A potential presidential campaign may be growing in Brooklyn.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made some initial steps toward exploring a presidential bid. However, with an extremely crowded Democratic primary field dominated by some of the party’s biggest names, the mayor’s moves have left some of his allies scratching their heads and dubious of his chances.
One Democratic ally of the mayor’s said de Blasio reached out to them in recent weeks to discuss a potential presidential bid. The ally was surprised the mayor had his eye on 2020 given the long odds of a victory, but assumed de Blasio might see the race as an opportunity to advance his policy ideals.
“He’s a true blue liberal and would do anything for the cause. He may see this as a good platform,” the de Blasio ally said.
A former de Blasio adviser also said the mayor had been “shopping for a digital consultant” to work on an unspecified campaign.
Another source close to de Blasio said that the mayor, who is term limited and can’t run for reelection, is eager to see some of the signature policy initiatives he championed in City Hall be focal points of the debate on the presidential campaign trail.
“Deep down he really wants ideas like pre-K for all, guaranteed health care and paid personal time at the center of the 2020 conversation, and right now he’s wrestling with how best to make that a reality,” the source said.
While de Blasio has publicly said he isn’t ruling out a White House bid, the steps he has taken toward this goal have not previously been reported. And de Blasio’s efforts to lay groundwork have included forays to Iowa, a key primary state.
De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who is widely known to be his closest adviser and is a member of administration, traveled to Iowa, ostensibly to discuss mental health issues, last October. Behind the scenes, both de Blasio and McCray made calls to multiple key union leaders and political figures in the state.
Mary Jane Cobb, the executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, told Yahoo News she received multiple calls from the mayor and his wife last fall. Cobb said she was curious about their interest and questioned de Blasio on it. According to Cobb, de Blasio said at the time he was “just a proud progressive wanting to make good things happen” in Iowa, including potentially helping candidates there in last year’s midterm election.
Nevertheless, the calls from de Blasio made Cobb suspect he was mulling a presidential bid.
“It’s an odd time of year to call people in Iowa if you’re not going to do something,” Cobb explained.
De Blasio made it to City Hall after scoring a dramatic upset victory in the 2013 mayoral election. His win was fueled by an unabashedly progressive and populist platform coupled with the argument that New York had become a “tale of two cities,” with some residents living in luxury while others were dramatically underserved. Since then, de Blasio has enacted several landmark policies, including paid sick leave and universal pre-kindergarten.
De Blasio also made ending New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” program a priority in his first years in office. With his focus on income inequality and police reform, de Blasio was in many ways a forerunner to the progressive wave that has overtaken the Democratic Party.
However, de Blasio is a polarizing figure in New York amid mounting homelessness and a crisis in the city’s housing authority. His administration has also weathered a corruption scandal involving one of his donors and a contentious relationship with the notoriously tough New York City press corps. At the end of last year, polls showed de Blasio with an approval rating in the low 40s, the worst score of his mayoralty.
De Blasio often notes that he cut his teeth as a “grassroots organizer” in New York, including serving as director of Hillary Clinton’s successful Senate campaign in 2000. The former adviser said the mayor might think his political skill could help propel him to another improbable victory.
“Whether people like it or not, he’s good at campaigning. … He’s smart. He knows how to get a crowd going and give bear hugs,” the ex-adviser said. “There’s probably a theory in his head, ‘I’ll go there and all these people haven’t been in tough races or aren’t good campaigners, and I’ll look good comparatively.’”
However, the adviser also suspected de Blasio’s vision for the campaign could simply be to raise his profile and “go national” or simply to “flirt with this and get in the headlines.” But in spite of de Blasio’s political skill and progressive policy bonafides, the adviser predicted the mayor would have a tough time in the packed Democratic primary field because many experienced staffers and key donors are already lined up.
“He’s got some credentials on ‘stop and frisk’ and pre-K that he could take national. … There’s some stuff there,” said the ex-adviser. “But I’m not sure who’s going to work for him or who’s going to give him money.”
For now, the former adviser assumed de Blasio was largely acting as his own key adviser as he eyes the presidential race.
“Most everything is always driven by him,” the adviser said. “Maybe there’s a person or two, but most of this stuff is de Blasio doing this himself and nobody telling him it’s a bad idea.”
Asked about the steps de Blasio has taken toward a 2020 race, Mike Casca, the mayor’s communications director, reiterated the mayor’s past public remarks.
“Nothing’s changed since last month,” Casca said. “He’s focused on his job running the city, but he’s not ruling anything out.”
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