By JONATHAN LEMIRE
NEW YORK (AP) _ Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio unveiled the endorsement of entertainer and civil rights leader Harry Belafonte on Tuesday in the latest salvo in his fight to win over the city’s seemingly splintered black voters.
De Blasio, the city’s public advocate, has surged to second place in the crowded Democratic field among all voters, according to a recent poll. But black voters remain divided among the four leading Democrats.
A Quinnipiac poll released Monday showed that former congressman Anthony Weiner, despite a new sexting scandal, remains the top choice, picking up the support of 24 percent of likely black voters. He was closely trailed by ex-comptroller Bill Thompson, the only black in the race, with 22 percent, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, with 21 percent. That poll, which surveyed 446 likely voters, has a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.
De Blasio trails the pack with 16 percent. He and his wife, who’s of Caribbean descent, have campaigned relentlessly in heavily black neighborhoods, particularly in central Brooklyn, and he has downplayed his current standing among black voters.
“I think people of all backgrounds are just beginning to focus” on the race, said de Blasio, who also picked up the endorsement of Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke.
Belafonte, 86, said his support of de Blasio largely stemmed from the backing the candidate received from Local 1199, the health care workers union.
“His leadership and his vision for what he sees for this city in terms of health care and our hospitals, I think, is absolutely key,” said Belafonte, a native New Yorker who became an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and helped organize the March on Washington and the Freedom Rides in 1963.
Belafonte also praised de Blasio’s stance on racial profiling. The public advocate is the only Democratic candidate to support the City Council’s bill that would allow people to sue the city for the impact of its policing practices. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, opposes it.
De Blasio, like the other Democratic candidates, also wants to rein in the police department’s stop-and-frisk tactics. Every year, police officers briefly detain and question hundreds of thousands of innocent people in attempts to find weapons or drugs. The police department says the stops deter crime.
De Blasio ripped Thompson, who opposes the racial profiling bill but said the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida by a neighborhood watch leader was spurred by the same bias that drives stop-and-frisk.
“(He) can’t have it both ways,” de Blasio said. “Some councilmembers and obviously some mayoral candidates are aiding and abetting Michael Bloomberg by agreeing with him that we don’t need a racial profiling ban.”
Thompson quickly responded.
“We don’t need cheap showmanship from Mr. de Blasio to fix stop and frisk abuse, we need leadership, and that’s what New Yorkers will get from me,” Thompson said in a statement.
Thompson’s campaign has picked up the backing of several high-profile Democratic black leaders, including former Mayor David Dinkins and Rep. Charlie Rangel.
Quinn is the race’s overall leader, according to the poll, followed by de Blasio, Thompson and Weiner.