Do not underestimate underdog mayoral candidates

By Tom Allon

I was so often labeled an underdog by the media when I ran for mayor last year that I jokingly told my friends I was thinking of changing my first name to “Longshot.”

Such is the indignity faced by some smart and decent people now toiling for long hours in the browbeating summer sun in their seemingly quixotic attempts to become mayor of New York City.

Just a quick reminder for those with short-term memory loss: 12 years ago a political neophyte who was unknown outside New York’s financial and philanthropic world catapulted to the mayoralty in 2001.

In July 2001, no one — including insiders like me — thought Michael Bloomberg had a shot at becoming the next leader of New York. But his strong and well-financed campaign, led by brilliant strategist Kevin Sheekey, was aided by the aftermath of Sept. 11 and outgoing Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s endorsement and immense popularity.

This year, however, the conventional underdogs lack Bloomberg’s game-changing wealth and it is hard to imagine a scenario where one emerges to win in November.

But here I would like to praise these underdogs for their talents and ideas, not write them off as so many have done erroneously in political punditry in the past.

On the Democratic side, you essentially have five career politicians who make up the top tier — Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn, Anthony Weiner, Bill de Blasio and John Liu — and then two other long shots: Sal Albanese and Erick Salgado.

Albanese had a distinguished career as a city councilman from Brooklyn for more than a decade and, in 1997, ran a strong mayoral campaign for the Democratic nomination, finishing third behind Ruth Messinger and Al Sharpton.

Albanese, a former school teacher, then spent more than a decade in the private sector before he decided to make another run for City Hall. He has some sound, centrist ideas on education, transportation and public safety, but because he is trailing badly in the early polls, he receives scant attention from the media and political insiders.

I got to know Albanese up close during the race and I was impressed with his thoughtfulness, integrity, courage and desire to help his city. Hopefully, he will get more attention and perhaps spike upward in the polls.

Salgado is a passionate, feisty candidate who also wants to help his city, but his right-leaning views on some issues will likely marginalize him in a Democratic primary, where almost everyone runs to the left. He jumped into the race after I jumped out, so I did not get a chance to meet him at one of the countless mayoral forums, but I admire his gumption to run a real outsider campaign.

On the GOP side, it looks like a two-person race for the nomination between billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis and former Giuliani deputy mayor Joe Lhota.

On the fringes in the Republican primary is a man named George McDonald, who has had a successful run in helping alleviate New York’s homeless problem in the past two decades. His Doe Fund gets formerly homeless people jobs and helps restore their dignity.

Although McDonald is considered a long shot, hopefully his ideas on battling poverty will help the next mayor combat the rising problem of homelessness and inequality.

On the Independence line, there is former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who is banking on being the only minority in a three-way general election in November.

As Catsimatidis pointed out a few months ago, “Adolfo Carrion could be the Ross Perot of this campaign,” referring to the third-party presidential candidate in 1993.

Carrion is a centrist, pro-charter school, pro-business and pro-real estate candidate who has experience from his work in the Bronx and as an urban affairs policy person in the Obama administration.

But what Carrion does not have is a major party line and thus is likely, at best, to be a spoiler in November.

Beware political top dogs. They often end up in the dust bin of history.

Tom Allon, president of City & State, NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at [email protected].

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