NEW YORK — Bill de Blasio has gone from afterthought to front-runner with stunning speed.
The most liberal candidate in the New York City mayoral race, whose City Hall bid was floundering mere weeks ago, now enjoys a shocking perch atop the polls in the latest turn of the most unpredictable citywide campaign in decades.
And with the Democratic primary now less than a month away, de Blasio may have hit his stride at just the right time.
De Blasio, the city's public advocate, has been given a second look by an electorate that appears intrigued by his progressive policies and charmed by his multiracial family. His first TV ad, narrated by his soft-spoken 15-year-old son, came out just before his rise in the polls.
De Blasio, of Brooklyn, has also clearly benefited by the implosion of Anthony Weiner's candidacy, winning over legions of supporters turned off by the former Brooklyn and Queens congressman's latest sexting scandal.
"When Weiner entered the race, de Blasio was the most hurt, since they were both outer borough candidates appealing to the same progressive voters," said Jeanne Zaino, a New York University political science professor. "Those people have now turned to him."
Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg's impending departure after 12 years in office has created a wide-open race; the Democratic field alone has had three different leaders in as many weeks.
A Quinnipiac University poll this past week showed that de Blasio's support had doubled in less than a month, pushing him from fourth to slightly ahead of the pack. A second poll released this week showed him in a dead heat with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, with ex-comptroller Bill Thompson slightly behind. Weiner, once the leader, is now fourth.
De Blasio, 52, believes it was simply a matter of time before his message resonated with left-leaning voters in New York City, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1.
"It's happening now because people are finally starting to focus on the race," de Blasio told The Associated Press. "After 12 years of Mayor Bloomberg, people want a real change."
De Blasio, though largely unfamiliar on the national stage, has been a fixture for two decades in New York politics.
He was born in Massachusetts – and remains a Boston Red Sox fan – but as an adult became entrenched in the New York's liberal circles. De Blasio who stands 6-feet-5, advised former New York Mayor David Dinkins, worked in Bill Clinton's White House, chaired Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign and served on the City Council before becoming public advocate four years ago.
It is rare to find a candidate who appears almost gleeful when proposing raising taxes, but de Blasio has happily made as the centerpiece of his campaign a proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten.
He repeatedly brandishes the phrase "A tale of two cities" to rip the economic inequality between the rich and poor in the nation's largest city. He often bashes Quinn's links to Bloomberg and calls for more affordable housing.
And he has consistently attacked the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program – stopping and searching people deemed to be acting suspiciously – as discriminatory to blacks and Hispanics, an effort handed a victory this past week when a judge appointed a federal monitor to oversee the department.
De Blasio has aggressively courted minority voters, who are expected to make up more than 50 percent of the electorate on primary day Sept. 10. He has won endorsements from several black and Latino elected officials and the city's largest labor union, composed largely of minority workers.
He also has put his interracial family at the heart of his campaign.
His wife is an African-American who once identified as a lesbian, and their two teenage children are frequently on the campaign trail.
Their son, Dante, lovingly talks in the ad about his father's life and policies, including his opposition to stop-and-frisk. His earnest delivery and impressive Afro have made him a Twitter star, leading to the light-hearted hashtag (hash)fromentum.
"It's very effective and uses his family well," said Zaino, who noted that many New Yorkers have "Bloomberg fatigue" and such an ad is unlike anything the mayor would have done.
One of de Blasio's challenges – one harped upon by his rivals – is to explain what, exactly, his job as public advocate entails. The position was created in 1993 to be the city's watchdog, but it has little real power.
One recent crisis, though, allowed de Blasio to finally show off what his office can do. He fought the state university system's plan to close a Brooklyn hospital, staging a series of protests and even getting arrested at one. He secured a restraining order to keep the hospital open.
"He's peaking at the right time," said Jamie Chandler, political science professor at Hunter College. "But the race is still close – anything can happen."
Associated Press writer Bethan McKernan contributed to this report.
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The House has 233 Republicans and 200 Democrats. Each party should pick up one more seat when two vacancies are filled. Going into the election, the GOP edge was 242-193. Senate Democrats will have a caucus of 55, including two independents, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Republicans have 45. That's a pickup of two seats for Democrats. <em>(Text <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130103/us-new-congress-glance/">via the Associated Press</a>)</em>
The House will have 79 women, including 60 Democrats. At the end of the last session, there were 50 Democratic women and 24 Republican women. The new Senate will have 20 women members, an increase of three. That consists of 16 Democrats and four Republicans. The last Senate had 12 Democratic women and five Republicans. (Text <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130103/us-new-congress-glance/">via the Associated Press</a>)
With two vacancies to be filled, the House has 82 freshmen; 47 Democrats and 35 Republicans. As of the end of the last session, 87 of 103 freshmen were Republicans. The Senate will include 14 new faces, with nine Democrats and the independent King. Five are women. New senators include Brian Schatz, who was sworn in on Dec. 27 to fill the seat of the late Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye. (Text <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130103/us-new-congress-glance/">via the Associated Press</a>) <em>(Pictured at left: Incoming House freshmen of the 113th Congress pose for a group photo on the East steps of the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012. AP Photo/Susan Walsh)</em>
The House will have 40 African-Americans, all Democrats. The number of Democrats is unchanged, although two Republicans will be gone: Allen West, R-Fla., lost his re-election bid, and Tim Scott, R-S.C., was appointed to fill the Senate seat of Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who is retiring. Scott will be the first black lawmaker in the Senate since Roland Burris, who retired in 2010 after filling the Illinois Senate seat of Barack Obama for almost two years. (Text <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130103/us-new-congress-glance/">via the Associated Press</a>) <em>(Pictured at left: Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who was appointed by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., walks out of the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. AP Photo/Susan Walsh)</em>
The new House will have 33 Hispanics, with 25 Democrats and eight Republicans. That's up slightly from last year. The Senate will have three Hispanics: Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and Republican freshman Ted Cruz of Texas. (Text <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130103/us-new-congress-glance/">via the Associated Press</a>) <em>(Pictured at left: Rep.-elect Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, speaks with members of the media after a news conference with newly elected Democratic House members on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)</em>
The new House will have nine Asian Americans, all Democrats. There are two American Indians: Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Ben Lujan, D-N.M. (Text <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130103/us-new-congress-glance/">via the Associated Press</a>) <em>(Pictured at left: Sen.-elect, current Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and her husband, Leighton Oshima ride the Senate Subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)</em>
According to CQ Roll Call newspaper, the average age of House members in the 113th Congress is 57; the average age of senators is 62. It estimates that the House will include some 277 Protestants and Catholics, 22 Jews, two Muslims and two Buddhists. The Senate will have 80 Protestants and Catholics and 10 Jews. The House will have its first Hindu, Rep.Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. Senate freshman Mazie Hirono, also of Hawaii, will be the Senate's only Buddhist and its first Asian American woman. Also for the first time, white men will be a minority among House Democrats. (Text <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130103/us-new-congress-glance/">via the Associated Press</a>) <em>Pictured at left: Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii is seen on stage during a news conference with newly elected Democratic House members, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)</em>