Dear Commons Community,
Michelle Goldberg has a column this morning evaluating New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s run for the Democratic nomination for president. Her conclusion is that he will not get the nomination but nonetheless he has been a very successful mayor. Below is her entire column.
I agree fully with Ms. Goldberg. I believe he has been the best mayor New York has had in years and it has had some pretty good ones such as Michael Bloomberg.
So go for it Bill. You have nothing to lose.
New York Times
Stop Sneering at Bill de Blasio
By Michelle Goldberg
A common type of viral news story in our age of American decline involves school lunch debt.
School employees have seized lunches from students whose parents fall behind on their bills and thrown them in the trash. Kids who owe lunch fees have been branded with stamps and markers and served inferior cold meals.
Recently, a sweet third grader made national news for using his allowance to pay off his classmates’ debt, a feel-good story with a dystopian undercurrent, since individual altruism is no match for systemic desperation.
These stories never come from New York City, which has the country’s largest public school system. In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration made school lunch free for all students, eliminating both the problem of school lunch debt and the stigma of getting a government subsidy.
That’s in addition to the city’s free school breakfasts, which are often served in classrooms to make sure more kids eat them. The free meals start at an early age, since de Blasio has instituted universal free pre-K for 4-year-olds and is scaling up a program for 3-year-olds.
Conventional wisdom holds that de Blasio is a joke, a sanctimonious dork held in widespread contempt by the city he governs. New York’s tabloids despise him. His presidential bid has been greeted with a combination of sneering, eye-rolling and baffled pity.
I’m as confused as everyone else about why de Blasio is running for president. But the mockery greeting his every move obscures what a successful mayor he’s been, particularly for working- and middle-class families.
In addition to free pre-K, he’s increased the minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour, expanded a law mandating paid sick leave and set a record in financing affordable housing. In his book about de Blasio, former Daily News columnist Juan González estimated that the mayor’s policies delivered at least $21 billion in benefits to ordinary New Yorkers.
In de Blasio’s first mayoral race, he campaigned on ending stop-and-frisk, a Bloomberg-era policy in which police stop, question and sometimes search pedestrians, usually young men of color. Stop-and-frisks began falling before he took office but have declined further on his watch: “Since Mayor de Blasio came into office in January 2014, N.Y.P.D. stops have plummeted,” said a New York Civil Liberties Union report. At the same time, contrary to dire warnings from de Blasio’s opponents, crime in the city has dropped to record lows. In 2017, he was re-elected in a landslide, the first Democratic mayor to win a second term in New York City since the 1980s.
So why does it sometimes seem like everyone detests him?
I don’t just mean the law-and-order conservatives and financial elites whom de Blasio has fought with throughout his administration. He has become a national punching bag, the subject of a perpetual media hazing. “Everybody’s Having a Great Time Hating de Blasio,” said a recent Buzzfeed headline.
There is, obviously, much for progressives to criticize in de Blasio’s record. He’s been involved in serious campaign finance and corruption scandals. The city’s public housing system is in crisis. (So are its subways, though that’s largely the state’s responsibility.) He’s promised to close the brutal jail complex on Rikers Island, but advocates of criminal justice reform say he’s moving way too slow.
But reflexive disdain for de Blasio isn’t based only on his policies, or his ethics. It’s also about his affect.
He’s awkward, perpetually late and insists on being driven to Brooklyn to exercise at the Park Slope Y.M.C.A. He dropped a groundhog on Groundhog Day, and it later died. He’s condescending and self-righteous and refuses to go to the Met Gala.
“His style is that of a nervous suburban dad trying to be cool in front of his teenager’s pals,” said Vanity Fair. “His lack of charm is so stark for a politician that it’s almost inspiring,” said a piece in New York magazine’s The Cut.
This may be true, but it seems as if the material improvements he’s made in the lives of his poor and working-class constituents should count for as much as his personality flaws. The fact that they often don’t says something, I think, about whose priorities matter most in shaping political reputations.
The mayor’s approval rating in New York City is about 42 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, compared with 44 percent who disapprove. That’s not great, but it’s not catastrophic. Former mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg both had moments when their approval ratings sank into the 30s, but both were considered at least semi-serious potential presidential contenders.
Perhaps one difference was who approved of them. De Blasio is pretty unpopular with white voters, but according to the Quinnipiac poll, 66 percent of black voters think well of him. Brian Lehrer, the New York City radio host who has de Blasio on his program every week, told me that these voters don’t “get the media microphone very much to set the narrative about Bill de Blasio.”
If they did, his presidential run would still be a bad idea, but he might be more famous for feeding the city’s kids than for killing a rodent.