CIVIC CENTER — Voters headed to the polls Tuesday to pick the city's first new mayor in 12 years — but they faced obstacles including tiny ballot type and broken machines as they tried to cast their votes.
As voters contended with paper ballots and the new scanner voting machines, Bill de Blasio, who maintained a consistent and sizable lead over his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, in the polls, appeared poised to become the city's first Democratic mayor in two decades. Many voters said that after 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, they wanted a progressive leader who would focus on the middle class and reform the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk tactic.
But voters were also concerned about the mechanics of casting their ballots — especially after the new voting machines broke down at polling locations across the city.
At P.S. 321 in Park Slope and Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, all of the scanning machines were broken for hours on Tuesday morning, and voters elsewhere complained that the 6-point ballot type was so small that they had a hard time reading it.
"The calls have been steady," said Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the New York Public Interest Research Group, which fielded complaints from unhappy voters, "but it's not like the primary. We were getting deluged with voting machine calls. It's a safe bet that it'll be quieter, but you know, the day is young."
One exception was in Brooklyn's 52nd Assembly District — which covers parts of Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Prospect Heights and Boerum Hill — where NYPIRG heard about nine polling sites with broken machines, including P.S. 321, P.S. 282, P.S. 129, Brooklyn Borough Hall and Wyckoff Gardens Community Center, Russianoff said.
Michael Ryan, executive director of the Board of Elections, acknowledged "some issues on the startup" in the 52nd Assembly District.
"But we had a full-court press on that first thing in the morning," Ryan told reporters Tuesday, "and my understanding is those issues are being resolved on a rotational basis."
The Board of Elections had returned to using the scanning machines for Tuesday's general election after resurrecting the old lever voting machines for September's primary.
Some voters turned out early to cast their ballots, in a race that appeared likely to elect the city's first Democratic mayor since David Dinkins won in 1989.
"I hope Bill de Blasio wins and makes a lot of changes," said 25-year-old Julia Quinlan, who works in publishing and cast her ballot at 12th Street and First Avenue in the East Village. "I think Mayor Bloomberg was out of touch and didn't understand the middle class or the working class. I think Bill de Blasio does."
Others shied away from treating the election as a referendum on the Bloomberg administration.
"I'm excited to vote, like always. I'm looking for new blood and people who manage financial and social causes well," said 33-year-old Cydney Goldberg, who declined to say who got her vote. "I think Mayor Bloomberg did a good job."
Kevin Jackson, 60, voted for de Blasio in the East Village, but he said he supported Lhota's stance on crime.
"I'd rather have stop-and-frisk. It was definitely working. I've been stopped and frisked three times, but I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The officers were professional. They were just doing their jobs," said Jackson, who is black. "I never thought I was being profiled or targeted."
In Park Slope, voter Melanie Rehak said she chose De Blasio because of his vow to help the middle class.
"Plus, he lives on my street," Rehak said. "It's nice to see someone who has a slightly better handle on the average New Yorker's life could get into office.... It's nice to think of someone who's raised their children and is not a billionaire being mayor."
De Blasio and Lhota both drew crowds of reporters as they voted at their local polling places — though de Blasio was about an hour late because of a surprise visit from his 18-year-old daughter, Chiara, who attends college in California, which the candidate called "the greatest gift I could have on Election Day."
As de Blasio bubbled in his paper ballot in Park Slope, he joked that he felt like he was taking a standardized test, though he quickly turned serious, calling voting "an emotional moment."
"It’s been a very, very long journey and to get to this morning at our polling site, in our neighborhood," de Balsio said. "To finally cast our vote is incredible."
Among the other contests on the ballot, political observers will be watching the hotly contested race for Brooklyn district attorney. Longtime DA Charles Hynes is running on the Republican and Conservative party lines after losing to opponent Ken Thompson in the Democratic primary.
Hynes has been fending off charges of race-baiting against African-American Thompson, who represented Dominique Strauss-Kahn's accuser in a hotel rape attempt allegation. In turn, Hynes accused Thompson of getting political help from disgraced former Brooklyn party boss Clarence Norman Jr., which Thompson denied.
Voters criticized Hynes for relying on false confessions, allegedly coerced by detective Louis Scarcella, to prosecute cases.
"I hope Ken Thompson beats Hynes. He's a crook. Look at all those people he sent to jail that didn't do the crime," said 74-year-old Harold Walker, who voted at Benjamin Banneker high school.
In other races, City Councilwoman Letitia James is expected to easily win the public advocate seat, while Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is expected to beat GOP contender John Burnett, who has a deep resume in finance, for comptroller.
On the City Council side, a handful of contested seats will determine how much of a foothold Republicans will have going forward.
Among the voters who hit the polls on Tuesday was 49-year-old Jamila Al Youmni, who became a citizen in September and was voting for the first time.
"You have to vote because I became a citizen and this country gave me a lot of good things," said the Morocco native. "I have to do as an American."
Al Youmni wouldn't say who she voted for, but she supported one issue wholeheartedly: "Only peace and love. I like peace."
With reporting by Paul DeBenedetto, Ben Fractenberg, Emily Frost, Katie Honan and Trevor Kapp.