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Here's Why De Blasio Still Has 'Overwhelming' Support From Black Community

By Jeff Mays | September 12, 2014 8:43am
 In spite of recent policing controversies, black voters still support Mayor Bill de Blasio. Seventy percent of black voters in a recent Quinnipiac University poll say de Blasio understood the problems of people like them.
In Spite of Policing Controversy, Black Voters Still Support De Blasio
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CIVIC CENTER — Eric Garner's death provoked a massive protest march and a move to reform aggressive policing tactics by the NYPD.

But one thing that hasn't budged since the black Staten Island man died from an apparent police chokehold in July is Mayor Bill de Blasio's standing with the black community in New York City.

The mayor has seen his approval rating among blacks remain steady at 65 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released late last month.

"Overwhelming," said Maurice Carroll, assistant director of Quinnipiac University's polling service, in describing de Blasio's support among black voters. "You don't get those kind of numbers."

De Blasio's continued high rating among blacks comes even as he has strongly defended both "Broken Windows" policing, the strategy of focusing on small quality-of-life crimes as a way to prevent bigger ones, and Police Commissioner William Bratton, whose approval rating fell after the Garner incident.

Critics say "Broken Windows" is the base philosophy for stop-and-frisk, a policy de Blasio slammed during his campaign, which helped him get into office. Both policing efforts tend to disproportionately target minorities.

Still, more than half of black voters, 53 percent, approve of how de Blasio is handling relations between police and the community, but only 41 percent of blacks approve of the way Bratton is handling his job, the poll found.

Seventy percent of black voters agreed that de Blasio understood the problems of people like them. Only half of Hispanic voters felt the same way and only 45 percent of white voters agreed.

"For the past 20 years there hasn't been a mayor who has paid attention to African-Americans, not in any real sense," said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. "This is a mayor who treats African-Americans as a valued constituency, who makes it clear that he understands that's who elected him."

The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a civil rights leader, said it was unclear how well de Blasio would ultimately handle relations between police and the black community.

"I'm waiting. I'm giving him a little more time — put it that way," Daughtry said. "I think he's a mayor who cares."

Police misconduct isn't the only issue blacks are concerned about, Sherrill said.

"The school system, housing, a focus on inequality and sick leave," he said. "There's a whole question of paying attention, showing up and listening, and caring about what the community feels."

De Blasio has also cautiously embraced a push by the only black citywide elected official, Public Advocate Letitia James, to outfit police with body cameras. He dropped appeals of a judge's ruling on stop-and-frisk and he settled the long-running wrongful conviction case for the "Central Park Five."

"He has gone after low-hanging fruit," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. "If you are not willing to do the low-hanging fruit then you are not going to give us the fruit at the top of the tree."

The much publicized rollout of universal pre-K also affects the black community more than other communities, Adams added.

"De Blasio may be saying pre-K is important for the entire city, but those issues impact particular areas a lot more."

De Blasio has also used his relationships — with his family — and leaders like  the Rev. Al Sharpton to appeal to black voters.

"It doesn't hurt that when I look at my son, his physical characteristics are the same physical characteristics that the mayor sees in his son," Adams said. "So when a young black child complains about being stopped and frisked unjustly, the mayor can empathize with that."

Basil Smikle Jr., a political consultant, said de Blasio's poll numbers reflect that he has "largely relied on Sharpton to do his black politics." Sharpton was at two meetings after Garner's death.

Smikle criticized that strategy, saying it "encourages a laziness among people who should be reaching out to the black community more broadly."

Recently, de Blasio was at Lincoln Houses in East Harlem to announce a plan to remove more than 8 miles of scaffolding from public housing developments around the city that residents say contributed to a sense of neglect and allowed crime to flourish.

Patricia Herman, president of the Lincoln Houses' tenant's association, said residents have complained about the scaffolding for years and that the move would win de Blasio more supporters in public housing, where 46 percent of the 400,000 residents are African-American.

"This means something," she said. "It's like somebody is really listening to us."

Smikle warned that de Blasio is still in the honeymoon phase with black voters.

He's going to have to continue to diversify his administration and make sure black-owned businesses have access to the billions in city contracts for continued support.

"At the end of four years, the question will be whether the black community is in a better place," Smikle said.

Reginald Wilson, whose family hosted de Blasio when he was one of five mayoral candidates to spend a night in the Lincoln Houses during the run-up to last year's primary election, agreed.

To get his vote again, Wilson said de Blasio must address the higher-than-average unemployment rate among black men.

"How can black people live in this rich city and still have to fight for the basics?" Wilson said. "I know a lot of black people who support the mayor, but they all want action. Don't take our support for granted."