Conservatives don’t want to read about Bill de Blasio. This I have learned the hard way. Publish an article about New York’s lefty mayor in a conservative outlet and the reader reaction will be as predictable as a Mets loss on opening day.
“Why should I care about this?” goes the typical comment. “New Yorkers voted for this crazy guy. Let them suffer the consequences.”
Fair. And true enough. If you live in the Midwest or Texas or Florida — or anywhere, really, outside the self-obsessed media market of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut — the constant barrage of Gotham-focused news surely strikes you as irksome in the extreme. I wouldn’t like it, either.
But I’ll tell you why you should care: Bill de Blasio is going to haunt your politics for the next two decades, no matter where you live and regardless of whether you like it. There will be no tuning him and his progressive crusade out.
You may not be interested in Bill de Blasio, but, I assure you, Bill de Blasio is interested in you.
Bill de Blasio is going to haunt your politics for the next two decades, no matter where you live and regardless of whether you like it.
Being mayor of New York City is a big deal. The job attracts ambitious politicians in a city where ambitious politicians grow in the subways overnight. It’s a one-party, two-ballclub, three-newspaper town. Only the strongest survive.
Every Gotham mayor has his eyes on bigger things, and the man I have dubbed the Stringbean Sandinista is no exception. In little more than two years in City Hall, de Blasio has proven himself to be both media-savvy and effective at implementing policies that even ultra-progressvie New Yorkers consider extreme. Barring full-scale race riots in the streets of Manhattan, he has a future as bright as anyone’s in the Democratic party.
The man born Warren Wilhelm long ago threw his lot in with the Clinton political machine. In the early Nineties, he managed the reelection campaign of Harlem Democratic congressman Charles Rangel, a Clinton ally. Later he took a job in the Clinton-era Department of Housing and Urban Development. But the political love affair between the de Blasios and the Clintons really took off when he managed Hillary’s 2000 campaign for senate in New York. Both she and Bill came to his inauguration in January 2014. He knocked on doors for her this past winter in Iowa.
These warm feelings allegedly cooled a bit when de Blasio took longer than he should have to endorse Hillary’s presidential bid, but don’t believe reports that she is miffed. After a lengthy scrap with the socialist Bernie Sanders, Hillary needs de Blasio’s surrogacy to shore up her support on the far, far Left. He’s hosting a rally for her on Wednesday at the headquarters of the city’s teachers’ unions. This is how cutthroat politics works at the highest levels: You take too long to scratch my back, but so what? I scratch yours anyway.
If Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, de Blasio’s reward for his years of loyal service will come in the form of a prime speaking spot at this summer’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia. It will be his national coming-out party. If she wins the presidency, he could conceivably take a key domestic-policy job in her White House (presuming that his nemesis, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, doesn’t get there first).
Moving to D.C. in 2017 is just one possible scenario that the Brooklyn Beanpole and his allies are preparing for. If Hillary doesn’t win, de Blasio will still have lots of options. He’ll cruise to reelection next November. It’s not that New Yorkers are so in love with de Blasio — they aren’t — but the city’s feckless Republicans have the darnedest time convincing anyone who can do basic math to stand for election, and no Democrat will dare step forward to challenge him.
Even if a real challenge does emerge — possibly from the ultra-extreme Left — de Blasio will easily find a way to neutralize or co-opt it. Just 54, he has been in city politics nearly all his adult life, first as an aide to Mayor David Dinkins in the late Eighties and early Nineties, then as a Park Slope city councilman, and eventually as the elected public advocate.
De Blasio knows how the game is played, and he’s good at it. He managed to outfox a crowded 2013 Democratic primary field that included wired-in heavy hitters such as former congressman Anthony Weiner, City Council speaker Christine Quinn, and a previous nominee of his party, city comptroller Bill Thompson, who lost to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009. The odds of him being toppled by an upstart are too trivial to consider.
Back to the hypotheticals. With a second term firmly in hand, a 2018 de Blasio bid for the governor’s mansion in Albany is a real possibility, especially if Cuomo aces him out of that White House job and the New York State government is in the hands of a caretaker regime. More likely, however, is a de Blasio run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 or 2024, with plenty of support from the formidable Clinton fundraising network.
De Blasio talks openly about training his ‘children of color’ on how to interact with the obviously racist and bloodthirsty police. Democrats eat that stuff up.
