Monday, October 17, 2016

Scott Stringer’s Path to NYC Mayor in 2017

Michael Oliva is a Political and Media strategist and wrote this article in City & State New York Slant.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s needs a clear message as a potential Mayoral challenger to current Mayor Bill de Blasio. If he wants to be his competitor, he’ll have to differentiate himself from de Blasio, not try to be a better version of the current Mayor. Is this true? And if so, how can Stringer accomplish this?

To the first question, in political campaigns perception often far outweighs reality in terms of motivating voters. Many of de Blasio’s problems seem stylistic, but that doesn’t mean Stringer can necessarily beat him over the long haul by simply taking a similar approach communicated more effectively.

To ensure success, candidates often stake a claim to a place on the ideological spectrum and occupy it. One problem for Stringer, or any other white, progressive candidate is that regardless of whether his policy proposals are to the left of de Blasio’s, perception of the Mayor as the ultimate progressive will be difficult to dispel. Owning that label is the one area of messaging where de Blasio has been effective.

When we look at the 2013 Mayoral Primary, de Blasio had the advantage of occupying the leftmost portion of the paradigm, while candidates Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson’s spaces were less definable, Quinn due to her association with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Thompson because he was most likely more of a moderate than he was expressing himself to be. As a result, their messages seemed unfocused. De Blasio also benefitted from low turnout because people who voted most were people who identified with his progressive message.

The problem for de Blasio is that regardless of his managerial competence, he must always fight the common perception that while progressives may formulate intelligent ideas, they are often not very good at carrying them out. This is where Stringer could have an opening.

Looking back to Stringer’s four-point Primary victory for City Comptroller over Eliot Spitzer provides some insight into the coalitions he can bring together in a race against de Blasio. Stringer will do better with white liberals in Manhattan, the outer-borough Jewish vote and white ethnics, while de Blasio will win among blacks and Latinos. Immigrant communities may prove to be a wild card.

It’s a mistake, though, for Stringer to assume he should run to de Blasio’s left. Against Spitzer, another candidate who, like de Blasio, owned the perception of being smart and wonkish, but lacking in managerial and even people skills, Stringer was able to win white voters as a candidate who lacked Spitzer’s personality, but sold himself as a better manager. This approach spoke less to progressive ideology and more to competence.

This does not mean Stringer should go the crime-fighting route either. Just as Stringer shouldn’t obsess over out-lefting de Blasio, he shouldn’t try to be what he’s not on the right either. Furthermore, if a viable black candidate enters the Mayoral race, peeling off support from de Blasio’s base, Stringer’s chances would greatly improve.

Stringer’s Campaign of Competence should start by emphasizing homelessness as the top issue. It is apparent to most who travel and walk the five boroughs on a regular basis that the issue is real and not, as de Blasio seemed to initially suggest, a collective delusion of anecdotal observation.

Whether voters empathize with homeless people, see them as blight, or simply fear them does not matter. What matters is that this is a palpable problem, visible to every New Yorker. Stringer must tap into this belief by communicating that remedies are less ideological and more managerial. The answer cannot be to simply provide more services that aren’t working, nor can it be a rudimental matter of physically moving people around. There must be a comprehensive plan that shows original thinking and can be realistically carried out.

Housing and development is another area where Stringer can excel. The New York City Housing Authority is being terribly mismanaged and is in grim financial peril. De Blasio’s acquiescence to developers on leasing NYCHA property may also stir anger among voters who are either NYCHA residents or simply neighborhood denizens of all races and economic strata who feel terribly overcrowded and underserved.

De Blasio has put forth some interesting proposals for fully affordable housing complexes, but for the most part the details of his plans do not differ greatly from Bloomberg’s. Many voters feel the emphasis on 80/20 (80 percent luxury, 20 percent affordable) set-asides in new luxury development is payback to high-powered Campaign donors concerned more with making money than housing people.

Police-community relations are another area where perception does unfortunately rule. In de Blasio’s defense, while people’s emotions on both sides may not allow for nuance, this matter is truly complex.

Stringer should speak clearly to both the police and communities by conveying a sense that, in the real world, no group of people or organization is right 100% of the time, and expand strong community policing programs beyond a pilot basis. He must stress the close, comprehensive examination of each case of potential police brutality on an individual basis, while encouraging police and communities to come together to keep these incidences at a bare minimum.

De Blasio is beatable, but not because of ideology; rather because people are in a non-ideological mood. Next year’s Primary could be a mirror image of the previous cycle, where voters are concerned less with what a candidate wants to label what they do and more about their ability to actually do it.

I followed Stringer's work after taking over as Comptroller and have been surprised at his accomplishments. But managing his office and the City requires different skills. So my portfolio research for the 2017 Mayoral Election begins.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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