There was a time this summer when I could not walk out of my apartment without seeing Bill de Blasio. He was running to represent New York’s newly refashioned Tenth Congressional District, which includes Park Slope, so it made sense that he’d be around the neighborhood more often than usual. But for a while, he became truly ubiquitous. There he was at my kid’s school collecting signatures and looming over the children like a grinning stork dressed up in a blue button-down shirt and khakis. There he was on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 11th Street shaking hands with his would-be constituents. One time, I asked my daughter if she wanted to pose with him for a photo — not because I like de Blasio but because I thought it would be funny. “Please don’t make me,” she said.
Her sentiment was shared by enough New Yorkers that de Blasio announced his withdrawal from the race on Tuesday sounding like a jilted lover who wants to convey that he has accepted rejection even when, in his heart, he hasn’t. “I’m also recognizing I made mistakes,” he said. “I want to do better in the future. I want to learn from those mistakes.”
As far as I can tell, the only mistake he actually made during his two-month campaign was being Bill de Blasio. It’s stunning when you think about it: Here was a former mayor with universal name recognition running in a district that includes the very neighborhood where he owns a home and which he has taken great pains to cultivate as his base — and he was stuck polling in the single digits.
I honestly thought he would do better. When I started to see him all the time, it felt like the beginnings of a possibly effective, old-school door-to-door campaign — though he mostly lingered on the corner of 11th Street (where he lives) or 12th Street, taking calls and tapping away at his phone and smiling a little too eagerly at passersby. I informed my colleagues, and they responded with the expected quips (“A Spectre Is Haunting Park Slope”), but I convinced myself that Blaz had landed on a strategy to change the minds of disillusioned voters, that he was going back to his roots as a cargo-shorts-wearing, Colson Patisserie–patronizing Sloper.
When de Blasio first ran for mayor in 2013, I recognized him once on Seventh Avenue, exclaiming, “You’re Bill de Blasio!” He leaned over me like a life-size version of one of those drinking-bird desk toys, eyes frozen wide like buttons. During the mayoralty, I would see his SUV entourage at the 9th Street Y, part of his exasperating and ultimately backfiring bid to curry favor with his former neighbors, or the mayor himself lining up at the Park Slope Armory to vote. But mostly, he was at Gracie Mansion or City Hall. Now, following a post-mayoral stint at the Marriott as his townhouse was being renovated, he was planted on the 11th Street corner, so much so that when I would go for a walk in the evening, he’d still be there when I returned 30 minutes later, the wires of his white earbuds glowing in the streetlight.
This was his campaign: reminding folks of his presence and taking up space, which makes some sense when you consider how few people are likely to vote in a Democratic primary for Congress in August. But it turned out that several years of irritating just about everyone meant that de Blasio’s presence itself was the problem. If any of the other candidates in this extremely crowded field (Carlina Rivera, say, or Yuh-Line Niou) tries to codify Roe and pass a climate bill and generally do the work that backbenchers from blue states are supposed to do, most people probably don’t care who it is — just as long as it’s not de Blasio.
On Tuesday evening, hours after dropping out of the race, de Blasio gave an interview at Muse coffee shop on 12th Street. I went there an hour later, half expecting him to walk by with those ropy arms swinging, but the shop was shuttered, and he was nowhere to be found. (Hopefully, amid this melting heat wave, he was somewhere air-conditioned.) It is odd to think that this politician is so deeply unpopular when you compare him to his successor, who has not yet notched the kind of major victories, like universal pre-K, that bolstered de Blasio’s reputation as a genuine reformer even as he alienated voters with his mulishness, his arrogance, his weirdness. Eric Adams has preferred, instead, to be everywhere all at once, as if just showing up will be enough to convince people that he’s the right man for the job. It turns out that de Blasio, in his first and possibly last attempt at a post-mayoral political career, fell into the same trap.
More From This Series
- De Blasio Sees Writing on the Wall, Drops Congressional Bid
- New Polls Show De Blasio Near the Bottom of the Field in Race for Congress
- Lis Smith Loves Politics (If Not All Politicians)