The human ego is a powerful beast that grows luxuriant in the soul of career politicians. We are seeing an egregious example in the proto-presidential campaign of New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who, according to the New York Times, is bulling ahead toward a formal candidacy despite multiple indicators that it’s a very bad idea.
He has traveled to three early presidential primary states, held $5,000-a-plate events for donors and hired a small-dollar fund-raising consultant.
He spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, and is now on another trip to raise money in Boston, after which he will meet with Democratic activists in Las Vegas.
These are the concrete steps of a man preparing to run for president.
There have been so signs of any craving for a de Blasio candidacy on the trail so far. His first two recent trips to Iowa have been, in a word, fiascoes (his first, last December, was marked by NYPD protests, and during the second, in February, he was stranded in a blizzard at a Super 8 motel and dined on a gas-station burrito). He hasn’t been listed in most 2020 polls, and his peak performance in any has been a booming one percent.
It’s hard to discern any path to the White House for Hizzoner. Let’s say he can revive his sagging reputation as a fighting progressive. Is he really going to challenge Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris in that “lane”? None of the early states would strike you as de Blasio Country, unless New York chooses to have a relatively early primary next year (it was in April in 2016, and the legislature has yet to set a 2020 date). But then again, it’s not like New York is a hotbed of BDB ’20 enthusiasm. Au contraire, as the Daily News noted after a new Quinnipiac poll of his constituents was released this very week:
A whopping 76% of New Yorkers polled said de Blasio should not run for president — with just 18% supporting a bid. The feeling was as universal among New Yorkers as their contempt for bagels sliced like bread — every single party, gender, racial group, borough and age group polled agreed Hizzoner should not run.
Those polled didn’t just think the potential run was a bad idea — they thought it would be bad for New York City, by a margin of 47% to 32%, the poll found.
As de Blasio himself ruefully observed when asked about the poll: “I’m glad I could unify the people of New York City.”
Still, he seems determined to plow ahead:
“I feel like he’s going to run,” said Rebecca Katz, a former adviser to Mr. de Blasio and his family who is not currently attached to his exploratory bid. “I think he wants to be talked about in a serious way.”
De Blasio’s belief that this will make him the object of serious rather than derisive talk may be a throwback to the days when mayors of New York (and also governor of the Empire State) were considered ex officio presidential timber. The last mayor who made the mistake of running for president, of course, was Rudy Giuliani, who quickly crashed and burned in 2008 after leading in a lot of early polls. De Blasio’s aspirations are reminiscent of those of a different two-term mayor, John Lindsay, who, after a narrow reelection win in a three-way race in 1969, abandoned the Republican Party and ran for president as a Democrat in 1972. He had good looks, a liberal reputation, and some high-life political talent (former Bobby Kennedy hands Jeff Greenfield and Jerry Bruno were onboard), but finished sixth in two primaries and ninth in another and dropped out. He thought Big Apple fame meant the kind of glamour the benighted rest of the country craved, and found out otherwise.
Even beyond de Blasio’s city, the national political influence of New York has declined as steadily as the state’s electoral votes (41 when Lindsey ran, 29 today, and likely 27 after the next reapportionment). Want to stump even political junkies with a trivia question? Ask them the identity of the last New York resident to serve as president of the United States. The answer: that famous Gotham favorite, Richard M. Nixon, who moved to New York after his humiliating defeat in the 1962 California governor’s race.
Bill de Blasio might want to scout out a new home, too, if he persists in running for president and humiliates his own state and city.