“Why are you doing this?” seemingly every New Yorker thought, when Bill de Blasio announced his 2020 presidential bid. Someone posted a sign at the Prospect Park YMCA — the gym the mayor frequents — declaring, “By entering these premises you agree not to run for President of the United States in 2020 or in any future presidential race. You will immediately cease any and all trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, and other primary states. You agree to focus solely on your current job here in New York City, which you are not excelling at.” The New York Post ran a front page with the headline EVERYONE HATES BILL. And, all right, that’s the Post, but a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that Mayor de Blasio has the lowest favorability rating of all 23 Democrats running for president.
But I was determined to find at least one New Yorker who actually supported the mayor’s bid for president. After all, what’s the point of running for president when you’re supposed to be in charge of the biggest city in the United States if literally nobody there wants to vote for you?
I began by posting a call for de Blasio 2020 supporters on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. In the past, this admittedly lazy journalistic practice has been fruitful — using only the internet, I’ve found multiple people who want Mark Zuckerberg to be president and a group of folks who love Chelsea Clinton so much one of them even tattooed her face on his body. My call for de Blasio 2020 diehards, on the other hand, yielded crickets. The only email I got was from a Prospect Heights resident who told me he is “neither for nor against Mayor de Blasio’s run,” which is not exactly a ringing endorsement.
“Overall, I don’t see entering a race as needing to win the race,” he explained. “So sure, why not. Go for it, Mr. Mayor.”
Next, I asked my mom, who’s lived in New York since the 1970s. A certified liberal who voted for de Blasio, she has come to despise the mayor after listening to his weekly segment on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” “Whenever he’s challenged, he responds with indignation and an underlying hostility that seems designed to intimidate the person asking him,” she complained. “He’s a bully.”
“But do you have any friends who like him?” I probed. She promised to ask around and, like me, emerged unsuccessful.
As the days passed, I became increasingly anxious that I wouldn’t be able to locate a single de Blasio 2020 hard-liner in all of New York City, so I hopped on the G train to Park Slope. There I stood outside the Y, hoping that at least one of the people who exercise beside the mayor might have an iota of sympathy for his campaign.
I wasn’t particularly hopeful, because de Blasio’s affection for that particular YMCA branch has become a contentious issue. His almost daily 11-mile car ride from Gracie Mansion to Park Slope, where he lived prior to becoming mayor, has outraged New Yorkers who see it as an indulgent waste of his time and hypocritical for a politician who has encouraged his constituents to make individual choices to combat climate change. Another joke flyer posted there recently read, “Don’t Be Like BILL! Wipe down all equipment after use … Don’t run for president in 2020.”
The first man I approached outside, an athletic 30-something wearing Bluetooth headphones walking into the gym, told me he was an attorney and that he couldn’t comment because he works with the mayor’s office. A couple of minutes later, he came back outside to add, “I think he’d be a fine president, but he should focus on the job at hand.”
Carmen Torres, a retiree who’s lived in New York for 67 years, echoed a similar sentiment, explaining, “I believe that he has to finish this term and do what’s right for the city.”
As a conga line of people walked into and out of the gym, many were reluctant to chat. A man with long hair who’d just returned from a long vacation wasn’t even aware of de Blasio’s presidential run, but after learning about it, he told me he wouldn’t vote for him. “The whole thing is such a circus,” he sighed.
“I know the guy, but I wouldn’t say I’m a supporter. He’s a neighborhood guy,” a tall man entering the gym remarked.
“I’m not political,” a woman in a hot-pink jacket told me apologetically.
“All I’ll say is I hate him. He’s the worst mayor we’ve ever had,” another man informed me before going inside.
“I think he’s too progressive to win,” Nick Serrow, a lifelong New Yorker donning a gold chain, who often sees de Blasio working out, told me. Still, he doesn’t plan on voting for him but said that he’d cast his ballot for “whoever can beat Trump.”
“I don’t know the purpose of it,” Russell Delacour, a web developer who’s lived in New York all his life, said of de Blasio’s 2020 run. “How many people are running for president?”
In light of those of anti–de Blasio posters at the YMCA, I was surprised to find that many of his fellow gymgoers actually like him — as a mayor. “I love de Blasio,” Ronald, a New Yorker of nine years, lounging on the bench across from the entrance, clad in a white blazer, told me. “I don’t think he’s cut out to be [president]. He’s good as mayor.”
Defeated, and further than ever from my goal of finding just one New Yorker who’s onboard with the notion of President Bill de Blasio, I left the Y and descended to my last resort. I reached out to Olivia Lapeyrolerie, the mayor’s former deputy press secretary, who is now working on his campaign, and asked her to put me in touch with someone — anyone — who actually wants to vote for this guy. It felt like cheating — ideally, I wanted to find a de Blasio supporter without the assistance of his employees — but I had no choice.
Lapeyrolerie put me in touch with two people — Farah Despeignes and Alain Berrouet. Despeignes is an activist and former teacher who ran for the State Assembly from the Bronx in 2017 (she lost in the Democratic primary). She first met de Blasio when he was running for public advocate, and oh boy, does she believe in him! Over the phone, Despeignes explained to me that she supports his 2020 candidacy because “he’s willing to talk about subjects that are taboo,” citing his “commitment to challenge the educational system” as an example. Unbothered by the criticism of his campaign, she said it’s only natural because “he’s willing to go there, he’s willing to disrupt the status quo.”
There are plenty of 2020 candidates willing to disrupt said status quo, I remarked. Why not Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders?
“I think very highly of Elizabeth Warren. But I live in New York City and I have direct conversations with de Blasio,” she said. “I hate to put this way, but when I summon de Blasio somewhere because I want to talk to him about something, he responds.”
Berrouet, a coordinator at the NYC Department of Education who appeared in de Blasio’s campaign video, conveyed a similar affection for de Blasio, based on previous one-on-one interactions. “I was handing out flyers for a City Council candidate, and I said to him, ‘Do you have a minute? I really want to talk to you about your platforms,’” he recalled. “He literally stood outside for like ten minutes and had a conversation with me. Long story short, I said, ‘Man, you have some great ideas and I think you have the ability to change the city.’ And he corrected me. He said, ‘Nah, I’m not going to change the city. We’re going to change the city.’”
Ultimately, Berrouet told me he supports the mayor’s 2020 run, as opposed to, say, that of Bernie Sanders, whom he voted for in 2016, because he’s “actually experienced what de Blasio has done in New York City.”
Two down, Mr. Mayor. Only tens of millions more to go. You have a lot of chatting-up to do.