Progressive Bill de Blasio took a commanding lead in yesterday’s NYC mayoral election, and will either face William Thompson in a runoff or win the Democratic nomination outright. With a final vote count still days away, de Blasio slightly exceeded the 40% needed to avoid a runoff; Thompson had 26% and Bloomberg ally and onetime favorite Christine Quinn was at 15%. The results reflect both a powerful repudiation of three-time mayor Michael Bloomberg, and a sharp move to the left by an electorate fed up with the city being run by and for the 1%. Both top vote-getters harshly criticized Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk” police strategy, and de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” campaign theme found support among voters of all income levels. Nearly two years after Occupy Wall Street highlighted rising income inequality, voters have set NYC on a different course.

Although we still do not know for certain whether a runoff will be necessary, progressive Bill de Blasio will almost certainly win the Democratic runoff and go on to become NYC’s first progressive mayor in over fifty years.

De Blasio won big because he was perceived as the candidate who could best reverse the course set by Bloomberg over the past twelve years and Giuliani over the prior eight. This course, which put Wall Street first and passed laws giving developers carte blanche to run roughshod over once affordable neighborhoods (e.g. Williamsburg), has left NYC the extreme microcosm of the rising inequality that has come to plague the nation.

As I wrote on September 3, this election was a referendum on Michael Bloomberg’s governance. Bloomberg has been testy as de Blasio’s poll numbers pulled away from the field, leading the mayor to even criticize his likely successor as a “racist” for campaigning with his interracial family.

Bloomberg most objected to de Blasio’s argument that the wealthy have gained at the expense of the middle and working class. He called de Blasio a “very populist, very left-wing guy.”

On that latter point Bloomberg is correct. A cousin of former UNITE HERE leader John Wilhelm, de Blasio has long been a powerful advocate for labor unions and economic justice. He staked his entire campaign opposing efforts to close hospitals serving low-income residents, and while this is not the type of issue Bloomberg spent time on, it resonated with the public.

The Next Election

It could be days before we know if de Blasio avoided a runoff, but it’s hard to see him losing to Thompson if this becomes necessary. And he faces an easy opponent in Republican nominee, Joseph Lhota.

Like Barack Obama in 2008, Bill de Blasio was the right candidate with the right message for the 2013 NYC mayor’s race.

To paraphrase the late Mario Savio’s legendary comments during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, there comes a time when the elitism of NYC politics becomes so odious, and makes voters so sick at heart, that they had to put their bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and make it stop.

On September 10, 2013, New York City voters finally put a stop to the cycle of demolition and displacement that has harmed so many to the benefit of so few. It is a victory not just for those in Bill de Blasio’s town, but for all who care about greater social and economic justice in the nation.

Randy Shaw’s new book is The Activist’s Handbook, Second Edition: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century.