Recent New York City mayors have had a hard time connecting with the national electorate. But de Blasio is a different kind of Democrat. He has impeccable progressive bona fides. He has a camera-ready biracial family. He talks openly about training his “children of color” on how to interact with the obviously racist and bloodthirsty police. Democrats eat that stuff up.
Unlike Hillary, de Blasio won’t need to prove his commitment to solving income inequality or to rolling back welfare reform, or his antipathy to supposedly racist police tactics. He will position himself as a practical progressive. He will fend off potential challenges from the even-more radical Left by pointing to his executive experience. Elizabeth Warren, he will say, may know what it takes to run a faculty meeting, but not a city of 8 million people.
Though some of de Blasio’s claims will be dubious, they will be plausible enough to persuade a demoralized party (remember, in this scenario, the Democrats lose in 2016) that he can be trusted with a presidential nomination. He will say that he entered office promising to end the racially motivated police tactic known as stop-and-frisk — and did end it. He will say that he promised to bring universal pre-K to tens of thousands of underprivileged children — and did. He will say that he promised to give illegal immigrants ID cards so that they could access city services — and did.
He will say that he has a great relationship with the Jews, the gays, the blacks, the women, and the unions. He will say that the economy grew, that tourism increased, that crime stayed down, and that he effectively decriminalized marijuana possession and use. All of this will be true — kind of — and catnip to national Democrats. It will all come wrapped in de Blasio’s patented rhetoric about the evils of inequality and the dastardly doings of the 1 percent.
If all this sounds as if I’m rooting for the guy to run — and win — then we have a severe misunderstanding. I’m a merely sending you a telegram from the future. It would be a mistake to underestimate the guy.
The good news for conservatives is that de Blasio is deeply flawed as both a politician and a candidate. He comes across as aloof and self-absorbed thanks to his chronic lateness and penchant for leisurely midmorning workouts at the Park Slope Y. He started (and lost) a foolish war with the wildly popular ride-sharing service Uber. Rumors abound, reportedly coming from the police, that he and first lady Chirlane McCray are habitual marijuana users.
And that’s just the little stuff. The de Blasio machine’s approach to fundraising is decidedly Clinton-esque. He recently caught heat for establishing a “dark money” fund, the Campaign for One New York, run by veterans of his campaigns and funded by labor unions and real-estate interests with pending business before the city. After being accused by liberal watchdog groups of skirting New York’s strict campaign-finance laws, he quickly folded it up.
Other self-inflicted wounds include a series of dopey spitting matches with Cuomo, who controls a good deal of city funding and seems to delight in lording it over his junior colleague. The governor has consistently gotten the better of the mayor in these battles, causing an unmoored de Blasio to lash out at Cuomo in a 2015 interview.
“I started a year and a half ago with a hope of a very strong partnership,” the mayor told the Wall Street Journal last summer. “I have been disappointed at every turn.” De Blasio’s whining only fueled the impression that Cuomo has been drinking the mayor’s milkshake and will continue to do so.
And then there is the little matter of his still-unfulfilled campaign promise to rid Central Park of its iconic carriage horses on “Day One” of his mayoral administration. But the carriage drivers are Teamsters, and they are not keen to have their livelihood swiped from them on laughable animal-cruelty grounds. That de Blasio failed to foresee how the episode would blow up in his face suggests that his political instincts may not be as well-honed as they seem.
In Democrat-dominated New York, de Blasio can easily camouflage these and other flaws. And like the Clintons, even when the seas around him get choppy, he has an uncanny ability to survive simply by smiling and sailing on. That strategy might not work as well on the national stage.
A recent survey showed that 96 percent of the city’s cops hate the guy, yet he’s figured out how to keep a lid on their anger.
There’s no doubt that de Blasio is capable of self-correction. A recent police-union survey, as reported in the New York Post in March, showed that 96 percent of the city’s cops hate the guy, yet he’s figured out how to keep a lid on their anger. He’s done it by reaching a mutually beneficial accommodation with NYPD commissioner William Bratton, for whom the rank and file have maximum respect. De Blasio is keenly aware that if the relationship with Bratton goes south, and the crime rate shoots up, both he and his claims of effective progressive governance will be sunk forever. Good-bye, governor’s mansion. Good-bye, White House. Hello, David Dinkins.
If the Republicans win in November, you will never hear the names “Clinton” or “Sanders” again. You will, however, be hearing the name Bill de Blasio for a long, long time. Forewarned is forearmed.
Please don’t shoot the messenger.