A panel of New York political journalists gave what amounted to a collective mea culpa Tuesday night for nearly ignoring mayor-elect Bill de Blasio until he had all but won the Democratic primary.
Speaking at a forum held by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, journalists from the New York Daily News, WNYC, New York 1 and Politico all lamented that de Blasio’s sudden ascendance took them by surprise while they were still focusing on other candidates. The result, they said, is an incoming mayor who has received very little vetting from the press.
“We all sort of, I believe, misread how serious a contender de Blasio was from the very beginning,” said Joel Siegel, politics editor of the Daily News. “I don’t think he got the scrutiny in the beginning that Chris Quinn got or Bill Thompson got.”
Before de Blasio surged in the polls in late August, shortly before the primary, the press had largely focused on three other candidates—Christine Quinn, the initial frontrunner; Anthony Weiner, whose sexting travails entertained the country; and Bill Thompson, who some thought had an inherent advantage by being the sole black candidate.
But while Quinn lost her lead, Thompson failed to gain traction and Weiner imploded under the weight of his scandals, de Blasio was quietly delivering a left-wing message that appealed to more voters than the press generally recognized.
“I think collectively New York saw twenty years of Republican and independent rule and thought that was the norm,” Siegel said. The reality, he argued, is that New York is a very liberal city that was ready for a change—and de Blasio realized it first.
“We did not get the whole de Blasio phenomenon until de Blasio was basically mayor-elect,” he said.
As a result, at least three of the journalists agreed, de Blasio escaped much of the scrutiny that his opponents had faced from the press.
Maggie Haberman, who covered the mayoral race for Politico, said she considers de Blasio “pretty under-covered” for an incoming mayor.
“I do think that he’s coming in as one of the least scrutinized mayors in recent memory,” she said.
Brian Lehrer, of WNYC, admitted that his own show had not spent enough time examining de Blasio’s resume.
“We definitely failed to scrutinize his record in terms of management experience,” he said.
Before de Blasio entered the spotlight, the New York Times ran a devastating story on Christine Quinn’s aggressive tactics as City Council speaker, and nearly every media outlet paid more attention—too much attention, most journalists on the panel said—to Anthony Weiner.
“The whole Anthony Weiner thing was a distraction,” Lehrer said, lamenting that the sex scandals drove attention away from important issues. “It took the air out of the room.”
Even Bill Thompson, for most of the summer, received more attention from the press than de Blasio.
Errol Louis, host of New York 1’s “Road to City Hall,” said he had “privately” predicted that New York’s ethnic voting patterns would play out as usual in the election—pointing, perhaps, to a Thompson victory. According to the CUNY J-School’s incoming dean, Sarah Bartlett, Louis had predicted that Thompson would win.
But Thompson failed to gain a major advantage with black voters throughout the summer, trailing both Weiner and Quinn at one point in the polls. In the end, de Blasio’s own biracial family—prominently featured in a popular TV ad narrated by his son—may have given him the advantage Louis expected for Thompson.
“Turned out he was a black candidate,” Louis said of de Blasio. “Who could have known?”