New York mayor: de Blasio tipped to replace Bloomberg

New Yorkers went to the polls to elect a new mayor, with progressive Democrat Bill de Blasio tipped for a landslide victory to replace billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

The 52-year-old public advocate and his black formerly lesbian wife promise a new style in a city transformed by 12 years of tough love under Bloomberg, who is stepping down after a record three terms.

De Blasio's campaign has left Republican rival Joe Lhota trailing in the dust, addressing the concerns of the economically vulnerable middle class and tapping into a far larger Democratic electorate.

He went into the election with an historic 41-point lead over Lhota, putting him on course to be the first Democrat elected mayor of the biggest US city since 1989.

"I think the people of this city know that so many New Yorkers are struggling just to make ends meet," he said after voting with wife Chirlane in his gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, accompanied by their teenage children Chiara and Dante.

"We need to make very serious progressive change and move away from Bloomberg-era policies and I'm ready to do it and I need the support of New Yorkers to get it done."

The city of 8.3 million has six times as many Democrat voters as Republicans, yet David Dinkins was the last Democrat to win the race in 1989.

De Blasio has focused on the yawning gulf between rich and poor in a city with more than 440,000 millionaires but where 21 per cent live in poverty on $30,944 a year for a family of four.

He promises to raise taxes to fund universal pre-kindergarten education and after school programs, and build 200,000 affordable housing units.

His family has featured prominently in his campaign, an effort to connect to ordinary people and a diverse electorate with 33.3 per cent of New York white, 25.5 per cent black, 28.6 per cent Hispanic and 12.7 per cent Asian.

Lhota was also upbeat Tuesday despite trailing in the polls.

"Doing well, doing well. Very optimistic about today," he said after voting in upmarket Brooklyn Heights.

He is a former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani and a respected former chairman of the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Before being public advocate, de Blasio was on the city council for eight years, a housing official under President Bill Clinton and managed Hillary Clinton's New York Senate race in 2000.

He has been endorsed by a host of New York celebrities, including actresses Susan Sarandon and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Yet there are questions about whether he has the experience to lead a city hall staff of 300,000 and a budget of $72 billion.

There are also concerns that New York politics will again fall victim to cronyism and election-cycles after Bloomberg, whose vast wealth left him beholden to no one, steps down.

Several voters told AFP that Bloomberg would be a hard act to follow for whoever won the election.

Adriana, 63, who works for a charity said she had voted for de Blasio as a life-long Democrat but had some reservations.

"I don't know whether he is going to embrace the arts. I don't know whether he will have the pull at City Hall the mayor had, yes, I am a little concerned, but he is better than the alternative."

"The sad part about New York - young people cannot live in New York anymore, housing is too expensive," she said.

Scott de Nino, 44, who works in advertising, said Lhota was his man. "I really liked Michael Bloomberg so I hope things don't change too much, as I think he really did a very good job."

Heath Brown, assistant professor of political science at Seton Hall University, said de Blasio's biggest challenge will be to transition from campaigning to governance.

"From Wednesday morning to January 1 the real hard task is figuring out how to transition into the job of being mayor," Brown told AFP.

Filling key positions, organizing his administration and setting his early policy priorities will be the three main tasks.

Bloomberg, campaigned for a change in New York's term limits law and was allowed to stand for and win a third four-year mandate.

He will go down as one of New York's most transformative mayors but leaves behind an electorate divided by his legacy.

There has been a continued reduction in violent crime and his aggressive public health policies, such as banning smoking in bars and restaurants, have been copied in many cities.

An attempt to ban super-size soda drinks, however, foundered.

He overhauled the city waterfront, widened green spaces, launched the popular city-bike program and restored business optimism after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

- AFP

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