New York City's Mayoral Race Has Black Voters Divided

Recent polls indicate that Black New Yorkers are torn between Bill Thompson and Bill de Blasio in the Democratic primary.

Posted: 08/27/2013 02:17 PM EDT

If the polls are accurate, the race for the African-American vote in the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York City is a contest between two candidates: William C. Thompson Jr. and Bill de Blasio.

Thompson, the former New York City comptroller, is the only Black candidate in a crowded field for the nomination. Four years ago, he was the party’s nominee’s and came within 5 percentage points of defeating incumbent mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

But the campaign of de Blasio, the city’s current Public Advocate, voicing the New York native’s strong criticism of the New York City Police Department’s Stop and Frisk program, has created a groundswell of support among the city’s African-American residents, polls suggest.

An ad features de Blasio’s biracial son, who sports a large Afro, with the candidate talking about how he harbors concern that his son might be stopped by police as have so many Black and brown New Yorkers. And for many Black New Yorkers, this ad has resonated.

It is a telling feature of the demographics and politics of New York City when a white candidate is increasingly seen as a viable competitor for the Black vote to an African-American candidate who was the party’s standard bearer four years ago.

The African-American vote is expected to represent about 30 percent of the city electorate in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary. Moreover, it is widely expected that the winner of that primary to be elected in the November general election. It would be the first time a Democrat will have won the mayoralty in New York since David N. Dinkins was elected the city’s first Black mayor in 1989.

For his part, Thompson said he has been straightforward about his criticism regarding Stop and Frisk and that he has consistently talked about the need to reform the practice. Moreover, he said he has never swayed from criticizing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is barred by term limits from running for reelection, and Raymond Kelly, the police commissioner.

“My position on Stop and Frisk has been consistent from the beginning: It’s been misused and abused by Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly,” Thompson said, in an interview with BET.com

“People have been stopped based on how they look,” Thompson said. “It’s clear that people have been profiled, and the court decision said that and that Stop and Frisk is unconstitutional, And I agree with that view.”

Thompson was referring to a decision by a federal judge that ruled that the aggressive street program violated equal protection tenants of the United States Constitution.

Although de Blasio has gained a Black support in recent polls, Thompson has been highly successful in attracting the endorsements of a large number of Black and Latino elected officials in the city, from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat. The public advocate, de Blasio, did not respond to a request for an interview.

“In the end, I believe I will do well with Black voters, not because I’m Black but because of my views on the economy, public safety and education and the issues that voters care about,” Thompson said. “Black voters have supported me because I have stood up for the right issues.”  

Stop and Frisk is an issue that has been at the forefront in New York’s Black and Latino communities. Over the last few years, millions of young people of color have been stopped and detained by city police officers, whose officials contend that the program is an important crime-fighting tool.

But the program has been soundly blasted by civil rights groups and African-American and Latino elected officials, who say that it amounts to government-approved racial profiling.

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(Photos from left: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images, Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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