It’s been 20 years since Sal Albanese notched a moral victory for insurgent candidates when, as a little known City Councilmember with little money or polish, he took 21 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for mayor. It’s been four years since Albanese ran again for the Democratic nomination and lost badly.
This year, Albanese believes, he’s a better candidate at a better moment. In 1997, he was a novice. In 2013, he didn’t have the money to compete for attention amid the storylines swirling around Anthony Weiner. This year, he says, he’s got more wisdom and a better operation against a mayor whose popularity is “paper thin.”
“Where is the enthusiasm for de Blasio?” Albanese asked on Monday in the Max & Murphy studio. “Where is it?” Polls reflecting the mayor’s solid approval rate, he said, also expose areas of vulnerability.
While Albanese denied any personal animus toward de Blasio, he is certainly a fierce critic of the mayor, faulting him for shortchanging public employees, eroding law enforcement morale, failing to manage the homelessness crisis properly and being too close to real-estate industry donors.
Albanese’s critique sometimes rests on feeling more than fact: Asked if the city, where crime is near historic lows, has a public-safety problem as Albanese’s platform implies, the candidate says, “It has a quality of life problem. There’s an uneasiness on the city’s streets about quality of life issues.” But he does have a few policy ideas with a stronger foundation, including his support for the MoveNY transportation funding plan and his call for “democracy vouchers.”
De Blasio probably has a retort to many of Albanese’s criticisms, and it’s an open question which man’s argument would win the day on an even playing field. But the playing field will never be level. Albanese has raised about $83,000 so far and while he has spent very little of it, he lags the mayor’s fundraising by an order of magnitude. He actually had raised more money by this time in 2013, when he ended up hauling in about $337,000, less than he did in 1997, and never qualified for public funds.
In ’97, Albanese nabbed about 83,000 votes amid very low turnout. Four years ago, with slightly higher turnout, he secured only 5,800 ballots. This year’s race could see voting rates approaching 1997 levels. For Albanese to outdo his poor performance four years ago, he’ll have to capitalize on the alleged lack of enthusiasm for de Blasio by getting Primary Day stalwarts to show some passion for Sal 2017.