THE BLOG
11/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Two Ways Of Looking At New York's Runoff Election

If you failed to vote Tuesday, take heart. Nobody else did, either.

The turnout was memorable for its lowness. Still, the people who did show up for the runoff elections in New York City picked the next comptroller (John Liu) and public advocate (Bill de Blasio).

We don't have to pretend these races are going on to November. Even Michael Bloomberg, who's supposed to be at the head of the Republican ticket, says the Democrats are going to win everything except -- of course -- his job. This seems a little rude of Bloomberg, but not dishonest.

So what should we think about the results?

Two possible ways of looking at it. One is that it was all about the labor-backed Working Families Party, which endorsed both winners under the peculiar New York laws that allows one party to put another party's candidate on their line. The WFP wants all of New York to believe that it can make or break a Democrat running in a tough primary, and that therefore everybody had better treat their issues, and opinions, with extreme respect.

The other is that John Liu won because the Asian-American community was hungry for representation and Bill de Blasio won because everyone was tired of Mark Green.

I go for number two.

Liu is an affable city councilman. His worst sin so far has been creating an up-from-the-abyss myth about his childhood as a sweatshop worker while his real upbringing was a lot less dire.

I can live with that, having been known to make my own Dorchester youth a little
tougher than it was in fact.

What we don't know is how Liu would do at the incredibly important but unglamorous job of comptroller. So far, there's nothing in his political life that demonstrates he would have a gift for this kind of post. The thing to watch is what sort of people he picks as his No. 2, 3, and 4. Are they smart, hard-headed numbers crunchers or friends of important friends?

Liu's own reputation is on the line and -- small detail here -- perhaps the financial fate of the city.

The public advocate is a far less important job. One might even say meaningless. If it has any purpose in existing at all, it's to give a very large city with very few city-wide jobs another platform to groom people for higher (mayoral) office.

Mark Green was a fine public advocate in the eight years he already served in the job. But he's been defeated for mayor already. The city decided it was time for a change.

Bill de Blasio has the enviable job of spending the next four years doing nothing but pointing out shortcomings in the current administration and positioning himself to run as Bloomberg's successor in 2013. Let's see how it goes. De Blasio's ability to distance himself from the Working Families Party may tell part of the tale.

In the meantime, let's give Green a proper farewell. His political career is probably over. (We've gone through "probably over" with Green before, but this is a whole new level of overness.)

He has been a sterling public servant, honest, energetic, imaginative. His political skills never quite matched the level of his intelligence and integrity. He needs to move on, as do we.

But that doesn't mean we don't appreciate what came before.