When Mayor de Blasio announced his candidacy for the presidency it was greeted with derision and laughter. How could a mayor who was no longer popular in his own city even think of a run for the highest office in the land?
Michelle Goldberg, in the New York Times (“Stop Sneering at Bill de Blasio”) reminded us that de Blasio’s mayoralty has been pretty impressive.
Conventional wisdom holds that de Blasio is a joke, a sanctimonious dork held in widespread contempt by the city he governs. New York’s tabloids despise him. His presidential bid has been greeted with a combination of sneering, eye-rolling and baffled pity.
I’m as confused as everyone else about why de Blasio is running for president. But the mockery greeting his every move obscures what a successful mayor he’s been, particularly for working- and middle-class families.
De Blasio’s election in 2013 was a surprise; he won a four-way primary in which he was a long shot with 40% of the vote, way ahead of the favorite, Billy Thompson, an Afro-American candidate who served two terms as Comptroller.
Under the five years of de Blasio leadership the city continues to thrive. He eliminated “stop and frisk;” a core policy of his predecessors and murder rates continued to tumble. Dollars continue to roll into the city, construction is booming.
The Universal Pre-k initiative is firmly entrenched, over seventy thousand three and four years’ olds attending school daily, unheard of across the country.
He negotiated two contracts with the teachers union after five years without a contract under Bloomberg.
At the NEA Convention in Houston de Blasio acquitted himself well,
De Blasio did not single out O’Rourke or any other Democrat, but said “too many Democrats have been cozy with the charter schools,” offering the argument that they siphon money away from traditional public education. “I hate the privatizers and I want to stop them,” he said.
The decision to run is not made lightly, candidates plot out a strategy: who are “their voters” and how do you motivate them?
For de Blasio: progressive voters, working class voters and Afro-American voters.
After the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries, older white voters, the next primary is South Carolina, 61% Afro-American voters. Can de Blasio repeat his popularity among black voters? In a Charleston church the unknown New Yorker received a warm reception.
And when he went into his campaign spiel about the devastating effects of income inequality, and how he believed that he could adapt his successes in New York — universal prekindergarten, guaranteed paid time off and increased access to health care — to the rest of the nation, claps of approval filled the church.
“I don’t think they look out for the people,” D’jaris Sanders, 34, who works in the automotive construction industry, said after the service last weekend. “Like he said,” she added, referring to Mr. de Blasio, “the working people.”
His battles for diversity in New York City schools and his attacks on the Specialized High School Admissions Test are in the news almost every day.
The February release of the report, “Making the Grade: The Path to Real Integration for NYC Public School Students,” is a carefully crafted pathway that encourages local school community councils, with financial supports, to create plans for their districts without scaring away white parents.
The de Blasio plan to replace the current specialized high school examination (SHSAT) with a Texas type plan, the highest achievers in all middle schools would be admitted, replacing the current test, has not been adopted, although continuously debated. The de Blasio plan requires approval by the state legislature, without success over the last two sessions.
The New York City school leader, the chancellor, is a mayoral appointee, and continues to vigorously support a vague “equity agenda.” All school staff is in the process of participating in anti-bias training.
De Blasio will be on the stage for the second round of debates at the end of the month and future participation will depend on his ability to gain numbers of contributors and polling numbers, at each debate, one a month from September to December, the participation bar will be raised and the field will narrow.
Warning: cynicism alert!
Back in the 1980’s the major issue in the New York State legislature was restoring the death penalty. After a number of tries both houses passed legislation to restore the death penalty and Governor Cuomo (pere) voted to law; finally, both houses overrode the veto and the death penalty was restored in New York State (it was never applied).
A few years later a Republican strategist bemoaned, “It was the dumbest thing we could have done,” it was a great campaign issue.
One could argue that school diversity (notice the term integration is not used) and the replacement for the SHSAT are excellent campaign issues, as well as the chancellor’s equity agendas, meant to resonate with potential de Blasio voters.
I do not think de Blasio will survive as the bar is raised for participation in future debates. His “unpopularity” numbers are far too high and he’s battling two black candidates, Kamila Harris and Cory Booker as well as Joe Biden, for Afro-American voters. A few days ago as “Essence-Fest” de Blasio spoke to a half-filled room.
With each debate the contenders will attack the ‘leader,”as evidenced by the attacks on Biden at the last debate. This time Harris may be the subject of attacks by the other contenders. With five more debates scheduled it is impossible to predict whether a single candidate will emerge or if the process smudges all the candidates.
I don’t think de Blasio will survive; however, his policies are impressive, and, in the turmoil of presidential politics – who knows?