Most politically active New Yorkers don't know what to think of this year's mayoral race. To date, we've heard very little about the candidate's platforms, even though the Democratic primary (which will likely determine our next mayor) is only a few months away. The main reason the campaign season is not gaining much traction is that the candidates' campaigns are failing to do their jobs -- informing and mobilizing voters.
Marist's most recent poll (May 28) found that if the Democratic primary were held today, Christine Quinn, who has long been considered the front-runner, would receive 24 percent of the vote, followed by Anthony Weiner's 19 percent. Bill de Blasio is polling at 12 percent, with Thompston in a close 4th with 11 percent of the vote. John Liu trails with 8 percent. Politico reports that Quinn's lead is now within Marist's margin of error. Meanwhile, 23 percent of voters are undecided. Based on this data, Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, concluded that "The Democratic primary for mayor remains wide open."
Part of the reason that voters don't know who to support, is that campaigns are not making an effort to inform voters about where they stand on important issues. Each of them spews slogans about "supporting small business" and "revamping education" but for most New Yorkers, this doesn't translate into concrete voting issues. In my high school, even the most up-to-date Democrats know very little more than the following: Christine Quinn is gay, Anthony Wiener sent pictures of himself to an intern, John Liu is Asian, and Bill de Blasio is New York's Public Advocate. The mainstream media exposes us to little more than these descriptions of who each candidate is.
In researching this piece, I decided I'd do the work to inform myself about all of the candidates in the race. Let me give you an example of what I found. Go to Christine Quinn's website, and on the issues tab click on the education button. You'll find six pages of information, packed with 1,500 words, just about her education platform. While I have the time to spend reading through this entire page, not many New Yorkers want to spend the close to 30 minutes it takes to really investigate Quinn's position on this one issue. In fact, only 3 people have liked the page on Facebook. Worse, after reading through the entire page, I still don't know whether Quinn is a candidate worth supporting. Her platforms are vague, and some of them are blatantly unrealistic. For example, she says that she "will keep more of our kids in a structured education program until 6 p.m." It doesn't take a genius to realize that we can barely afford to keep students in school until 3:30 p.m., and that recent teacher layoffs make this a near impossibility. Quinn isn't alone. None of the candidates are able to offer clear and concise explanations of their plans for New York City.
While it should be voter's responsibility to stay informed about issues, unfortunately this is not the political reality we live in. So beyond making information available to voters, campaigns need to engage in voter outreach if they are going to stand a chance. And none of the campaigns have made a significant attempt to build a grassroots campaign.
In 2010, I worked on the Maloney for Congress campaign as a fellow (intern supervisor) and saw what a real grassroots campaign can accomplish. Despite Maloney's very clear lead in the polls, her campaign managers were determined to win by a landslide. They built a team of over 300 interns, who in one week, could knock on 4,000 doors, make over 30,000 calls and spend hundreds of hours gaining visibility, as interns distributed literature on street corners and displayed posters at train stations. The biggest campaign team in the city's recent history delivered Maloney a historic victory with 81 percent of the vote. This is the type of grassroots activism that I expected to see in the months leading up to what will be the tightest mayoral race in decades. But I've seen none of it.
Hundreds of high school students and political activists across New York are waiting to be mobilized. The campaign team which takes advantage of their work ethic will be able to recruit hundreds of thousands of man-hours to their cause. It has been done before, and it can be done again.
But first, candidates need to do something even more important -- they need figure out what they stand for. And unless this happens soon, we can look forward to a lackluster campaign season.