NEW YORK — Now comes the hard part.
Gliding to victory, Bill de Blasio was re-elected on Tuesday as the mayor of New York City, defeating his Republican challenger, Nicole Malliotakis, and a handful of independent candidates in an affirmation of his progressive agenda.
De Blasio, the first Democratic mayor to be re-elected in a generation, since Edward I. Koch captured his third term in 1985, now has four years to further his goal of reshaping the city in his progressive mold. But his ability to deliver may have far more to do with the winds blowing out of Washington and Albany than with circumstances in the five boroughs.
Federal budget cuts — threatened by President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress, especially to social programs, health care and public housing — could cause serious problems and exacerbate social ills, forcing de Blasio to do financial triage. That could potentially drain money from signature programs, like his promise to accelerate and expand a push to build and preserve affordable housing.
And de Blasio, 56, remains hampered by his inability to forge a working relationship with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat; many of the mayor’s plans require Albany’s approval, and the mayor has had few willing partners in the Capitol.
He has said that he would crusade in Albany to make the city’s arcane property tax system more fair across neighborhoods. He said that he would appeal to Albany to improve the state’s voting system to increase participation by making it easier to register to vote and to vote early.
He wants money from Albany to make free schooling available to all 3-year-olds. And he wants the state to approve a tax on wealthy New Yorkers to pay for subway improvements.
De Blasio is counting on his victory to propel those changes.
His victory over Malliotakis, a Republican assemblywoman from Staten Island, has all but been assured since March, when federal and state prosecutors ended their investigations into his fundraising practices, and decided not to bring charges. At that point, serious Democratic challengers who had been considering running against de Blasio opted to stay on the sidelines.
De Blasio maintained a low-key, play-it-safe campaign, promising to continue the work of his first term to address what he has called the “crisis of affordability.”
He benefited from a strong economy, centering his re-election message on the core accomplishments of his first term — free prekindergarten, investments in affordable housing and low crime — and on his pledge to further his administration’s efforts on early childhood education and housing.
He withstood the sort of last-minute twists and events that could have made an incumbent vulnerable in a different, more closely-fought campaign: a former donor testifying in a federal trial that he made contributions in exchange for access to City Hall; a deadly terror attack near the World Trade Center days before the vote.
And he benefited from national politics, holding himself up as the city’s bulwark against Trump, who was roundly rejected by New York City voters in 2016. De Blasio rarely skipped a chance to point out that Malliotakis voted for Trump last November.
In eschewing broad new proposals, de Blasio focused his campaign on get-out-the-vote efforts, after only about 14 percent of registered Democratic voters turned out for the New York City primary in September.
But two weeks before the election, de Blasio was battered by embarrassing court testimony from a real estate investor who had once been one of the mayor’s most generous political contributors. The man, Jona S. Rechnitz, testifying in the federal corruption trial of a labor leader, talked about trading campaign money for favors and meetings with city officials.
De Blasio dismissed the testimony as the lies of a felon — Rechnitz pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count relating to bribery and influence buying — and he seemed to skate past it.
Still, the testimony reminded voters of the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s campaign finance practices that hobbled his administration throughout 2016 and into the first part of this year.
All that dampened support from the city’s editorial boards. The Daily News made a show of not endorsing de Blasio or any other candidate, as did Crain’s New York, the business publication. The Chief-Leader, a liberal weekly read by city workers and union members, wrote that de Blasio did not have the character to continue as mayor and urged a protest vote for Albanese. The New York Post and the Staten Island Advance endorsed Malliotakis. Only The New York Times, among the city’s major dailies, endorsed de Blasio.
In the end, the campaign could not escape the paradox of the mayor’s personality: The “tale of two cities” of his campaign four years earlier had become a tale of two ways of seeing the mayor — a man who had made good on many of his promises and yet elicited little enthusiasm.
The race was violently punctuated a week before the election when a man drove a rented pickup truck down the Hudson River Park bike lane, killing eight people and injuring a dozen, in what de Blasio quickly characterized as an act of terrorism. The carnage echoed the terror attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, which occurred on the day of the mayoral primary that year, and helped create the conditions for de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, to be elected mayor.
But de Blasio’s firm and reassuring response to the tragedy provided no opening for his rivals to criticize his leadership under crisis.
Malliotakis was not well known when she announced in March that she would seek the Republican nomination. Even after months of running, in what was her first citywide race, polls showed that most voters in the city — where Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters by more than 6-1 — did not know enough about her to form an opinion. She struggled to get voters’ attention and to articulate a strong positive case for her candidacy, aside from criticism of de Blasio.
Even before the results were in, de Blasio viewed the day in broad historical terms. “There’s no reason in the world we should have had 20 years of Republican mayors in New York City,” de Blasio said after voting in Brooklyn, referring to his immediate predecessors. “My hope is, starting today, if the people are with me, that we restore the idea that this is a consistent Democratic and progressive town and that goes on for many years.”
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: