Tish James Downplays Historic Nature of Her Campaign on Voting Day

Tish James greets voters in Jamaica, Queens today.

Tish James greets voters in Jamaica, Queens today.

At one of her final campaign stops of the public advocate’s race, Councilwoman Tish James repeatedly downplayed the historical nature of her candidacy.

If Ms. James triumphs in the runoff today, she will become the first black woman elected to citywide office. Throughout her campaign her supporters have both celebrated that fact and noted that her opponent, State Senator Daniel Squadron, would be the third white male on the Democrats’s citywide ticket if he wins. But Ms. James insisted this afternoon that history was not on her mind.

“I really think about issues,” Ms. James told Politicker at a last-minute campaign stop this afternoon in Jamaica, a heavily African-American Queens neighborhood. “Today I heard about childcare, I heard about affordable housing–I mean, it’s a historical footnote and it’s a proud moment but I can’t wait to focus on the issues I care about,” she said.

Ms. James was in Jamaica making a final push for her campaign as voters head to the polls. Standing on a chaotic bus corner on Archer Avenue, she handed out fliers with local Councilman Ruben Wills and Assemblyman David Weprin. The stop was one of several Ms. James scheduled today in predominately black neighborhoods, including Harlem Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, and downtown Brooklyn.

But Mr. Wills, like Ms. James, argued that identity politics would be secondary for many of the working class voters in the area. In the wake of Bill de Blasio’s resounding mayoral primary victory in many African-American communities, Mr. Wills said that it would be Ms. James’s populism, not her race, that would help her win his district.

“Getting even past the racial balance or the ethnic balance, to have someone like Tish James, someone of substance with such a filled résumé is incredible for our people,” Mr. Wills said. “To be honest, people here are looking more to the things that she can bring … I heard one lady say, ‘We need more affordable housing.’ That’s something that’s going to be mirrored from communities like mine across the city. That’s something everybody’s harping on.”

Standing outside a large subway station with sign-wielding volunteers and several vehicles plastered with campaign stickers, Ms. James met a mix of enthused, confused and indifferent voters. Promises to vote for her were greeted with cheers and even hugs from the councilwoman.

“Today is the day to vote! Today is the day to vote! We need you!” Ms. James shouted as locals poured off the many buses heaving to the corner. “I need you to vote for me today!”

But some reflected the general confusion of many city voters unaware of the runoff contest.

One bubbly older woman told Ms. James she thought she’d already won the race.

“Didn’t you win already?” she asked Ms. James. “I thought the race was over.”

Tish James Downplays Historic Nature of Her Campaign on Voting Day