staten Island and along the coasts of Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn. White Catholics, many of the them civil servants and other government union workers, watched the city burn and crumble from their relatively stable neighborhoods.
These working- and middle-class enclaves became increasingly conservative, finding their hero in Rudy Giuliani and (to a less emotional extent) Mike Bloomberg.
Can de Blasio ever win over the Irish and other white Catholic New Yorkers? Probably not (even with his Italian name and Catholic background). They’re neither rich nor poor so don’t fit neatly into de Blasio’s “two cities” concept.
He’s also too liberal for these “law and order folks,” especially on crime – and especially for folks who live in neighborhoods populated by many cops.
It should also be pointed out that it is a little funny that white Catholic cops, firefighters and other government workers would lean so heavily in favor of any Republican, a deeply anti-government, anti-union party always looking to slash public payrolls.
De Blasio is far from perfect. But white Catholic New Yorkers should be careful what they wish for.
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