Election Day

So, Virginia, NYC, NJ.

In Virginia, it went the way demographics said it should–Cuccinelli won all but the densest parts of the state. McAuliffe’s ties to the national Democratic party and his ethical challenges should have made him a weak candidate; Cuccinelli is an anti-government religious extremist. Maybe they cancelled each other out?

But I think the conventional wisdom about what happened up here is dead wrong. Even if he did win an amazing third of New Jersey’s Democratic voters, Christie, who was blessed with a weak rival and made sure that no one was turning out to vote for Cory Booker this week, is neither bi-partisan nor liberal (though he’s not a Tea Partier either). When someone wins that big, it’s not because of ideology but because of his personal branding and celebrity–people genuinely like the guy or they can’t see any reason to replace him. Christie may well be a game-changer for the Republicans, but he hasn’t framed a post-partisan ideology, just a brand that wins elections. Or that won this one, anyway.

And then Bill DeBlasio–again, such a huge margin. Paradoxically, the unanimity of his support speaks to our polarization in other ways. His victory is tectonic, yes, but it is not a new alignment so much as it is a reaction–specifically to Bloomberg’s third term.

New York City is a liberal, diverse place, yes, but if DeBlasio really was a Sandinista, he wouldn’t have won by so much. When EVERYBODY votes for you, it can’t be about ideology, which by definition is divisive–it’s about identity. Since neither DeBlasio nor Lhota had any personal celebrity of their own going into the election, it reflects on the person who did–and how strongly voters identify with or against him.

Not because of his politics, but because of his outsize presence and staying power, Mike Bloomberg is a little like FDR–he’s the only mayor my 16-year-old can remember. He was in office for too long and he was rightly identified with the global one percent. As Steven Wishnia puts it over at TPM, his agenda created a city that excluded most of the people who live here.

The multibillionaire mayor is often hailed as a visionary, and he was one. His vision was of New York as a “luxury brand,” a city catering to the global rich, with skyscrapers, high-end housing and upscale entertainment maximizing the value of every inch of real estate–like a Dubai on the Hudson, only more environmentally friendly and pro-Israel. In his ideology, the purpose of government was to facilitate this. The Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn was rezoned and packed with luxury high-rises, and the administration is preparing to evict scores of mostly immigrant-owned auto-repair businesses in Queens near the Mets’ new stadium to make room for a massive mall, hotel, and luxury-housing complex.

To see this vision encapsulated–hey babe, take a walk on the High Line. A former elevated freight railroad on Manhattan’s west side, it’s been converted to an aboveground park. It’s a fabulous city-of-the-future tableau, overlooking the streets and the Hudson River, lined with grass and art installations, wending between gleaming new high-rises. The underside is that most of those buildings were erected by politically connected developers and tax-subsidized in exchange for a token amount of non-luxury housing. And you have to look pretty hard to see black people or Latinos who aren’t security guards.

Any analysis that denies or elides how economically divided we are kind of misses the point, I think. One thing about New York: the one percent is so much in everybody’s faces that even the top 32 percent, who are doing pretty well all things considered (the group that DeBlasio belongs to) resents them too.


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