(Bloomberg) -- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio joined the already thick ranks of contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday, hoping that his advocacy of major investments in education and health care, warnings about income inequality and a high profile as the leader of the largest U.S. city will make his candidacy stand out.
De Blasio also said he was uniquely qualified to take on President Donald Trump.
“I’m a New Yorker. I’ve known Trump’s a bully for a long time,” he said in a video announcing his candidacy. “This is not news to me or anyone here. And I know how to take him on.”
Trump responded to de Blasio’s announcement with a tweet. “The Dems are getting another beauty to join their group,” he wrote, calling de Blasio “the worst mayor in the U.S.,” and “a JOKE.”
De Blasio becomes the 23rd active candidate in the race, and many of his competitors have been raising money, hiring staff and campaigning for months. The announcement came hours before he was scheduled to embark on a two-day foray into Iowa and South Carolina -- two states among the earliest to select presidential convention delegates next year.
It reverses a vow de Blasio made in 2017 during a televised debate as he campaigned for a second term, when he looked straight at the camera and declared: “I will serve for four full years.” He began backtracking from that promise in January, when he told reporters, “the world has changed in the last couple of years.”
The mayor has not been secretive about his interest, telling an audience in Iowa in February -- a year before that state’s Democratic delegate-selection caucuses -- that he was “certainly not ruling out a run for the presidency.” In recent months, he traveled to Boston and Las Vegas to raise money for his political action committee.
For de Blasio, 58, such tours have been common since he took office in 2014, promoting himself as a spokesman for progressive, urban politics. Those efforts have had mixed success. In 2016, he tried to foster an agenda that would frame the Democratic campaign’s policy discussions, only to be overtaken by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Sanders’ 2020 candidacy could blunt de Blasio’s ambition again as a better-known national politician with an already established image for decrying income inequality and corporate greed. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another presidential hopeful, poses a similar challenge.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has established himself as the early front-runner in polls, both nationally and in some of the states with early caucuses and primaries. That raises the question of whether Democratic voters may want a more moderate voice to oppose Trump rather than another contender running on a progressive platform.
De Blasio says he’ll set himself apart as leader of the most populous U.S. city. Yet, he finds himself competing for money and support as an underdog to Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana’s fourth-largest city.
No American mayor has ever gone directly to the White House from city hall. John Lindsay of New York and Sam Yorty, the longtime mayor of Los Angeles, fell short in 1972. Rudolph Giuliani, embraced as “America’s Mayor” for his leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, dropped out during the Republican primaries seven years later.
Three-term former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg considered candidacies as an independent in 2008 and 2016, and as a Democrat this year, deciding each time it would be futile. Bloomberg is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
On Thursday, de Blasio said he would advocate for working people. “As president, I will take on the wealthy. I will take on the big corporations. I will not rest until this government serves working people,” he said on the video.
“Working Americans deserve better and I know we can do it because I’ve done it here in the largest toughest city in this country,” de Blasio said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday. “There is plenty of money in this world. There is plenty of money in this country. It’s just in the wrong hands.”
De Blasio told ABC that Trump is “playing a big con on America. I call him ‘Con Don.’” “He is trying to convince working Americans he’s been on their side. He hasn’t from day one.”
De Blasio’s six years running City Hall have been a mixture of success and failure.
Both were on display earlier this year when Amazon.com Inc. chose Long Island City in Queens for a second headquarters -- then abruptly withdrew amid a fierce local backlash, chiefly over subsidies that had been offered to the company. The mayor and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a political rival, came under harsh criticism for conducting negotiations in secret, and then failing to salvage the deal.
The message de Blasio intends to sell is a vision of New York as a successful city, with high employment, improved high school graduation rates and low crime.
His administration created a universal pre-kindergarten program that now serves 70,000 students, and has embarked on a pre-school plan for 3-year-olds. A two-decade trend of decreasing crime has brought reports of murder and shootings to levels not seen since the 1960s.
And de Blasio and Cuomo earlier this year joined forces to win passage in the state Legislature of a congestion pricing plan that would charge motorists to drive in parts of Manhattan at peak times, and use the revenue to promote mass transit.
The mayor’s goals for the next few years include a health services plan that would make the city’s public hospitals the centerpiece for a system of urgent-care and preventive health clinics. He’s also likely to tout a City Council law he signed that gives paid vacation to all full-time workers in companies of more than five employees.
On the other side of the ledger, the city’s 400,000-tenant public Housing Authority has been in a crisis of under-funding and mismanagement that has featured wide-scale heat and hot water breakdowns, and the appointment of a federal monitor after officials admitted they filed false lead-inspection reports.
Alleged pay-for-play fundraising tactics led to investigations throughout de Blasio’s first term, in which campaign donors got access to administration decision makers. Federal and state prosecutors criticized the mayor’s practices while deciding not to bring criminal charges against him.
Among New Yorkers, de Blasio’s presidential ambitions haven’t ignited much enthusiasm. An April 3 Quinnipiac University poll found that 76% of city voters say he should not run. His negative job approval rating -- 42% to 44% -- doesn’t help, although he’s popular among 66% of New York’s black voters. De Blasio says he ran behind in the polls, too, for months before he won election as mayor.
“I’m glad I could unify the people of New York City,” de Blasio said about the poll’s findings.
(Updates with de Blasio interview, Trump tweet starting in third paragraph.)
--With assistance from Emma Kinery.
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