NEW YORK, United States: Democrats retook Republican strongholds in New York’s city hall and the Virginia governor’s mansion on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), while a Republican with potential presidential hopes won re-election easily in New Jersey.
It was the first major round of balloting in the US since President Barack Obama won his second term in the White House last year.
In the nation’s largest city of New York, old-style progressive Bill de Blasio became its first Democratic mayor since 1989, even though its voters are mostly Democrats.
Another key race for the governorship of the southern state of Virginia turned out to be a nail-biter, but in the end Democrat Terry McAuliffe won in the otherwise strongly Republican state bordering the nation’s capital.
In other states, lesser issues like marijuana were on the ballot.
Portland, Maine on the east coast legalized the controlled substance for those over 21, joining other cities who have done the same.
In Colorado where the herb was recently legalized, voters agreed to tax its sales.
New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie defeated his Democrat challenger, earning a second four-year term in a race some said serves as a platform for future presidential bids.
Christie is a straight-talking moderate Republican who received praises for handling the devastation wrought by Super Storm Sandy on his state last year.
He cruised to a landslide win even though he is at odds with many from his party at the national level.
At a raucous victory rally, Christie promised yet more pragmatic leadership.
“We stand here tonight showing that it is possible to put doing your job first, to put working together first, to fight for what you believe in yet still stand by your principles and get something done for the people who elected you,” he said.
Christie is increasingly seen as a contender for the Republican nomination for the White House in 2016 given his pragmatism, charisma and ability to command cross-party support.
Obama called on De Blasio, McCauliffe and Boston mayor-elect Martin Walsh to congratulate them.
Meanwhile, the NY race—in which de Blasio long had been tipped as the heavy favorite to replace billionaire Michael Bloomberg—was one of several seen as a barometer of public opinion ahead of congressional elections in 2014.
De Blasio, 52, promises a new style in a city transformed by 12 years of tough love under Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent who is stepping down after a record of three terms.
“Our work is really just beginning,” De Blasio told his supporters in his victory speech.
One of his key focuses is to narrow the gap between rich and poor in the nation’s financial hub.
“The challenges we face have been decades in the making. And the problems we set out to address will not be solved overnight. But make no mistake—the people of this city have chosen a progressive path—and tonight we set forth on it—together as one city,” de Blasio said in a speech he delivered in Spanish and English.
He left Republican rival Joe Lhota trailing in the dust by tapping into the worries of the economically vulnerable middle class.
He promises to raise taxes to fund universal pre-kindergarten education and after-school programs, and build 200,000 affordable housing units.
The incoming de Blasio administration is likely to usher a dramatic change in the mayor’s office formerly led by Bloomberg, a transformative figure who leaves behind an electorate divided over his legacy.
There has been continued reduction in violent crimes and his aggressive public health policies such as banning smoking in bars and restaurants have been copied in many cities.
Meanwhile, Virginia’s changing demographics—with a rural-suburban split and significant military and government employee populations—make it a litmus test for the political mood ahead of the next presidential vote in 2016.
Christie’s win, paired with Cuccinelli’s loss, is likely to solidify thinking that Republicans would be better served with ditching deeply ideological candidates.
Mayoral elections were also held on Tuesday in the rustbelt city of Detroit, which had recently declared bankruptcy. Democrat Mike Duggan won, although he holds little power over the city that is now run by a state-appointed emergency administrator.
In Boston, traumatized by the Boston Marathon bombings in April, Democrat Walsh replaced outgoing Mayor Thomas Menino.
Menino, also a Democrat, departs after 20 years in office, the longest in Boston mayoral history.