Bill de Blasio’s short-lived presidential campaign didn’t attract a lot of voters before it died on September 20, hence the many headlines like “Bill de Blasio Strikes Out with Voters, Gets Zero Percent Support in Latest 2020 Poll” (CBS News New York, August 6). One group did enthusiastically back de Blasio’s quixotic bid, however: the hotel union, which spent $440,000 on ads outside of New York that extolled de Blasio’s farcical and doomed campaign.
Why? Were de Blasio to be elected president, there would be no obvious benefit to hotels, since presidents don’t have much to do with national hotel policy. Moreover, since de Blasio could not serve as both mayor of New York City and president at the same time, the hotel union would have lost a known friend in City Hall. Who knows who might replace de Blasio as mayor? Maybe there’s another Bloomberg on the way.
More likely is that the Hotel Trades Council knew de Blasio had no chance to be president but spent lavishly on his campaign anyway as a way to signal its warm feelings for the mayor. Now the union is calling in the favor. Surprise! De Blasio is delighted to help it stomp out non-union hotel building in New York City.
De Blasio loves to fulminate against landlords and high rents, but if New Yorkers should try to earn some of that rent back by using Airbnb to link up with visitors who are eager to pay for unused space, they may find themselves under attack by that very same mayor. De Blasio has ramped up an enforcement squad tasked with rounding up and punishing violators of subleasing laws. By sheer coincidence, the hotel unions enthusiastically support all of this action to stymie their competition.
Of course there was no quid pro quo here. Why, that would be illegal! The hotel union spent $440,000 on ads supporting de Blasio’s presidential candidacy, and its members were 30 percent of the individual donors to the delusional and laughable de Blasio 2020 campaign. Then, by sheer coincidence, de Blasio did exactly what the unions wanted him to do. Quid, quo. No pro, though! Just quid . . . quo. Peter Ward, the $515,000-a-year president of the Hotel Trades Council, told the New York Times he never discussed with the mayor the idea of giving him union support in exchange for pro-union policies: “I mean, Jesus Christ, how stupid would you be to have that conversation?” How stupid, indeed?
The Times reports that Ward’s union “is now close to a groundbreaking win in New York: Mayor de Blasio has directed his administration to draft rules that would require hotel developers to obtain a special permit before they can build.” This is how important matters with broad effects get decided in places like New York City: in the fine print that never comes close to penetrating the consciousness of voters. The upshot of the draft rules, say developers, will be to stop any more non-union hotels from being built. Down the line, this will mean higher hotel prices in New York City, which we all knew were far too reasonable and needed to be jacked up a bit. (Union hotel-room attendants make an average of $34 an hour plus lavish health care and retirement benefits, and the union recently extracted $149 million from the Waldorf Astoria for converting part of the hotel to condos.)
Hotel prices are central to one of the leading industries in New York City, which is tourism: out-of-towners won’t come to Gotham to spend their money if they can’t afford the lodging in the first place. Anything that raises hotel prices will adversely affect all the other New Yorkers who work in industries that rely heavily on visitors, such as cab drivers, restaurant workers, even Broadway chorus boys. New York has built its reputation (and a lot of businesses) on a reputation for being welcoming to outsiders. This latest move by de Blasio is yet another indication that he puts his own interests above New York City’s.
De Blasio’s war on Airbnb is an even more direct attack on New Yorkers that is hard to disguise as anything but a favor to a deep-pocketed donor. What possible benefit can accrue to New Yorkers by preventing them from renting out their apartments? Instead, de Blasio and allies have framed this as a matter of stalking unscrupulous landlords for supposedly turning what ought to be a nice cheap apartment reserved for you into a high-priced hotel room for out-of-towners. De Blasio has poured more than $6 million additional funding into a special enforcement agency that has become the anti-Airbnb squad, fanning out into the city to conduct more than 4,000 inspections and declare more than 2,600 violations of subleasing laws since 2017. De Blasio also signed a law forcing Airbnb to supply lots of information about hosts to city enforcers; reluctance to have the city snooping into their affairs is expected to greatly discourage would-be renters.
De Blasio has been fortunate that his entire mayoralty, now six years old, has occurred within an economic boom period and during an almost uninterrupted string of successes on Wall Street. Yet an August poll found his approval rating in New York state to be nine points lower than President Trump’s. Maybe New Yorkers understand that his man-of-the-people rhetoric has little to do with the reality.