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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is running for president

Three-quarters of New Yorkers don’t want de Blasio to run for the White House. He’s doing it anyway.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks about the city’s response to climate change in April 2019.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks about the city’s response to climate change in April 2019.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is running for president.

De Blasio, who has been mayor since 2014, announced on Thursday that he will make a run for the White House, joining an already crowded Democratic field. The decision ends months of speculation regarding whether de Blasio would throw his hat into the ring.

“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. As mayor of the largest city in America, I’ve done just that,” de Blasio said in a video announcing his campaign launch.

De Blasio’s presidential ambitions have been the subject of some mockery among New Yorkers, three-quarters of whom do not believe he should run in 2020. But to be fair, he is the mayor of the largest city in the United States. By contrast, Pete Buttigieg, whose stature has risen in the polls and has been the subject of fawning media coverage, is the mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana.

De Blasio, 58, is a complex figure in New York City politics: He has a decent progressive record, and he won reelection handily in 2017, but a lot of New Yorkers, to put it plainly, don’t like him.

His mayoral record includes universal pre-K and expanded paid sick leave. This year, after Amazon canceled plans to build a second headquarters in Long Island City in response to community pushback — something de Blasio initially supported — he flipped and joined progressives in criticizing the company as an example of “the 1 percent dictating to everyone else.” On his website, he claims to have reduced stop-and-frisk by the New York City Police Department by 93 percent and helped drive crime to record lows. He is likely to position himself as an unabashed progressive and experienced executive.

Whether that positioning will be enough to bring him to the top of a crowded field — there are now more than 20 Democrats running for the party’s 2020 nomination, and de Blasio isn’t even the first New York politician running — is not entirely clear. But he believes he’s got a shot that’s worth taking.

“My whole history has been as an insurgent and an underdog,” he said in a March interview with New York 1.

He also defended his decision to run in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America on Thursday. “The poll that actually matters is the election,” he said, noting he has twice been elected mayor in New York. He took a swipe at President Donald Trump as well. “Right now, the federal government is not on the side of working people. And that’s because Donald Trump is playing a big con on America,” he said.

De Blasio has a long history in New York City politics — not all of it great

De Blasio has been in the New York City political scene for most of his career. He campaigned for former New York City Mayor David Dinkins in the late 1980s and worked in his administration, served as regional director for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and managed Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign. He joined the New York City Council in 2002 until he became the city’s public advocate in 2010. He was in that role until he became mayor.

De Blasio told Politico that he believes he embodies economic populism and that his election was “an indicator of the gathering storm that came forth nationally” for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) 2016 campaign. (Sanders, of course, will now be his opponent.) In 2014, for example, he launched an initiative to enroll 4-year-old children in universal pre-K, and the program now has about 70,000 students. He has sought to expand the program to 3-year-olds, but the initiative has faced challenges.

He also highlighted to Politico a number of his achievements as mayor that he believes make him an appealing candidate to a wider swath of voters, including high employment, increased graduation rates, and low crime. But as Politico notes, grading de Blasio’s record is complicated:

But de Blasio’s signature achievements came early in his first term, and City Hall’s activity and ambition have been lackluster in recent years. Crime was already dropping when he took office, and turning around the city’s lowest-performing schools and curbing homelessness have proven major challenges for the mayor. Six years after he campaigned on a promise of combating income inequality, public housing is falling apart blocks away from multimillion-dollar condos. Income inequality in New York City has actually increased.

De Blasio has also seen some controversy in his time as mayor — some a little trivial, some not.

The mayor insists on working out at a YMCA gym in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The 11-mile trip, which he undertakes in a private car accompanied by a police escort from Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side, where he resides, has earned him scrutiny and mockery in New York. It seems like he’s trying to show he’s authentic by continuing to work out at a neighborhood gym, but ultimately the decision seems a little contrived — not to mention it’s not particularly environmentally friendly or considerate of anyone else who might be commuting along the same paths. Despite criticism, De Blasio has kept up his routine. Also, during a Groundhog Day ceremony in 2014, de Blasio dropped the animal. A week later, it died of internal injuries.

Less amusing is the trail of occasionally ethically dubious choices he’s made regarding campaign finance and questionable characters he’s been tied to. A former fundraiser for de Blasio was convicted of conspiring to bribe NYPD officials. Another campaign donor pleaded guilty to trying to bribe de Blasio to get favorable lease terms for a restaurant he owned in Queens. New York City’s Department of Investigation found de Blasio violated conflict of interest rules in soliciting donations from people seeking favors, according to a recent report from the City.

In 2017, federal and state prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against de Blasio and his aides after probes into his campaign fundraising practices.

The New York Times editorial board ahead of de Blasio’s campaign launch questioned the ethics of de Blasio’s campaign fundraising tactics.

“The field of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination is already large. If Mr. de Blasio chooses to run, he will have to find a way to assure voters that he has their interests — not those of his big donors — at heart,” the board wrote.

Despite the criticism, de Blasio is determined to go for it

De Blasio has faced a lot of pushback against launching a presidential bid.

Politico in March quoted a former aide calling the idea of a 2020 de Blasio campaign “fucking insane.” A Quinnipiac University poll found that 76 percent of New York City voters don’t think de Blasio should run. His job approval in the city is 42 to 44 percent, but it varies significantly among demographics: 66 percent of black voters approve of the job he is doing as mayor and 23 percent disapprove, compared to 31 percent of white voters who approve of de Blasio and 58 percent who disapprove. Hispanic voters are evenly divided.

Someone put up a flyer at de Blasio’s gym reading “by entering these premises you agree not to run for President of the United States in 2020 or any future presidential race.” Even de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, has suggested that while she believes her husband would be a “great president,” the timing might not be “exactly right” for him to run. President Trump on Thursday reacted to de Blasio’s bid in a tweet, calling him a “joke” and declaring that New York City “hates him.” (New York City voters dislike Trump much more than they do de Blasio.)

De Blasio was also the only Democrat asked about in a March Monmouth University poll who had a negative favorability rating.

He appears to be determined to run anyway.

“I was the underdog in everything I’ve been near, and I’m not saying that with any hubris,” he told the New York Daily News before announcing his run. “Any time I get in a race, I get in it to win.”

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