Candidates persuade undecided voters before primary

September 9, 2013 9:05:27 PM PDT
For all the candidates, it was one last chance to persuade those few undecided voters. On Tuesday, only about 700,000 Democrats will vote.

Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, enters primary day with a commanding lead in the polls, a staggering reversal of fortune from six weeks ago, when his campaign was mostly an afterthought.

The Quinnipiac University poll released Monday shows de Blasio with 39 percent support, former comptroller Bill Thompson in second place with 25 percent. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is third, with 18 percent.

To avoid an Oct. 1 runoff, a candidate needs more than 40 percent in Tuesday's primary.

This poll compares to a September 3 survey showing de Blasio with 43 percent, Thompson with 20 percent and Quinn with 18 percent.

"It looks as if Public Advocate Bill de Blasio couldn't hold that 43 percent in a week when he was in the spotlight and he got walloped by everybody. His support by black voters slipped just enough to make a runoff possible. But he's ever so close," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Remember that there are no undecided voters on Election Day. If de Blasio picks up just a few of those undecided voters, he's over the top. In our last few days of polling, however, we're seeing the movement to 2009 Democratic nominee William Thompson."

The latest poll was conducted from Friday through Sunday. It surveyed 782 likely Democratic primary voters. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Several events coincided to give de Blasio momentum in the race's final days:

- He fought a proposed closure of a Brooklyn hospital, even getting arrested for his efforts, which gave a much-needed shot of publicity.

- His interracial family, especially his Afro-sporting 15-year-old son, became the center of his advertising campaign. That prompted Bloomberg to call de Blasio's campaign "racist" in an interview released over the weekend, putting de Blasio's rivals in the unwelcome position of having to defend the public advocate.

- And former front-runner Anthony Weiner succumbed to another sexting scandal, prompting many of his supporters to defect to de Blasio, another scrappy, progressive candidate hailing from outside of Manhattan.

De Blasio has adopted the mantle of the clear favorite. But that Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed 782 Democrats and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, also suggested that 18 percent could change their minds before entering the voting booth.

If de Blasio's support holds, the other spot in the potential runoff appears to be a battle between City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former comptroller Bill Thompson.

Quinn, who is bidding to become the city's first female and first openly gay mayor, led the polls for most of the year but has seen support disappear as her rivals have repeatedly linked her to the bitter debate to let Bloomberg run for a third term in 2009.

The mayor's opponent that year was Thompson, who stunned the political world by nearly upsetting the billionaire incumbent. The race's lone African-American, Thompson has said he is counting on winning the bulk of black and Latino voters to propel him to the runoff.

Election experts estimate that minority voters will make up more than half the Democratic primary electorate. Most polls have Quinn and Thompson within a few points of each other.

Weiner jolted the race in May when he ended his self-imposed political exile that began when he resigned from Congress in 2011 after sending lewd online messages to women who were not his wife. He led the polls for nearly a month only to tumble when it was revealed that he had continued to send the explicit messages in the months after leaving office.

The comptroller, John Liu, is bidding to become the city's first Asian-American mayor but has been dogged by a fundraising scandal. He has been polling in the single digits.

Republicans will look to continue an improbable winning streak. Though outnumbered by Democrats in the city 6-to-1, the GOP has won the last five mayoral elections. (Bloomberg was an independent running on the Republican line four years ago.) Joe Lhota, the former MTA chairman who received acclaim for steering the transit agency through Superstorm Sandy last fall, has led the polls all campaign. A former deputy mayor to Rudolph Giuliani, Lhota has pledged to maintain the city's record low crime rates.

His primary challenger is John Catsimatidis, a billionaire grocery store magnate who has unleashed a series of blistering attack ads on Lhota, including one that mocks the front runner for dismissing Port Authority police officers as "mall cops." Catsimatidis has spent more than $4 million of his own money on the race, but that's a far cry from the $102 million Bloomberg spent four years ago.

The top two Republican candidates for New York City mayor debated Sunday for the last time before the party primary on topics including the New York Police Department's policies and the city's handling of the emergency response on 9/11.

In often testy exchanges, Lhota accused Catsimatidis of being a billionaire businessman with no government experience while Catsimatidis countered that Lhota was a bureaucrat out of touch with New Yorkers.

"I've served in government in different ways that I choose not to talk about," said Catsimatidis. "I've also served in the (Greek Orthodox) church, and if you talk about church politics, that's much worse than New York City politics."

Catsimatidis described Lhota as "more of a technical person," contrasting that quality with what he called his own visionary capability.

"I've been a CEO for 44 years, and I am used to hiring people to perform technical tasks. I've hired hundreds of people with the qualifications of Joe," he said. He added, "But you need a visionary, you need somebody that creates."

Lhota said he does have new ideas for the city that will benefit everyone from the homeless needing shelter to children whose schools are failing.

"A school that's failing our children, it is immoral to keep it open," he said, adding that he wants to involve more parents in education.

Lhota has had a consistent lead in polls over Catsimatidis, who blanketed the airwaves with ads in recent weeks.

Polls open in New York City's five boroughs at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday and close at 9:00 p.m. You can find polling location and other information by visiting New York City's Board of Elections website.

Eyewitness News will have special coverage of the New York City primary results beginning at 10:00 p.m. on Channel 7, 7online and our news apps.

Some information from The Associated Press