De Blasio moves towards his political future as the spotlight turns on others
Mayor Bill de Blasio was in his element, as was New York’s political goal focused on others.
Hours before a crowd of candidates gathered for a pre-election rally in Manhattan last Sunday, the outgoing mayor visited a Brooklyn church to tout his accomplishments to a receptive audience while hinting at his intention to stay. in the public eye at the end of his term.
“We have to look to the future; we have to build something new; we have to build something better, ”he said, recounting a previous conversation with a pastor concerned about New York’s post-pandemic future. “The best question is when will we reach our greatest glory? And let’s do it together.
By the end of the week – with politicians taking bets on when Attorney General Tish James would announce his candidacy for governor – de Blasio had quietly sent out documents to start his own committee for the top elected office in the State.
On Wednesday, he finalized the forms to establish a candidates committee with the state Elections Council. He calls it “New Yorkers for a Fair Future” and has appointed Daniel Point, a resident of Queens, as treasurer, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. His friend and longtime advisor Peter Ragone is overseeing the fledgling operation, reasoning that de Blasio has a loyal base of Black and Latino voters across town who will be convinced by his track record of launching the Universal Preschool and Shepherd of New York through Covid-19.
The committee does not specify de Blasio’s exact plans. But it does allow him to raise money for a gubernatorial candidacy – something he has indicated he is considering, both in public statements and in appeals to potential supporters and donors, as previously reported. times by POLITICO.
In recent months, he has reached out to union affiliates, lobbyists and leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community – including people with business interests before his administration – to gauge support and ask for money. Several people familiar with the appeals said he had requested donations of up to $ 25,000 from potential donors.
The mayor has long raised funds from people seeking access to his administration – a perk that will not be available to him after his term ends on December 31. He now faces a mountain of debt from past campaigns and legal bills, while two complaints against his presidential candidacy remain unresolved.
Over the past year, he has raised money through his 3-year state PAC to pay off some of his debt. Donors include luxury developer Aby Rosen of RFR Holdings, Texas-based lobbyist Ben Barnes – who represents a real estate project on Staten Island that requires city approval – and Peter Ward, former chairman of the influential hotel workers.
Money issues aside, the mayor remains popular with his base of black and Latino Democrats across town, if Sunday’s church visit is any indication.
Bishop Orlando Findlayter introduced by Blasio as “one of the greatest mayors of New York City in New York history,” and then told POLITICO that he believes de Blasio is “consistently” underrated, both in his achievements and in its capacities “.
The friendship sums up de Blasio’s political approach: he was ready to warm up just weeks after taking office for trying to help Findlayter when the bishop was arrested for driving on a suspended license. The mayor seemed to believe the alliance was winning out over criticism from people he readily ridiculed as “elites” and “experts.”
This loyalty supported him as support for White Democrats has steadily waned and he failed to fit in a recent poll for governor.
Still, the path from de Blasio to Albany promises to be steep.
He faces stiff competition in his quest for black and Latino Democrats from James, who would be the first black female governor elected in the country. James is also originally from Brooklyn and has remained popular there, getting 56% of the vote in his three-way primary in 2018.
City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, another black Democrat from Brooklyn, is considering a gubernatorial bid after a strong performance in his own statewide race.
“Anyone looking at Tish’s numbers in her run for attorney general in Brooklyn and how she swept it, even with limited resources, should be pretty nervous right now,” said Democratic consultant Camille Rivera, who worked in the administration of de Blasio and is not currently affiliated with any of the campaigns.
When asked if de Blasio could eclipse James in Brooklyn, given his own connections there, Rivera suggested that James’ appeal was irresistible: “She’s a queen in Brooklyn.”
De Blasio also used his taxpayer-funded position to interact with New Yorkers in areas where he remains popular after a difficult tenure. On a recent Saturday, he released an unusually busy public program that included stops in Brooklyn with his son Dante, which took into account most of his father’s political campaigns.
Earlier this month, the mayor also hosted a bill signing at City Hall that also served as a political rally, though he continues to decline in-person press conferences. The celebration with the hotel’s Trades Council underlined its alliance with a union that has made the bet to support its long-term presidential candidacy.
