De Blasio Promotes National Role While Seeking Re-Election

  • Vermont Democrats say he’s an effective progressive spokesman
  • About 48% donating at least $1,000 this year are outside NYC

Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, greets demonstrators during a May Day protest in New York on May 1, 2017.

It’s a New York axiom that being mayor is a dead end for anyone seeking higher office. That hasn’t stopped Bill de Blasio from making a string of appearances outside the city that might come in handy should he maybe, one day, just saying, run for president.

This month, de Blasio took off the weekend from re-election appearances to travel 300 miles (480 kilometers) to Vermont and introduce Bernie Sanders at a Democratic Party fundraising dinner. The U.S. senator and former presidential candidate also advocates taxing the rich to pay for health care and college tuition. The next day, de Blasio threw out the first pitch at Burlington’s Little League opening day.

Since January, the 56-year-old Democratic mayor has traveled widely as a spokesman for his “progressive vision.” The forays reprise a national role he has sought since 2014, when he tried and failed to create a coalition to press policies that would address income inequality.

“De Blasio certainly has a national voice to be heard, having done so much to even the playing field,” said Vermont Democratic Chairman Faisal Gill, citing universal pre-kindergarten and community policing. “He won over the crowd from the start and was among the last to leave after shaking hands and posing for pictures after the dinner ended.”

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Opening Day

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who invited de Blasio to the Little League ceremony, observed his retail politicking skills and described him as a credible candidate for national office. 

“He could be an important option in 2020 or thereafter, after serving in one of the country’s most difficult executive offices,” Weinberger said.

Several news organizations, including the Boston Globe, New York Post and Marketwatch.com, have included the mayor in speculation about the Democrats’ next national ticket.

New Yorkers, meanwhile, don’t want de Blasio to run for president. Fifty-eight percent of city voters oppose a 2020 campaign, while 56 percent said they wanted Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo in the race, according to a May 16 poll by cable news station NY1 and Baruch College.

De Blasio would also face the tide of history. Former mayors failing or abandoning attempts for president include John Lindsay in 1972, Rudolph Giuliani in 2008 and Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, who considered and declined to run as an independent in 2008 and 2016.

Dead End

“The last New York mayor to go national and become president was Grover Cleveland of Buffalo in 1885,” said George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant who served three years as Mayor Ed Koch’s press secretary. “If the mayor wants to be the progressive voice of the party, he has competition from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. In New York, he’ll have competition from the governor.”

Other challenges include explaining the yearlong investigation into his fundraising by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. De Blasio, who was never charged, shut down a non-profit organization he established to support his goals after disclosures that donors received favorable action on business deals with the city.

The mayor’s Vermont fans said they weren’t familiar with the case, even as they heard him extol the small-donor politics of Sanders’ grassroots presidential campaign. They also were unaware that days before his trip, New York investigators revealed that de Blasio’s jail chief had used a city car and credit card for unauthorized personal trips out of state. De Blasio had defended the commissioner, who resigned May 12.

No Threat

Yet, a recent Quinnipiac University Poll placed his job-approval rating as mayor at a record 60 percent. With no apparent threat to his re-election, de Blasio can think beyond this year’s local campaign. 

“He can start doing whatever he feels like,” said assistant poll director Maurice Carroll. “I can’t remember a mayor who’s ever been in a position like this.”

Dan Levitan, a spokesman for de Blasio’s re-election campaign, said the mayor’s focus is on making “New York City stronger and fairer with progressive policies.”

“The only thing he is running for is re-election as mayor,” Levitan said in an email.

Mayoral Coalition

Aside from Vermont, de Blasio’s election year has included forays to California, Illinois, Florida and Washington state. During these visits de Blasio tells audiences he intends to build a bipartisan coalition of mayors to oppose Republican President Donald Trump on health care, taxes, policing, immigration and aid cuts. He wants to campaign for Democrats running for congress next year, he says.

“This is not just about individual campaigns,” he said during a May 8 interview with NY1.

Still, of 561 donors who have given at least $1,000 to de Blasio since Jan. 1, 48 percent are from outside the city and 30 percent live beyond New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Backers from California’s entertainment industry include David Chase, who created “The Sopranos," Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and the Spielberg Family Living Trust.

“If he merely repeats the argument against Trump, he’s just part of the noise,” said William Daley, chief of staff to former President Barack Obama. “As mayor of New York he’s in position to articulate a real urban agenda. Mayors running for president don’t often happen, but who expected a reality TV huckster? Maybe conventional wisdom should be thrown out the window.”

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