The Brooklyn Mayor
What de Blasio’s Election Means For Us
This past election marked the first time in recent memory, maybe ever, that New Yorkers had to choose between two Brooklynites for mayor. It validated, at the highest cultural and political levels, what you’ve already heard from innumerable trend pieces: Brooklyn is on the map, a power center, no longer just an outerborough full of commuters who could be taken for granted. (The Democratic primary race for public advocate, one of three citywide offices, was also between two Brooklynites.) Just as the candidates’ rivalry personified de Blasio’s Tale of Two Cities, one fighting for the little guy and the other for the not-so-little guy, they also represented two Brooklyns. Joe Lhota lives in Brooklyn Heights, and exemplifies certain stereotypes of wealth in Manhattan’s historical suburb—as close as you can get to the downtown center of power and money without actually being in New York County. Like, his cultural tastes tend toward the ostensibly conservative: the Metropolitan Opera, the Brooklyn Historical Society. Even his neighbors didn’t vote for him.
Bill de Blasio was different. This summer, before his meteoric rise in the Democratic primary polls, I saw him campaigning outside the Os Mutantes concert in Prospect Park, near his Park Slope home. “He would be our first hipster mayor!” I joked then, even though he’d already lost his councilmember beard. But it was more than that; he seemed a street-level member of our communities, not of Manhattan and what he’d later call “the cold steel of our skyscrapers,” in a way no mayoral candidate in my lifetime had. He lives on 11th Street; I used to live on 11th Street. I saw his son, Dante, costar of the campaign, on the Ninth Street platform this fall as I transferred trains: he was just there, headed toward home—no press, no aides, no guards, no pamphleteering. (I’ve never run into Bloomberg’s daughters; I don’t even know their names. Ditto Lhota.) De Blasio’s primary-win party was at the Bell House, his general-election celebration at the Park Slope Armory, also just blocks from his home. They served Brooklyn Brewery beers and Brooklyn Oenology wines. “Yeh,” read a sandwich board outside the Thistle Hill Tavern, down the block from the November 5 victory bash. “We voted for him, too.” So did 85 percent of the borough, according to exit polls.
This isn’t to get overly romantic about the guy. He’s bound to disappoint progressives much as Obama did post-2008, revealing himself not as the leader we were waiting for but as the one who told us what we wanted to hear when we wanted to hear it—with us in spirit if not ultimately in action. (We’ll see!) De Blasio defined himself as the anti-Bloomberg, the antithesis of that manifestation of Manhattan and its money, and thus came to represent for the electorate a repudiation of 12 years of economic disparity, racial bigotry and misguided priorities.
But De Blasio’s election, like Obama’s, wasn’t only about electing a Democrat with lefty positions to an office that long hadn’t belonged to one; nor was it just about electing a person of color—or at least someone with a family of color—though that was part of it because of what it said about us: it was about rejecting the old guard that Lhota (with his Lite Giuliani-ism) and McCain before him had represented, its prejudices and outmoded shibboleths, its unabashed kowtowing to the wealthy and white as central tenets of the party’s platform. It was about choosing (relative) youth—Lhota is 59, de Blasio 52—new ideas, diversity, progress. (One of the last songs to play at de Blasio’s victory party before his family came out to introduce him was “We Are Young” by fun.) By handing over the keys to Gracie Mansion to the de Blasio family, we also symbolically hand them to a new generation, the next generation, of leaders. We hand them with skeptical optimism to an embodiment of concepts that are powerful even when they disappoint us: to the new, to change, to hope—to Brooklyn.