Why Was Bill de Blasio Running for President, Anyway?
We asked a bunch of New Yorkers, and they had some far-flung ideas
Yesterday, Bill de Blasio was nestled above us plebeians in his lofty perch of national ambitions as one of 20 people jockeying for the Democratic nomination for president. Today, he’s down here with the rest of us filth — albeit, still mayor of New York City — after announcing that he’s finally dropped out of the race.
His exit from the primary fight doesn’t come as much of a shock. The big man most recently polled at zero percent in both New York State and New York City, while his favorability ratings among New York residents had slumped to seven percentage points lower than Donald Trump’s. Past attempts to round up supporters of de Blasio’s presidential bid have mostly been an exercise in futility: New York magazine’s Eve Peyser could only find two people, and they both knew the mayor personally.
It’s been obvious for a while that de Blasio wasn’t going to win, or even really come close to sniffing, the nomination. So, why did he stick it out for so long?
Over the past few days, I made phone calls and sent emails by day, scoured the New York streets and dive bar scene by night. I polled strangers, friends, friends of friends, and fellow barstool pontificators with one very simple question: Why was Bill de Blasio running? These are the guesses they hazarded.
Money, money, money, hubba, hubba, hubba
The largest assumption by many New Yorkers was the most obvious one: De Blasio was in it for the money. “It’s a favor chain,” said one person, entering the subway station on Grand Street in East Williamsburg, who didn’t want to be named in this story. Raise money, create financial opportunities for those working in the campaign, get some payback when this is over. Is this realistic? He raised over $1 million for his campaign — life-changing for you or me, chump change for the rich.
“I’m not an expert on campaign finance, but I think you’re allowed to keep whatever you raise for future campaigns,” said Richard Marshall, 38, a bond trader. (While candidates can’t pocket the campaign donations for their own personal use, they can save the money for use in a future campaign.) “My best guess is that this is a bit of a loss leader to fund whatever misadventure he chooses next.”
“Running is another move to get more power and control for himself,” said Vladimir, 32, a paramedic on his lunch break who didn’t want his last name used.
“I’m not sure how these things work but it’s probably a money laundering scheme,” added John Valdespino, 29, a mechanic.
Get his pet projects on the national stage
Let’s assume good faith on de Blasio’s part: Might he have been running to promote a particular issue or passion project? Certainly he wouldn’t be the first person to have done this. (Think: Jay Inslee, who wanted to get the candidates talking about climate change before he, too, dropped out. Or Andrew Yang, whose ideas about universal basic income are central to his campaign.)
“Oh jeez, yeah, his running makes no sense to me,” said Sophie Nogue, 31, a nurse in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood. “Maybe just to get his policy ideas out there? Universal pre-K? I don’t know! I haven’t met any New Yorkers who were happy he was running.”
“I think he believes his progressive policies in NYC — universal pre-K, a more livable minimum wage, required paid sick leave — are innocuous and moderate enough to attract people who don’t consider themselves progressives of the AOC or Bernie kind,” Rebecca Amato, 45, an academic administrator and professor, wrote in an email. “Second, I’m guessing he probably thinks that trends toward urbanization globally mean that more voters with standard cosmopolitan values, like diversity, a strong social safety net, racial justice, environmental resilience planning, and the like, will determine future elections.”
Maybe they will! Just not this one. At all.
A murder cover-up
One respondent — who didn’t want to be named in the piece — felt that the campaign was all a sham, simply a way to further distance himself from the allegation(?) that he was responsible for the death of the Staten Island Zoo groundhog in 2014. We’ll let you, the reader, connect your own dots on this one.
A White House gig
Ah yes, a stepping stone to a national gig. Maybe someone needs a super-tall vice president at their side?
“It’s a job interview for some sort of job in Washington, D.C., similar to Giuliani,” said Charlene Fannell, 58, a nurse.
“I think he ran to raise his national prominence with the aim of gaining a cabinet spot in a future administration, or possibly in the Senate,” said Lauren Radz, 46, an artist in Harlem.
“He’s reading the same poll numbers that we are, and I can’t believe he ever truly thought he had a shot at this thing,” added Michael S. King, 40, a bartender. “I can only assume he’s hoping for a cabinet-level appointment to increase his national presence, and will probably try again for higher office again in the next cycle. Let’s just hope he’s not nominated for HUD!”
“He’s obviously got higher aspirations, but maybe there’s a bit of a feeling of New York needing purification after Trump,” said Tara Rubano, 44, an internal loan consultant. “Trump’s a New Yorker, and he’s embarrassing other New Yorkers. Especially after Rudy Giuliani, who you know was the person who walked through 9/11 and then became a Trump supporter. So maybe there’s a sense of repairing the reputation of New York and New York mayors.”
Then again, maybe he sees Trump as a model of how cushy the gig could be.
“He’s obviously delusional,” said Kimi Yuki Yamamoto, 31, a graphic designer, over Facebook messenger. “He probably sees how much time Trump spends golfing and is like, oh cool job, yeah I can do that.”
Why the heck not?
“Bill de Blasio likely believes that because he ‘runs NYC’ that he’s qualified to run the country,” said Matt Josephson, 37, who works in IT, from his perch at the bar, Lady Jay’s in Brooklyn. “He knows it’s a win-win scenario: Either he just gets the publicity for running, or he actually wins somehow — there’s no downside, save for him potentially embarrassing himself at some point in this process.”
However, this doesn’t seem right. There seems to be a very noticeable downside to his choosing to participate in this campaign. Through my own random sample size, those zero percent poll numbers seem quite accurate. People, who maybe once had a “meh” reaction to de Blasio, now don’t seem to really like him at all.
“I didn’t even know he was running for president,” said Nick Swain, 25, a construction manager heading home from work in the Upper East Side.