‘The “Racial Gap” Gets Wider Every Time We Ask’

Lee A. Daniels

By Lee A. Daniels
NNPA Columnist

A recent poll showing that White, Black and Hispanic New Yorkers differ significantly in evaluating new city mayor Bill De Blasio’s job performance provoked a flurry of media headlines of the now-common “racial-divide” variety.

But what most, if not all, of the stories did not explore was the fact that the importance of this particular racial divide extends far beyond the boundaries of America’s largest, most cosmopolitan city. Indeed, the issue it exposes has always been at the center of Black-White relations in America: who’s going to control the pace and the extent of Black Americans’ efforts to advance in American society.

The poll taken this month by the Quinnipiac University polling center found that while Blacks have slightly increased their substantial favorable assessment of De Blasio, who took office last January, and a majority of Hispanic residents continue to give him high marks, White voters’ assessment has dived to sharply low numbers. For example, while 71 percent of Black and 56 percent of Hispanic residents approve of De Blasio’s performance, just 34 percent of White New Yorkers do. Overall, 49 percent of all voters give De Blasio a favorable assessment, compared to 36 percent who don’t.

The poll found gaps of similar dimensions between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics in asking, among other things, whether De Blasio possesses strong leadership qualities  (34 percent compared to 69 percent and 60 percent, respectively); whether he “understands the problems of people like you” (41 percent v 70 percent and 55 percent); and whether he’s taking the proper approach to reducing crime (37 percent, compared to 64 percent and 52 percent).

Maurice Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, wrote in a tweet, “Black voters think the mayor is terrific. White voters don’t approve. And the racial gap gets wider every time we ask.”

Although the poll didn’t extensively plumb the sources of Whites’ disappointment with De Blasio, who is himself White, at least some of the reasons are clear from several other questions in the poll. The most important appears to be De Blasio’s close relationship with Al Sharpton, who—much to many Whites’ dismay—has long functioned as the city’s preeminent Black political powerbroker.

For example, Whites overwhelmingly dislike Sharpton: 66 percent view him unfavorably in the poll, compared to just 23 percent who have a favorable opinion of him. By contrast, 69 percent of Black New Yorkers view Sharpton favorably, compared to 19 percent who don’t. Similar gaps show up in questions asking whether he’s a positive or negative force in the city, whether he has too much influence with De Blasio, and whether he’s overshadowed Police Commissioner Bill Bratton as a counselor to De Blasio.

Undoubtedly, some of the White disappointment with De Blasio stems from the family-related controversies swirling about Rachel Noerdlinger, a former Sharpton staffer who is chief of staff to De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray.

That said, there’s also evidence in the poll that, the White majority’s declining support for De Blasio stems from more than the usual “voter’s remorse.” That evidence is in the poll’s asking whether respondents approved or disapproved of De Blasio’s anti-crime efforts. The backdrop to the question is that, as city police commissioner Bill Bratton and the mayor have been predicting for some months, statistics show the city’s crime rate is the lowest in 20 years (And that was achieved while the number of police stops and frisks has been sharply scaled back.).

Yet, the Quinnipiac poll found that while 64 percent of Blacks and 52 percent of Hispanic residents approved of De Blasio’s handling of the crime issue, only 37 percent of Whites did.

So, why it is that the large majority of White New Yorkers – who are far less exposed to street crime than their Black and Hispanic counterparts – are so disapproving of the city’s crime-fighting efforts?

The answer lies in the point I made at the beginning: It’s a matter of who’s in control of the pace and extent of Black (and Hispanic) advancement. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers, who overwhelmingly voted for De Blasio (as did a majority of White New Yorkers) feel that he is responding satisfactorily to several issues of immense importance to them. In other words, they feel a responsiveness from the new city administration to their concerns – earned via the old-fashioned American way: the vote. They feel they have “influence.”

That’s what a majority of White New Yorkers, apparently, find disturbing – even when they benefit, too.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.