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An influx of celebrity endorsements in NYC mayoral race

Harry Belafonte with New York Democratic mayoral candidate

Harry Belafonte with New York Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. (Getty) Credit: Harry Belafonte with New York Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. (Getty)

Celebrities have always been a reliable source when it comes to selling cars, clothing and even bank loans. Now, more than ever, they’re putting their names behind politicians.

The mayoral race is no exception, as candidates have touted their famous supporters as they work to stand out in the crowded field. Although big name backers haven’t been a new trend, Christina Greer, an assistant professor of political science at Fordham University, said celebrity involvement has grown recently because they feel invested in the future of New York City.

“It’s a mutually beneficial opportunity. Celebrities want to show they are interested in [political] issues and the mayoral candidates want to show they have support,” Greer said.

She noted that the celebrity backers are most important when it comes to fundraising because they can either donate cash to campaigns, such as Tom Hanks’ $500 contribution to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn or rally other contributors, like Cynthia Nixon, who held a fundraiser for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

“The stars have their rich friends and they’re always looking to give to a cause,” Greer said.

Recently, celebrities have become more politically savvy. But instead of taking the route of Arnold Schwarzenegger and getting on the ballot, they are using their name to further the cause of the candidate who shares their views.

For example, several gay celebrities who have been vocal about promoting LGBT rights, such as George Takei and Neil Patrick Harris, publicly endorsed Quinn.

Nixon, who, along with her “Sex and the City” co-star Sarah Jessica Parker, has publicly endorsed de Blasio, said he’s her choice because of his plans to help poor New Yorkers.

“He is the only candidate brave enough to say we need to raise taxes on the wealthy to invest in universal pre-K and after school programs for our kids,” Nixon said in a statement.

(From left: Cynthia Nixon, Dante de Blasio, Chaiara de Blasio, Chirlane de Blasio, Susan Sarandon and Bill de Blasio, Aug. 18, 2013; photo by Ivan Perira)

David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, said that in a tight race, “you want to look at any edge possible.” Still, the low-turnout nature of the election means get-out-the-vote efforts from unions, political clubs and activists are what drive voters to the polls.

“I don’t think that celebrity endorsements make a huge difference for that constituency,” he said. Though the other candidates may not have as big of an A list as de Blasio or Quinn, many said they are still confident in their campaigns.

“Sal’s been focused on winning the votes of regular New Yorkers, not the cast of ‘Sex and the City,’” said a spokesman for Democratic candidate Sal Albanese.

Greer agreed, noting that although the stars do provide a boost to candidates’ images, they are not the golden ticket to the mayor’s seat.

“Let’s be clear, no one is going to vote for a candidate solely because one celebrity votes for them,” Greer said.

(with Dan Rivoli and Tatiana Baez)

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