New York to narrow down contenders to replace Bloomberg

NEW YORK CITY - New Yorkers on Tuesday will pick a Republican and a Democratic candidate who will battle it out in November to replace billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Big Apple has been under the bold and brash leadership of its richest man for 12 years and, amid much soul-searching over Bloomberg's legacy, the man leading the polls is the one who is least like him.

The city is overwhelmingly Democratic - even though it has not elected a mayor from that party in two decades - and left-leaning Bill de Blasio, 52, has been firmly in the lead since mid-August.

He has progressively muscled out gay city council speaker Christine Quinn and sexting-scandal-tainted former congressman Anthony Weiner who both briefly held the top spot.

A Quinnipiac University poll on Monday said De Blasio would win with 39 percent if the primary election were held now.

Former city comptroller and the sole African American candidate Bill Thompson, is coming in second with 25 percent, ahead of Quinn with 18 percent.

New revelations about sexual messages Weiner sent to young women have obliterated his support to an estimated six percent of votes.

However the pollsters noted that a significant number of undecided voters could still change the figures.

"This is a vote where tiny changes on the final day really could make a difference. Will De Blasio avoid a runoff or will we have a Battle of the Bills? Flip a coin," read the Quinnipiac press release.

Seen as the anti-Bloomberg candidate, the city's six-foot-five, greying public advocate De Blasio has hinged his campaign on inequality, describing New York as "a tale of two cities," the rich and the poor.

He has honed in on the highly emotional debate over stop-and-frisk, a police tactic loathed by black and Hispanic communities who see themselves as unfairly targeted.

All the main Democratic candidates have campaigned on the need for some sort of reform to stop-and-frisk, even more so since a federal judge ruled the tactic unconstitutional two weeks ago.

In an unusual twist, de Blasio is polling as more popular among black New Yorkers than Thompson.

Rhetoric has heated up in recent days, with outrage over an exit interview given by Bloomberg to New York magazine, in which he accuses De Blasio of running a racist campaign.

Bloomberg praised Quinn - endorsed by the New York Times and Daily News - as deserving "a lot of credit for what's gone on in the city in the last seven-and-a-half years."

But he attacked De Blasio's campaign as "class-warfare and racist" for his use of his black wife and bi-racial son in promotional videos.

He then back-tracked saying: "I do not think he himself is racist...You tailor messages to your audience."

"Tearing people apart with his 'two cities' thing doesn't make any sense to me. It's a destructive strategy for those you want to help most."

De Blasio's boldest proposal is a tax on those who earn over $500,000 to pay for after-school care for young children.

"He is a very populist, very left-wing guy, but this city is not two groups, and if to some extent it is, it's one group paying for the services of the other," said Bloomberg.

Bloomberg, who scored a third term after cajoling City Council into lifting a two-term limit in 2009, has presided over a falling murder rate and aggressively pushed sweeping public health policies.

However he has been accused of governing for the rich, a charge he strongly rejects, saying the average income in New York was 20 percent higher than almost every other city in America.

Bloomberg also got under the skin of many with his comments that the poor in America were not really that poor.

"When we grew up we didn't have air-conditioning. Air conditioning in the schools, the subways. Are you crazy?

"Now by most of the world's standards, you ain't poor. I am not being cavalier about it, but most places in the world our poor are wealthy."

He also defended the stop-and-frisk campaign, seen by many as key to bringing crime down in the once violence-wracked city.

"We have not racial profiled, we've gone where the crime is," he said.

Voters will get their chance to stick with or break with the Bloomberg era in the mayoral election on November 5.

The capacity of each candidate to mobilize voters will be key in a city where turnout is typically extremely low.

Of three Republican candidates, former public transport chief Joe Lhota is seen as the frontrunner.