De Blasio and Liu Win, and the 2013 Mayoral Field Takes Shape

The primary and run-off are now history, and with that we can now start to talk about the mayor’s race—in 2013.

I know, I know, we’ve got one coming up in five weeks and Michael Bloomberg, for all his money and inevitability, has hardly been lighting the world on fire with his poll numbers. Still, few (even in his own party) believe Bill Thompson will actually knock off the incumbent and—whether they’ll admit it or not—many Democrats are already beginning to assess the field for ’13, when the seat should be open.

In that sense, Tuesday’s run-offs for public advocate and comptroller were actually super-run-offs, with the winners cleared not only for cakewalks this November but also for potential mayoral bids in four years.

There is, for instance, a universal expectation that Bill de Blasio, a 25-point victor over Mark Green in the run-off for public advocate, will try to parlay his new gig—which will afford him a visibility-enhancing platform that the current office-holder, Betsy Gotbaum, never utilized—into a run for the top job in ’13. A political organizer by trade and a strategic thinker by nature, de Blasio is well-positioned to succeed where the camera-shy Gotbaum failed.

If he plays it right, de Blasio can spend the next four years reaping favorable headlines by championing popular causes and presenting himself as an aggressive watchdog. The scale is smaller (and the office far less significant), but his role model is probably Andrew Cuomo, who has transformed his image by pursuing popular, impossible-to-criticize prosecutions and investigations as attorney general. (And who, not incidentally, was de Blasio’s boss in the Clinton administration’s department of Housing and Urban Development.)

At the same time, de Blasio’s triumph on Tuesday extinguishes the final, faint flickers of 64-year-old Green’s mayoral dreams. After losing to Bloomberg eight years ago and badly misfiring in a 2006 bid for A.G., Green became something of a punchline—the perennial candidate with an addiction to losing. But had this comeback bid, launched 28 months after swearing off ever seeking office again, succeeded (and for a while it looked like it would) he could easily have turned around and did what de Blasio now stands to do, positioning himself for one final run for the roses in 2013.

Instead, Green’s career in elected politics is over. In defeat, he will lack a platform to rehabilitate his image, and—fair or not—his three straight losses this decade will now define him as a political entity.

Then there’s John Liu, who soundly bested David Yassky in the run-off for comptroller—a position, as Clyde Haberman pointed out on Tuesday, with a rich history as a springboard for mayoral campaigns.

The 42-year-old Liu’s ambition is well-known and he’ll have good reason to look hard at a ’13 bid, because if he were to pass, there’s no telling when he’d get another chance. The reason is simple: a Democrat will be favored to win the mayoralty in ’13 and with the two-term limit now a thing of the past, that mayor could end up running again in 2017 and 2021—meaning the next clear shot for a Democrat after ’13 might not come until Liu is nearly 60 years old. So if he’s got the fire, why not take a shot in four years?

Liu has a compelling (if somewhat disputed) biography, and the success he had in appealing to black voters could carry over to a mayoral bid, with (for now at least) no obvious black candidate on the horizon. On the downside, managing the city’s money and dealing with ballooning pensions during a brutal economic slump could earn Liu bad press and new enemies, and his investment choices will be scrutinized in the context of the political debt he now owes to organized labor and the Working Families Party.

Yassky, like Green, can now be scratched from the ’13 field. And while the outgoing councilman, two decades Green’s junior, will still have future opportunities to run for office, he is beginning to flirt with inheriting Green’s perennial candidate mantle. First, he moved into a majority-black district to run a divisive campaign for Congress in 2006 (and moved back out when he lost). Then came the abortive bid for district attorney in Brooklyn. And now this. One more loss might put him in Green’s league.

De Blasio and Liu, of course, will hardly be alone if they do run for mayor next time.

Christine Quinn, the Council Speaker (for now, anyway), clearly wants to be mayor and seems to believe she can get there by essentially running for Bloomberg’s fourth term. But her anemic showing in the September primary, when she barely cracked 50 percent in her own district, suggests much of her base sees her closeness to the mayor not as an alliance but more as an unhealthy dependency. And even if she holds on to the Speaker’s post, it may prove to be a burden as ’13 nears: just ask Gifford Miller.

It’s also assumed that Anthony Weiner will run again, trying to revive the outerborough strategy that nearly landed him in a run-off with Freddy Ferrer in 2005. But his sudden national visibility on health care can be read two ways: maybe it’s a shrewd effort to expand his base into liberal Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn; or maybe the newly-engaged congressman actually is—for the first time—more interested in Washington than New York.

Scott Stringer’s political aspirations extend much farther than the Manhattan borough presidency. He flirted with challenging Kirsten Gillibrand for her Senate seat next year, a campaign that he probably would have lost, but that would have enhanced his image in advance of a mayoral run. As it is, he seems likely to run in ’13—unless another inviting opening (a congressional seat?) comes along between now and then.

And then there are the wild cards. Who would have thought back in 1997 that the 2001 mayor’s race would include a media mogul named Michael Bloomberg—and that a stunning chain of events in the fall of ’01 would vault Bloomberg from doomed self-funder to mayor-elect? Surely there are one or two Bloomberg-ish plutocrats asking themselves: Why not me? Or maybe Ray Kelly will run. And others note that Bill Bratton will soon be returning from Los Angeles.

To draw a parallel to N.C.A.A. basketball tournament, Tuesday’s run-off was like the play-in game—it wasn’t very significant and almost no one paid attention. The real fun and excitement is still a ways off. But the madness has begun.