Commentary: Black Voters Played a Critical Role in the NYC Primary

The African-American vote helped to produce some stunning results in the Democratic primary in New York City.

Posted: 09/11/2013 04:53 PM EDT

Tuesday’s Democratic primary in New York revealed a good deal about the influence of the African-American vote in America’s largest city.

The election saw the ascent of Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, as a political force to be reckoned with. A few months ago, de Blasio was in fourth place in the crowded Democratic primary, with most of the city’s political experts predicting that the winner would be Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker.

Then, barreling into the race came Anthony Weiner, the former congressman who resigned from the House of Representatives over a scandal over inappropriate Internet messages. As he entered the race, de Blasio's poll numbers began to climb, and he was considered a potential winner.

New York City is now a majority non-white city, with the combination of African-American, Latino and Asian voters representing far more than 50 percent of the vote even more in the Democratic primary.

And the secret unstudied force in the election, one that for a long time went undetected, was the influence of the African-American vote in New York. Black New Yorkers never seemed to warm to the candidacy of Quinn, who sought to become the city’s first female and first openly gay mayor.

For some, it was her loyalty to the incumbent mayor, Michael Bloomberg, which turned so many off. That was highlighted by her decision to ignore the will of the people in two referendums and tailor a change in the city’s term-limit laws to enable Bloomberg to serve for 12 years instead of eight. For others, it was the fact that she never seemed to embrace the notion that stop and frisk, the city’s horrendous police strategy that has victimized millions of young Black and brown youth, was a reprehensible policy.

Meanwhile, the de Blasio campaign found a way to tap into the huge discontent over stop and frisk in the Black community. With his biracial son as the star of his campaign commercial, de Blasio, who is white, went on the air waves and made clear to New Yorkers that stop and frisk was an initiative that had to end.

That captured the attention of a good many Black New Yorkers, who then began to listen to the candidate’s view that the Bloomberg administration had fostered a have-and-have-nots economy.

In doing so, de Blasio was able to capture 47 percent of the votes in neighborhoods in the city that were at 50 percent or more African-American. That compares with the 34 percent of the vote garnered by William Thompson, the former New York City comptroller, who is Black.

Another sign of the unpredictable strength of the Black electorate in New York City came in the stunning defeat of Brooklyn district attorney Charles J. Hynes, who was first elected nearly a quarter century ago. Hynes lost to Kenneth Thompson, an attorney making his first foray into elective politics. By handily winning the Democratic primary, Thompson is set to become the first Black district attorney in Brooklyn’s history.

The lesson of all of this is clear: Candidates and the media need to spend more time seeking to understand the views and opinions of African-American voters. It is the only way to fully understand the political landscape that they seek to comprehend. And, in the long run, it won’t hurt their campaigns or coverage.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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