Weeks later, de Blasio intervened personally when his own town planning commission threatened to reject a controversial proposal the union had been defending for 13 years.
And the mayor – more of a creature of local politics than his sweeping rhetoric would suggest – relies on his relationship with politically engaged Orthodox Jewish figures in Brooklyn. In recent weeks, he has phoned Sephardic leaders and a prominent Satmar rabbi to share his aspirations, according to several people familiar with the discussions.
Satmar’s community has long been an ally, raising small sums of money to help it qualify for presidential debates while hinting in Yiddish-language flyers that the support could force it to resolve a long-standing dispute. date concerning a synagogue.
De Blasio’s fundraising practices have placed him and his staff in the crosshairs of several investigations that have drawn contempt, but no accusations from prosecutors who said he intervened to inappropriately with city agencies on behalf of its donors.
He was therefore surprising to some when he unusually cracked down on Orthodox communities who continued to hold in-person rallies during the height of the pandemic.
In recent weeks, however, as the race for governor looms, de Blasio has changed its tone. He declined a request from city officials working on the pandemic response to personally contact Orthodox leaders to tackle still-low vaccination rates in their communities, several people with direct knowledge of the matter said. They spoke on condition of anonymity so that they could freely discuss a sensitive topic.
“We asked him to meet with the Orthodox community and he said no,” said one of the people.
Another person familiar with the conversations took issue with this characterization, saying the mayor felt he had spoken to the rabbis before and believed the intervention of other administration officials would be more productive.
De Blasio has also embarked on an eleventh-hour spending spree – last week announcing just $ 425 million for park modernization, $ 167 million for universal broadband and $ 111 million to repair facades of buildings. social housing buildings.
Her spokesperson Danielle Filson scoffed at the idea that welfare projects have a political motive.
“Since 2017, we’ve been welcoming city hall to your borough – a centuries-old tradition of highlighting key investments for neighborhoods that need them most. This week it was Manhattan and here’s your scoop – the mayor will continue to have briefings and announce initiatives that make a real difference to New Yorkers, ”said Filson.
Meanwhile, de Blasio and his mayoral team are seeking a campaign team, calling in former administration workers to gauge support for working on the candidacy, according to several people who have received pleas. At least one member of the government, Jillian Davidson, is assisting the operation, several people familiar with the matter have confirmed.
Most of the former administration officials who spoke to POLITICO said they didn’t want to work on the mayor’s candidacy and questioned his chances of winning the overcrowded primary next June.
“Literally no one needs or wants this and it’s an incredible act of pride to fit in as the clock ticks down on his town hall – the same way running for the presidential election was absurd and did nothing for New York City, ”said Democratic consultant Alexis Grenell. “He is mayor for at least two more months. Wouldn’t it be nice if he did his job for a little while here, instead of doing that governor merriment? “
Political adviser Neal Kwatra offered a more generous take.
“Regardless of his critiques, the reality is that Bill de Blasio is in every way one of the most successful agents and politicians in New York politics over the past 20 years,” Kwatra said. “He was elected three times across town, ran a successful statewide campaign for Hillary [Clinton], has a pre-K signing policy issue and his Covid dossier in recent times has been a model for forward thinking that has received national applause. “
Nonetheless, he said de Blasio will face “two incredibly impressive women” in James and Governor Kathy Hochul, who “between them occupy much of the same political space as he”.
Neither Grenell nor Kwatra are currently working for any of the gubernatorial candidates.
As he plans his future, de Blasio made his reason for running in public remarks made clear.
At a political breakfast in Brooklyn on Friday, he focused on his pre-kindergarten accomplishments and the city’s growing immunization rates.
He then urged attendees to vote for Democrat Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, to succeed him as mayor on Tuesday. The two are old friends, and Adams frequently visits Gracie Mansion for advice on running the town.
“We need to keep Brooklyn in control of city hall; let’s be clear about it, ”said de Blasio. “By the way, shouldn’t Brooklyn be in charge maybe further north as well?”
Joe Anuta and Amanda Eisenberg contributed to this report.