New Yorkers Say ‘Whoa No,’ But De Blasio Enters Presidential Race Anyway

May 16, 2019 by Dan McCue
New Yorkers Say ‘Whoa No,’ But De Blasio Enters Presidential Race Anyway
(Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found three-out-of-four New Yorkers are against it, but that didn’t deter New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for launching a bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday.

De Blasio officially announced his candidacy on ABC-TV’s  “Good Morning America” program and via a video posted on YouTube.

However, word of his decision to run actually broke early Wednesday evening, thanks to a high school student-journalist from Missouri.

Gabe Fleisher, 17, who writes a daily political newsletter, Wake Up To Politics, tweeted at about dinner time in the east that de Blasio was set to headline an event in Sioux City, Iowa Friday, which the local Democratic Party had described in a Facebook post as the “first stop on his Presidential announcement tour.”

The Facebook post was quickly deleted.

But sources with knowledge of the mayor’s intentions quickly confirmed he would appear at events in Fort Dodge and Sioux City, Iowa on Friday, and make stops in Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina on Saturday and Sunday.

De Blasio is entering a bloated field of Democratic candidates relatively late. More than 20 candidates are already running for the chance to unseat incumbent Republican President Donald Trump.

In addition to playing catch-up in terms of organizing a campaign and fundraising, as a Quinnipiac poll from April illustrates, de Blasio must also overcome headwinds back home in New York.

Every listed party, gender, racial, borough and age group agreed the mayor should not hit the campaign trail.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio’s flirtation with a 2020 White House bid is prompting a rare moment of unity among New Yorkers. Three-quarters of them say, ‘Mr. Mayor: Don’t do it,'” said Mary Snow, polling analyst for the Quinnipiac University Poll, in April.

City voters gave their mayor an anemic job approval rating, with only 42 percent saying he’s doing a good job.

If there was a bright spot in the poll, it was de Blasio’s standing among black voters, 66 percent of whom approve of his handling of the city. White voters largely disapprove of de Blasio’s performance as mayor, while Hispanic voters were split, 40-40 percent.

Joseph Vitteriti, chair of the Urban Planning and Policy Department at Hunter College in New York and author of “The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York,” waned philosophical about the poll numbers, but conceded the mayor’s intention to run “obviously hasn’t been well received.”

“Seventy to 75 percent, that’s pretty decisive,” he said.

But at same time, Vitteriti said he believes the poll isn’t a rejection of de Blasio as a potential president, but an indication “that most New Yorkers would rather see him spend 100 percent of his energy and time focusing on their concerns.

“At the same, time, you know how polls change,” he continued. “I mean, admittedly, it could harden, with people continueing to ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’

“On the other hand, New Yorkers being New Yorkers, and believing the sun revolves around them, they might come around and say, ‘Why shouldn’t our mayor run? After all, a guy from South Bend, Indiana is running,” a reference to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

“It’s early yet. It’s still hard to tell how this will all shake out,” he said.

One thing Vitteriti is certain of is that entering the presidential race is entirely in character with the man he knows.

“If you look at his record and you look at his history, this is the sort of thing that can be expected of him. He’s often done things that people would have advised him against,” the professor said.

Vitteriti recalled how de Blasio rose through the ranks of city politics and was becoming a rising star in the national Democratic Party, when he suddenly decided to reverse course and run for the New York City Council.

At the time, de Blasio had gone from being regional director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s successful U.S. Senate campaign.

“People said, ‘Why would you want to go back?’ And his answer was, “This is what I want to do. I want to be my own person,'” Vitteriti said.

“He ran for public advocate after that, which was a long shot for any city council member, and then he ran for mayor. Nobody had ever successfully jumped from being public advocate to mayor, and he did it. So, I mean, that’s Bill.”

“So whether you agree with it or not, if you know the history you get it, you’re not entirely surprised by the decision he announced today,” Vitteriti said.

The professor, who last spoke to de Blasio earlier this week says the mayor knows he’s a long shot entering the race, but at the same time, he’s firm in two beliefs.

The first is that things he’s accomplished in New York City have applications elsewhere.

Vitteriti explained that these include raising the minimum wage in New York City to $15 an hour; providing more protections for immigrants; having an aggressive affordable housing agency, and improving the relationship between the police and the community they serve, while continuing to push down the crime rate.

The other thing driving de Blasio to run is his desire to push the Democratic party in a more progressive direction, “along the lines of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren,” he said.

“He wants to be part of the conversation the Democrats have to have as they define who they want to be in 2020,” Vitteriti said.

“You know, that’s why he hesitated in endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016,” he continued. “Bill de Blasio had a very close relationship with the Clintons. He worked as state coordinator for Bill’s re-election campaign, he ran Hillary’s Senate campaign — and it was Bill Clinton who swore him in when he first became mayor.

“But he hesitated in endorsing Hillary in 2016 because he wasn’t entirely pleased in the way she was moving and he kept waiting for her to move further to the left, which she didn’t do,” he said.

“It’s clear to me that’s where he wants to see the party go. And this is maybe one way to do it,” Vitteriti said.

The obvious question is, if de Blasio is a member of the same wing of the Democratic party as Sanders and Warren, who have already established themselves in the 2020 field, what does the mayor bring to the contest that they don’t.

“When I spoke to him earlier this week, what he told me was, he believes he brings executive experience to this,” Vitteriti said. “I think there are some differences between de Blasio and Sanders and Warren. Some vague differences between the three of them. But the main thing is, de Blasio is coming to this from the perspective of holding an executive office and he’s running on his record and what he’s done in New York.”

Of course, there’s a rub to that.

Bill de Blasio will be running for president while also trying to run a metropolis of 8.6 million people.

“It’s going to be a challenge, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll do it successfully,” Vitteriti said. “He’s got some strong people around him, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it works and whether he’s able to do both.”

Even without the challenge of campaigning while mayor of New York, Vitteriti says de Blasio has an uphill battle ahead of him.

“He’s coming into this with low name recognition, long funding, and at least three candidates that have already established themselves. He’s going to have to deal with all of that if he’s ultimately going to be successful.”

If de Blasio was successful, it would mean coming to a Washington in which his own party is divided. Could a progressive bring the various factions together?

Vitteriti said it’s possible.

“As you know, the title of my book about him is “The Pragmatist,” and he is, in the sense that he’s able to make concessions,” he explained.

As an example, he pointed to the Amazon’s now defunct deal to build a second world headquarters split between Long Island City in New York and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia.

De Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo promised the internet giant nearly $3 billion in government incentives in return for the company’s creating 25,000 jobs. Amazon walked away from the deal in February following an unexpectedly fierce backlash from lawmakers, progressive activists and union leaders.

“A lot of progressives were not happy with Amazon coming to New York, and [de Blasio] took the other position because he thought it was good for the local economy,” Vitteriti said. “People can debate that. But I think it’s a very good example of his pragmatism and his willingness to bargain.

“On the other hand, I think he also has a really strong philosophical pedigree, so we’ll have to see how that all works out. Of course at this point, he’s got to do a lot of other things before you have to worry about how he functions as president. We’re not there yet,” he said.

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