Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for New York mayor, won the backing of President Barack Obama, who praised the candidate’s pledge to close the growing gap between rich and poor in the most populous U.S. city.
De Blasio, 52, is running against Republican Joseph Lhota, 58, who headed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and served as a top aide to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Polls show de Blasio leading Lhota by more than 40 percentage points.
“Progressive change is the centerpiece of Bill de Blasio’s vision for New York City,” Obama, a Democrat, said today in a statement distributed by de Blasio’s campaign. “Whether it’s ensuring pre-kindergarten is available for every 4-year-old, expanding after-school programs for every middle-school student who wants and needs them, making affordable housing available for more New York families and preserving community hospitals, Bill’s agenda for New York is marked by bold, courageous ideas that address the great challenges of our time.”
Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, the former U.S. secretary of state, also have backed de Blasio.
Appearing at a news conference in Queens to accept the endorsement of the county’s Democrats, de Blasio said he was “tremendously humbled” by Obama’s support and that he hoped the president would join him on the campaign trail.
“The president has been speaking about the need to address inequality from the beginning of his candidacy,” said de Blasio, who was elected public advocate, a city watchdog post, in 2009. “I think what he did in achieving health-care reform will go down in history as one of the fundamental acts of fairness and justice in modern memory. I think it’s an example of government at its finest.”
Earlier, in his campaign statement, de Blasio lauded Obama’s address of “big problems with big ideas and big solutions,” and said he’d emulate that approach to governing.
Obama has weighed in on New York City politics before. Past endorsements include William Thompson, the Democratic mayoral nominee against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in 2009; and incumbents Nydia Velazquez and Yvette Clarke in their Democratic primaries for the House of Representatives last year.
In last year’s presidential election, Obama received 80 percent of the vote in New York, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1.
Patrick Gaspard, whom Obama nominated to become the U.S. ambassador to South Africa in June, is the link between Obama and de Blasio, said George Arzt, a Democratic consultant not involved in the race. Gaspard has served as the executive director of the Democratic National Committee and been an adviser to de Blasio and his campaign, Arzt said. Gaspard also served as an acting political director for the Service Employees International Union.
The 12-year tenure of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, concludes at end of December. The election is Nov. 5.