Physically, Bill de Blasio, New York City’s public advocate, towers over his rivals. At six-foot-five in the middle of the stage, he stood out from line-up of Democrats vying to carry the party’s banner in the upcoming race for mayor of New York at their last debate before the primaries next week.
But it was new evidence of his stature with voters that made him the centre of attention (and the target of his rivals’ barbs) during the 90-minute forum on Tuesday night: the latest polls show that 43 per cent of the city’s Democratic faithful back him for the party’s nomination, a commanding lead that, if realised, would prevent an automatic runoff and almost certainly win him the keys to City Hall.
The figures confirmed how the dynamics of the race to replace Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor for over a decade, had changed. Owing to the sway that the Democrats hold over the Big Apple, the party’s candidate is expected to be a shoo-in for the post – and for much of the race, the candidate to beat has been the City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, the only woman in the contest.
Anthony Weiner, whose Congressional career came to an end after he admitted to sending lewd pictures of himself to women on Twitter, briefly held out the promise of an upset when he announced his return. But new revelations about his online habits have left him languishing in the polls. With Mr Weiner plummeting in the voters’ estimation, the spotlight shifted back to Ms Quinn, who would be the city’s first openly gay mayor.
Now, however, Mr de Blasio, who ran Hillary Clinton’s campaign during her first US Senate bid and is seen as the most liberal of the runners, is the clear leader. Presenting himself as a candidate who would protect the interests of the city’s middle-class and poor residents – people he says have been left behind as New York, under its billionaire mayor Mr Bloomberg, became a haven for the rich – he hit the headlines earlier this summer after being arrested while leading a demonstration to protest the possible closure of a Brooklyn hospital.
His campaign, meanwhile, has highlighted his mixed-race family, with a recent spot starring his 15-year-old son Dante, whose afro was a talking point among Twitter users when he first appeared with Mr de Blasio earlier this year. He has often been accompanied on the trail by his African-American wife, Chirlane McCray.
On Tuesday, as the polls confirmed his ascendancy, Ms Quinn sought to hammer him on his record, saying: “He will say anything depending on whose votes he is trying to get.” The other candidates also piled in, with John Liu, the city’s comptroller, saying he had a “problem with credibility”, while Bill Thompson, a former comptroller, suggested he was an unreliable flip-flopper.
In a notable twist, Mr Weiner rose to Mr de Blasio’s defence, perhaps reasoning that, with little chance of succeeding himself, he might as well side with the likely victor.
The frontrunner, for his part, went after Ms Quinn by revisiting claims that she helped raise the two-term limit that would have stopped Mr Bloomberg from running for the post for a third time in exchange for an endorsement. Mr Bloomberg has not endorsed anyone thus far.
On the Republican side, the billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, former transportation official Joe Lhota and George McDonald, who set up a non-profit that helps find work for the indigent, are competing for the party’s nomination. Winners of the primaries next week will face off in November.
Fight for City Hall: The frontrunners
Christine Quinn (D)
The current Speaker of the City Council was widely expected to clinch the Democratic nomination. But her early lead has disappeared as public advocate Bill de Blasio grows in popularity.
Anthony Weiner (D)
The combative former Congressman had hoped to use a run for mayor to revive his political career after being forced to exit Washington once it emerged that he had sent lewd images of himself to women on Twitter. But new revelations of his online activities since then have cast a cloud over his candidacy.
Joe Lhota (R)
A former member of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s team when he ran the city and ex-head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Lhota is currently leading the Republican field.
John Catsimatidis (R)
A Greek-American billionaire, businessman Catsimatidis runs the city’s Gristedes chain of grocery stores. He is currently running second to Joe Lhota in the race to clinch the Republican nomination.