The Liberal Icon Looks to Amplify His Voice, Make Presence Known
By Clifford Michel
As 2016 candidates begin to announce their run for president, an outside political operative is planting seeds to make his voice heard in the flurry and chaos that will soon consume the nation: New York’s own, Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Since de Blasio trounced his opponent in the 2013 mayoral race, he has risen to be an icon among liberals and is starting to approach the status of that of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
While de Blasio’s stock has steadily been rising ever since he took office, he made national headlines recently when he declined to endorse former Secretary of State and presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on national television.
“No,” de Blasio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in mid-April. “Not until I see — and, again, I would say this about any candidate — until I see an actual vision of where they want to go.”
de Blasio served as Clinton’s campaign manager in her successful 2000 run for Senate. Both Hillary and Bill Clinton attended de Blasio’s inauguration speech. Bill swore him in.
“I think, like a lot of people in this country, I want to see a vision. And, again, that would be true of candidates on all levels. It’s time to see a clear, bold vision for progressive economic change,” he said.
Soon after the shocking non-endorsement, de Blasio made his way to deliver a pair of speeches in Des Moines, Iowa.
Influence in Iowa, come time for presidential elections, is political gold. The state is often called the heartland of American politics and a signifier of who will do well in the general elections.
Candidates also have to convince voters to attend their “caucus” for votes to count on election day.
The Mayor gave a 41-minute speech at Drake University on income inequality.
“Both sides of the aisle have a lot to account for here,” de Blasio said. “Both parties have a lot of explaining to do and a lot of making up to do in my book.”
“We have to challenge our leaders to, first, acknowledge the problem; second, talk about the solutions; and third, take us there,” said de Blasio.
The Mayor gave a similar speech in Omaha, Nebraska.
Almost immediately after, the de Blasio took a trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker’s state, a GOP favorite who is widely expected to run for President. The event was private and sold out.
de Blasio criticized Walker for his fight against organized labor unions, which brought him into the national spotlight and made him a Republican darling.
“Right now, Wisconsin has a governor who seems to live in an alternate reality,” said de Blasio. “Elected and reelected by peddling a series of falsehoods, he told you teachers were the enemy, unions were the problem, and that progressive ideas were a thing of the past.”
The Mayor continued, saying that Walker “tries to play the everyman, then he stabs the everyman in the back.”
Despite his initial efforts, de Blasio remains unknown to the majority of Iowans. A public Policy Poll showed that among democrats: 18 percent view him favorably, 15 percent unfavorably, and 67 percent had no opinion of him at all. The poll had a 4.5 percent margin of error.
In his most aggressive effort to influence the national debate, de Blasio double bylined an op-ed in the Washington Post with Warren, where the two outlined a slew of liberal issues that they feel the nation needs to tackle in order to restore the “American dream.”
“Trickle-down economics failed disastrously. The rich and powerful have become richer and more powerful,” the two wrote. “In the past 35 years, the top 10 percent got all the growth in income. The rest of America — 90 percent of Americans — got nothing. Zip. Zero.”
The two liberals pushed for an increase in the minimum wage, empowerment of unions, paid family leave, universal pre-k, curtailing the cost of colleges, further investment in infrastructure, an expansion of social security, and Wall Street regulations.
The ideas were expanded upon when the two ideologues unveiled their “Progressive Agenda” on Tuesday, which attracted more than 60 members from Congress and powerful labor leaders.
de Blasio has also taken a stand on a multitude of national issues, setting a line and defining liberal stances. Most notably was his opposition against President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty, which would fast-track many trade agreements. The TPP is largely opposed by organized labor.
“I believe that American people should have a say in trade agreements, especially massive deals that can mean the difference between countless jobs being created in America or being shipped overseas,” de Blasio said.
On police brutality, de Blasio has seemed to take a step forward once again after a police officer was charged with murder for shooting a 50-year-old black man named Walter Scott.
“We are all feeling some pain today I would imagine. I certainly am. We watched the video yesterday,” said de Blasio, alongside Al Sharpton last month. “Once again, we are watching a video. We watched a video that is so disturbing and so painful, you can’t watch that as a human being and not feel pain. It makes no sense.”
On the homefront, de Blasio has introduced sweeping liberal reforms, including the end to the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy. He has also implemented a popular Swedish policy known as “Vision Zero” and lowered the speed limit to 25 mph in order to minimize traffic deaths.
In lockstep with the national conversation of the Democratic Party, de Blasio took executive action in late September to raise the minimum wage for city employees from $11.90 to $13.13 per hour, and that will likely reach $15.22 by 2019.
de Blasio’s appointment of the city’s Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Farina, a former educator, was widely supported and celebrated.
He has also embarked on the extremely difficult promise of building and maintaining 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2020 to combat rampant rent increase in New York City.
There are two major issues facing the Mayor if his national stock truly does continue to rise.
One is the national and divisive debate around police brutality, which de Blasio initially embraced, then backed away from after two New York police officers were killed after a lone individual took “revenge” on the NYPD.
While the Mayor has renewed his support, he has ignored calls to end NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s “broken windows” policy.
Another issue that has bubbled up recently has been concerns about de Blasio’s commitment to New York City.
Early on in his career, he was pegged by POLITICO magazine as “The New Icon of the Left.”
The difference between then and now is that the mayor seems to be continuingly seeking out this spotlight.