“Watch out!” Bill de Blasio yelled to his police driver. A pedestrian was beginning to walk through the intersection in the West 40s; de Blasio’s city-owned SUV had the green light, and had already begun to slow down. There was no real chance of an accident, but now the cop tapped the brake pedal harder.
De Blasio was in the front passenger seat; I was in the middle of the row behind him. This was October, and the soon-to-officially-be-elected mayor was on his way from his Park Slope house to a real-estate industry fundraiser in midtown, and he was talking about the proper balance between charter schools and traditional public schools. But de Blasio was fully alert to what was going on in front of him, on the other side of the windshield. He’s brought that awareness, admirably, to the “Vision Zero” push for greater traffic safety. And maybe de Blasio was protesting loudly the other day too, when his police driver blew through stop signs and speed limits, a scene that was captured, in a classic bit of tabloid TV reporting, by CBS New York.
Nobody appears to have been in physical danger from the scofflaw two-car motorcade. But the episode is part of a different kind of risk for de Blasio. Unforced errors — chronic lateness to public events, the middle-of-the-night “inquiry” into his bishop pal’s arrest, promising increased “transparency” and then giving closed-door speeches to influential groups, and now Stop Signgate — are starting to get in the way of the important things he’s trying to do. De Blasio was always going to have a tricky line to walk: He wants to retain his image as a regular guy, even though he isn’t anymore. And it’s important, for his sanity as much as his political power, to keep doing things like shoveling the sidewalk and using the Stairmaster at the Y. But maintaining that balance — so that he doesn’t look like a hypocrite, talking about the rules applying equally to everyone while playing by a different set himself — requires a special sort of discipline, and de Blasio has had a rough time adjusting to the increased scrutiny that comes with the move to City Hall.
Later today de Blasio has a press conference scheduled, where he’s planning to claim a sort of victory in the long-running fight to maintain medical services at the site of Long Island College Hospital. And he’ll still talk as much as possible about LICH. But by not insisting that his driver come to a complete stop, or at least turn on the lights and sirens, he’s guaranteed, once again, that the silly stuff will dominate the headlines.