Could Donald Trump’s New York supporters bring down Bill de Blasio?

Hillary Clinton won the majority of votes in New York City, but Donald Trump still received nearly 461,000 votes. Could those voters be a challenge for Mayor Bill de Blasio's reelection campaign?
Hillary Clinton won the majority of votes in New York City, but Donald Trump still received nearly 461,000 votes. Could those voters be a challenge for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reelection campaign? Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

Everyone knows what New York Values are, at least since Sen. Ted Cruz ran for president. Economically progressive and socially liberal. Socialist, even. Definitely Democrat.

So it was no surprise that Hillary Clinton swept the city last week, winning nearly 2 million votes. But Donald Trump still won a sizeable portion in sheer numbers — nearly half a million people in the five boroughs voted for a candidate who bragged about assaulting women, called for expanding stop-and-frisk and banning Muslims and generally wanted to roll back many of popular President Barack Obama’s accomplishments.

Some 25,000 more New Yorkers voted for Trump’s irregular candidacy than Mitt Romney’s in 2012, according to preliminary state election numbers. Votes for Clinton, by contrast, dropped by a similar amount compared to Obama in 2012.

Those voters weren’t particularly vocal during the long election cycle, but they showed up. Their preferences complicate the usual narrative of New York political leanings, and might be a warning to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s election campaign in 2017.

New York’s mayors aren’t always Democrats

In one sense, NYC is in a relatively brief period of liberal governance. After David Dinkins served one term as the city’s first African-American mayor from 1990 to 1993, there were twenty years of non-Democratic occupants in City Hall before de Blasio strode in.

Turnout for mayoral races is different (read: far smaller) than in presidential elections, but 461,000 Trump votes could form the base for challenging de Blasio, who received just under 800,000 votes in the 2013 general election — still, of course, over 300,000 more than Trump.

De Blasio has already begun racking up union endorsements for next year’s race, displaying the political muscle he’ll have as an incumbent. That strength was apparent in a Quinnipiac poll released this week, which found double digit leads for the mayor in a wide primary field, with him still ahead in a general election.

But the poll also found that nearly half of NYC voters don’t think he deserves a second term. He has high approval ratings with minorities, lower with white voters.

Trump, on the other hand, did relatively well with outer borough white voters. While beating Romney’s count citywide, he received 30,000 fewer votes in Manhattan. Much of the difference came from Staten Island, which flipped from Democrat in 2012 to Republican.

Those voters might have been reacting to newly progressive city policies, which Councilmember Joe Borelli, co-chairman of Trump’s NY campaign, says “don’t meet communities’ practical needs.”

As an example, he points to one of the mayor’s rezoning initiatives encouraging higher density as a means towards affordable housing. Some neighborhoods are affronted by that imposition.

For others, it’s a sense that Democratic policies towards public safety are toying with quality of life, despite clear evidence to the contrary: Major crime indicators are at historic lows.

“It’s a vague sensation,” says Gene Berardelli, a radio host and attorney at IPG Legal who lives in Sheepshead Bay, part of a South Brooklyn area that largely voted for Trump.

Early in his tenure, de Blasio had some bumps in his relationship with the police force — some officers turned away from him at a funeral, for example, for a perceived lack of support after the deaths of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. Berardelli says that tension continues to resonate with some, along with perceptions about a rise in homelessness and the sense that the city is going in the wrong direction. The Quinnipiac poll finds similar trends.

Largely, a “gut” sensation, “nothing that you can really pinpoint to a statistic,” says Berardelli.

de Blasio could be vulnerable

Despite the potential for future economic difficulties, the city is in a fairly stable place compared to years past. Still, some voters may respond to a “Make New York Great Again” argument — particularly when many of the mayor’s initiatives to improve city life “disproportionately assist people of color and poor people,” says Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University.

At the same time, real estate interests and wealthy donors appear to have the mayor’s ear, as indicated by federal and local investigations into the mayor’s fundraising.

As in the presidential race, some voters — a still-substantial voting bloc — feel left out.

“Middle class whites feel they don’t have a mayor catering to their specific needs,” Greer says.

De Blasio and his vision for the city appear to be safe for now, with only mutterings of serious candidates on either side and no heavy hitters yet. But could a candidate in Trump’s image rally enough voters to build a Democrat-defeating coalition?

Ignoring that possibility ignores those voters’ preferences and recent history. Greer says she sometimes hears people wonder “what happened” to Rudy Giuliani, former New York/America’s Mayor who since then developed into one of Trump’s most reliable backers with extreme positions on race relations and homeland security.

What happened to Rudy? “Nothing,” says Greer. “He’s been saying that stuff all along.”

Right here in NYC.