NewsAmerica’s Mayor: The Sequel

America’s Mayor: The Sequel

Feb. 7, 2014

America’s Mayor: The Sequel

Illustration by André Carrilho

Bill de Blasio was late. This time it wasn’t his fault. State legislators lined up to shake hands and pose for photos with New York’s newest political star before allowing De Blasio to start his testimony. Then they wanted to share his televised spotlight, quizzing the mayor about his pre-K tax-the-rich plans until his appearance before Albany’s budget committees stretched nearly two and a half hours. Finally De Blasio was sent off, to a waiting pack of reporters, with a teasing farewell from Denny Farrell, the rascally octogenarian Democratic assemblyman.

“There’s a whole bunch of people waiting for you,” Farrell said with a sly chuckle.

“Are they friendly people?” De Blasio replied with a goofy heh heh heh.

In mid-December, in Washington, a group of fellow mayors-elect had let De Blasio take the lead in speaking to the press after a White House meeting with President Barack Obama. Now, in Albany, the mayor’s next meeting was an additional—if far more complicated—ratification of his soaring political stature. Governor ­Andrew Cuomo, instead of letting De Blasio come and go from his home turf without comment, had suddenly scheduled a joint press conference, ostensibly to advertise their common desire to save Brooklyn hospitals. The mayor, when he spoke, was careful to defer to the governor. But as the two sat elbow to elbow, grinning and backslapping with sincere affection, it was easy to wonder just whose show this really was.

In some ways it’s wildly out of proportion: By virtue of running and winning as the left-most candidate in a Democratic primary in a overwhelmingly Democratic city, Bill de Blasio has become a national figure. But politics is as much hype and art as it is science. And so De Blasio is now a beacon to liberals across the country. Which is why his local skirmish with Cuomo is about much more than how to fund prekindergarten expansion. It’s about competing visions of the Democratic Party, and it’s a foreshadowing of a tension that could shape the 2016 presidential primaries.

Some of the De Blasio effect is standard political flattery, the kind of thing that happens whenever a candidate wins an upset on a big stage. In New Orleans, two challengers to incumbent Mitch Landrieu peddled a “tale of two cities” (they lost anyway). Seattle’s new mayor, Ed Murray, is assembling an “income inequality committee” and pushing for a $15 minimum wage. The Newark City Council just passed a bill mandating paid sick leave; similar legislation is gaining ground in California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oregon, and Vermont. De Blasio fellow travelers are even turning up in red states: Republican governors in Alabama, Indiana, and New Mexico, in their 2014 State of the State speeches, trumpeted initiatives to spend more money on prekindergarten.

Were they all inspired by De Blasio? No. And De Blasio himself is as much egg as he is chicken,

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