By Clifford Michel
“We won’t wait. We’ll do it now,” Mayor Bill de Blasio declared on the day of his inauguration. The words reverberated around the city and foreshadowed the Mayor’s intensity on liberal issues.
Winning 73% of the vote in November, de Blasio had the NYC populous on his side when he arrived in Albany to lobby for universal pre-kindergarten in February. Along with putting an end to stop and frisk, universal pre-k was a major crux of de Blasio’s campaign.
The mayor ran into several issues immediately. Governor Andrew Cuomo was hesitant to support the bill because of its tax on the highest income bracket, especially in his reelection year.
“He’s quickly learning what Mike Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani and everyone before him learned,” David Catalfamo, an adviser to former Governor George Pataki, told Capital New York. “You can be mayor of the biggest city in the state but still have no say about what happens in Albany.”
Reports came out that aides to Governor Cuomo were pressuring elected officials to drop their support of the Mayor’s pre-K agenda. The Republican controlled State Senate also proved difficult for de Blasio to navigate as leaders claimed early on that they simply would not support hiking up any taxes.
Governor Cuomo eventually allotted $100 million over the next year and $1.5 billion over the next five years in the state’s budget for universal pre-K. Still, de Blasio resisted and tapped high ranking democrat, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to hold up the vote.
Eventually, Cuomo won out. Now, de Blasio is strategically using the Bully Pulpit of the Mayor’s office to endorse democratic candidates in an attempt to take back the State Senate for the first time in more than 50 years.
“We are close to victory I can taste it,” de Blasio told members of the Working Families Party in early October.
While last year, de Blasio’s most humiliating losses were his failure to change Charter Schools and Cuomo’s tweaking of the universal pre-k program, city officials see more difficulties accumulating in Albany if there isn’t a democratic majority.
Even with the large stick de Blasio may be able to carry around, he won’t be able to change minimum wage, campaign-finance reform, or immigration at the state level. Many of the issues de Blasio hopes to impact will require the support of democrats and a faction of legislators loyal to the Mayor’s ideas.
Before the September primaries the Mayor endorsed seven candidates in heated State Senate races. Of those seven, five were able to pull through and win their primary elections.
Endorsement are extremely important in the primaries because there is such a small voter turnout. De Blasio’s support helped his favored Democrats have a stronger shot at office. Especially in a state that’s overwhelmingly democrat, the primaries tend to be the toughest part of the elections.
Political heavyweights, former New York City Comptroller John Liu (47.8%) and former New York City Council member Robert Jackson (42.7%) both lost out to de Blasio endorsees.
Post primaries, de Blasio has still been supporting State Senate candidates by rallying voters at public events.
City Hall’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, has pitched into the effort as she hosted two find-raise events for State Senate candidates in mid-October. Emma Wolfe, a top political aide at City Hall has also taken time to help out other State Senate candidates.
In comparison, Governor Cuomo, who Mayor de Blasio helped get on the WFP party line, is going the bipartisan route and is supporting democrats as moderately as he can, inviting them onto his campaign trail but largely staying out of endorsements and fundraisers.
As the Mayor of a New York City, de Blasio will always have a soap box to stand on in Albany but November’s State Senate results will determine if any legislators will actually have to listen.