In the 2013 New York City Democratic mayoral race, the primary didn’t only look like New York, it looked a lot like America: There was an openly gay woman, an Asian-American, an African-American, a Jewish man and a former activist with a mixed-race family (he’s a 6’5” white guy). Was it parity with the population? No. But was it this much-coveted diversity of contestants? Yes.
The Republican primary, in contrast, was between a white guy billionaire and a white guy backed by a billionaire (David Koch). Who won? Money. (Because of low turnout and a small voting pool, only 29,807 people voted for the Republican candidate winner, Joe Lhota. The personally repugnant Democrat Anthony Weiner came in last yet received 31,874 votes. A couple thousand more than the Republican winner. Weiner could use this fact to stay in the public eye, let’s hope he won’t.)
So what happened with the Democratic primary? Well, according to exit polls, the gays didn’t vote for the gay candidate. Black women didn’t vote for the African-American candidate. Jewish voters didn’t vote for the Jewish candidate. And women didn’t vote for the woman.
The follow-up to Election Day featured a lot (A LOT) of gay-splaining about why the LGBTQ community needed to support Christine Quinn. Sharon Lerner at The American Prospect wrote, “Christine Quinn is a powerful woman, someone who’s already played a big part in running the city, working closely with the mayor, business community, and other powers that be. Some voters might see that as a simple positive. But, not, apparently, New York’s Democratic women.” Translation: if women don’t support a female candidate something is wrong with them. Quinn came in third among women, according to exit poll data, and second among those who identify as LGBTQ.
If you don’t live in New York City, you shouldn’t be bored with the tedium of city ordinances, land use issues, public schools, taxi medallions, police chiefs and MTA rate hikes that swayed (or didn’t sway) voters. What is important about this race was the conventional wisdom it ended up bucking: that of identity politics.
In the era of the first black president of the United States, there is an oversimplification of what diversity means. It’s most reductive in Republican circles, where all black people must agree with Obama 100 percent of the time or that means he’s lost black people. And therefore they’re ripe to become Republicans. Please stop.
And second is Republicans’ cynical use of tokenism. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, is going to win the Latino vote for Republicans. Ted Cruz, a Canadian-American, is going to win the Canadian vote for Texas. Women will vote Republican because of Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Liz Cheney. Young people will vote Republican because…Kid Rock (cringe). Herman Cain and Condoleezza Rice are going to convince African-Americans that the Republican Party is for them.
Despite the autopsies and sad parading of conservative minorities like albino elephants — only old white men vote Republican.
No Republicans spoke at the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington a few weeks ago. It’s not that they weren’t invited. They absolutely were. In a telling example, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor turned down the gig, according to the Grand Folks Herald, to meet with oil lobbyists that day. King was, after all, assassinated while giving support to the Memphis sanitation workers strike. Unions, workers’ rights, economic justice —not exactly the RNC platform.
Appointing the Republican black Senator, Tim Scott, doesn’t make it even.
But the 2013 NYC mayoral contest has a lesson for Democrats, too: Identity politics doesn’t seal the deal anymore. You don’t just win over voters by looking like them. You win over voters by speaking to them. And apparently, Bill de Blasio, a politician who’s running on raising taxes on the rich, is speaking to New Yorkers.
Tina Dupuy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.