A losing battle in the mayoral race

With Anthony Weiner considering a bid for mayor, the field is starting to look crowded – and not just because of the sheer number of candidates. Like Weiner, mayoral hopefuls are all also competing for who gets to be the top underdog.

Hardly anyone would disagree with Weiner’s self-description as the underdog candidate during an interview with NY1’s Errol Louis last week. “Make no mistake, I’d be an underdog in any race,” he said. Weiner’s political career was shattered in 2009 when the newly married Brooklyn congressman left his seat after admitting he tweeted a suggestive picture to 21-year-old woman. As the Daily News noted, 53 percent of women surveyed  in a recent poll by NBC New York/Marist University said they would not consider voting for Weiner if he decided to run for mayor.

Anthony Weiner’s possible entry into the New York City mayoral race has recharged the contest to be top underdog in the field. Photo: Talk Radio News Service

Yet Weiner isn’t the only one laying claim to the title, with nearly every candidate acknowledging a handicap of his or her own and trying to make the most of it.

Take Christine Quinn. The candidate’s campaign staff and her supporters have long flirted with the notion of framing the City Council Speaker — one the most powerful women in the city — as an underdog. There has never been an openly gay mayor in New York, nor a female one, which gives Quinn a couple of barriers to break down. Just last month, as she officially kicked off her campaign, Quinn refused to assume the frontrunner status, telling a WYNC reporter that she was “taking nothing for granted.” At that same event, a handful of supporters wore hats tagged with her initials on the front and the word “underdog” on the back.

That’s not a bad calculation. In a 2010 study published in the Personality and Psychology Bulletin, three University of Florida psychology professors found that people root for underdogs in part because they perceive them as harder workers than the frontrunner. In follow up studies, the psychologists found that participants were more supportive of a warring country or an Olympic athlete if they were portrayed as underdogs.

New York City Comptroller John Liu too has been identified as a long-shot mayoral hopeful, starting late last year when news reports revealed that there was a federal investigation into his fundraising operation; two of his former campaign aides would later go on trial on charges they schemed to collect bogus contributions.

If high-ranking elected officials like Quinn and Liu see themselves as underdogs, think of Joe Lhota. The former MTA chairman was virtually unknown by the electorate when he announced his run last January as a Republican. His bid for mayor has always seemed like that of an underdog if for no other reason than his name is, well, Joe Lhota.

But unless campaign dynamics shift dramatically, former City Councilman Sal Albanese, who registered 2 percent in the Marist poll, may truly be the champion underdog. With about $900,000 raised as of March — 73 times less than the top money-reaper, Quinn — Albanese is far behind other candidates and has little choice but to embrace the role. And he’s worn his underdoggedness on his sleeve, even calling it an “asset” on his campaign website.

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