Bill de Blasio: why won’t people take New York mayor’s 2020 bid seriously?

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He runs the nation’s biggest city and has a record of progressive achievements. But his presidential bid has been met with mockery

Mayor Bill de Blasio departs Liberty Island following a dedication ceremony for the new Statue of Liberty Museum on Thursday. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York runs the biggest city in the US which, if you’re counting, is more than 80 times the size of South Bend, Indiana.

The economy is good. Crime is low. And De Blasio has been sounding the right notes on progressive values since running for mayor in 2013. So De Blasio wants, and thinks he deserves, to be taken seriously as a Democratic candidate for president.

But when news emerged that De Blasio was planning to launch a campaign, it was greeted with a wave of mockery on social media. As he announced his candidacy – news that was scooped by a teenager in Iowa – the New York Post greeted him with a cover featuring people laughing heartily at his ambitions, then noted that he had pulled off the rare feat of uniting police unions and Black Lives Matters protesters, who both gathered in Times Square to jeer as he appeared on Good Morning America.

It’s not just the chattering classes who scoff at the bid. A poll found 76% of New York City voters don’t think he should run for president. In another poll, New Yorkers ranked him dead last among local leaders who might run.

De Blasio doesn’t fare much better outside New York, or in early primary states. In a Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire voters, he had the highest net unfavorable rating of any candidate.

Bill de Blasio appears on Good Morning America on Thursday. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

Fellow New York politicians tend to roll their eyes. “He’s completely delusional,” said one assemblyman, Ron Kim.

So what is it about the New York mayor’s presidential aspirations that inspires such derision?

There’s the groundhog he may have killed, his daily 11-mile jaunts to a Park Slope gym, the slice of pizza he once ate with a knife and fork. (An offense, for the record, that Donald Trump is also guilty of.) Some people just find him annoying, even if they can’t quite put a finger on why.

But there are more serious criticisms as well.

“It really does appear in De Blasio’s second term that he’s been truly disinterested in governing and this particular job, and I think a lot of New Yorkers are angry that he has the audacity to run for a higher office,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University.

De Blasio does have a serious track record of accomplishments, which he touted in his campaign announcement video. He established universal pre-kindergarten for all of New York’s four-year-olds. New laws he championed mandated a living wage and paid sick days for many workers. He drove down the use of stop and frisk by police, a once-widespread practice that targeted mostly black and Hispanic men. A new city-issued ID card allowed undocumented immigrants to carry identification.

But most of his achievements were rolled out in his first few years in office. New Yorkers, notoriously impatient, are asking: what have you done for me lately?

“We have an absentee mayor at a time when the economy shows real signs of slowing down, a humanitarian crisis is raging on in public housing, which has no permanent leadership, and homelessness continues spiraling out of control,” said the Bronx city councilman Ritchie Torres.

Conditions are notoriously bad at the New York City Housing Authority, where more than 1,100 children were poisoned by lead after officials lied about doing required inspections. De Blasio has vowed to clean up shop, but has been accused of participating in the cover-up.

Homelessness has remained stubbornly high, with nearly 60,000 people living in shelters, a number De Blasio’s office acknowledges they will barely be able to budge.

De Blasio, who preceded his presidential run with a series of mostly flopped attempts to launch his own national progressive movement, has long aspired to a stage bigger than New York. The attitude tends to irritate dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers, who think there’s no such thing.

Bill de Blasio tours a Poet ethanol plant with the former US secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, in Gowrie, Iowa, on Friday. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

“From the moment he entered office, he was in a rush to announce himself the savior of the national progressive movement rather than run the city. He memorably said he was not the pothole mayor, and that has been the mindset that governed his mayoralty,” Torres said.

The mayor disputes the idea that he has lost interest in the city. “That couldn’t be more false,” he said on Friday on WNYC radio, citing his recent programs to expand access to healthcare at public hospitals and guarantee workers paid vacation time.

De Blasio has defied the doubters and come from behind to win before, in his 2013 mayoral race and earlier races for local office.

Nor is he the first mayor to struggle with his next act: no New York mayor has been elected to higher office since 1869, when John T Hoffman won the race for governor.

Both of De Blasio’s immediate predecessors had eyes on the White House, but Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for the Republican nomination flamed out and Mike Bloomberg flirted repeatedly with running but never jumped in.

“One of our favorite sports in New York City is beating up on whoever our current mayor is, and that is a bipartisan sport,” said David Greenfield, a former city councilman.

He thinks De Blasio should go ahead and run. “In defense of the mayor, as opposed to many folks who just talk about progressive ideas, he’s actually accomplished many of those,” Greenfield said. “He definitely has a legitimate voice to add.”

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