John Lindsay’s disastrous 1972 presidential race is portrayed as the ultimate repudiation of his brand of liberalism. Ed Koch ran for governor in 1982, and lost, but had seven more years in City Hall to burnish his legacy. Rudy Giuliani departed the 2000 Senate race amid a health scare and a personal crisis, quietly rebuilt his popularity, and left office as a hero of September 11. Mike Bloomberg explored running for president in 2008, then took his name out of the running, got term limits lifted instead, and served another term as mayor.
If history tells us anything, it’s that history offers little guidance for how Bill de Blasio should navigate his remaining time in office now that his run for higher office is done. De Blasio didn’t suffer the extensive damage that Lindsay did on the national stage, won’t enjoy the extra time that Koch or Bloomberg had, and hopefully won’t be given the kind of searing national moment Giuliani stepped into.
So what does he have now that he’s back home from the hustings? De Blasio has the considerable powers of the mayoralty in his pocket—a major plus. He has an enemy in the governor’s mansion, which is a minus. And he must deal with a host of legislators in the City Council and in Albany who are each worried about their own political future in a way de Blasio longer has to be worried about his own. That’s a wild card.
On Wednesday, WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show explored what the remainder of the de Blasio era might look like.
“Look, there are certain things that he’s attempted, that he’s announced, that are not going to come to pass,” said NY1 chief political anchor Errol Louis, “like his desegregation plan or, more specifically, his attempt to get rid of the SHSAT.”
“And you can’t help but wonder, if he’d been here during those months, perhaps that conversation and the outcome of that policy might have gone differently,” Louis continued. “You can probably name half a dozen policy areas where people will be saying that.”
Indeed, de Blasio has a big list of tasks that need completion, or at least loyal shepherding until they’re someone else’s job: the housing plan, the borough jails, homelessness, Thrive NYC, property tax reform and more. That to-do list exists amid uncertainty about whether a robust economy will continue to underwrite an expanding city budget and headcount.
The strategic choices facing de Blasio aren’t either/or in nature. It’s more about priorities, emphasis. Mayors never actually focus on just One Thing—the job simply doesn’t allow that. But de Blasio has succeeded most when he has galvanized public attention around a single, crucial policy proposal, like UPK or mandatory inclusionary housing, and put his time and political capital behind it.
And Community Service Society CEO and president David R. Jones says de Blasio can, over his remaining time, make an impact by devoting maximum effort to saving public housing.
“What I think he should focus on and I think would cement the legacy is really be laser-like and work on NYCHA and really turn the whole discussion around from what it’s been: that he hasn’t been particularly focused on it,” Jones said. “He has to come up with a conception, first of all, to convince NYCHA residents that he’s serious about this. But whether it’s doing what other mayors have done and actually visiting every one one of the facilities and act talking to community and talking about solutions,” focusing on public housing is the best way to braid an urgent policy need with de Blasio’s own political brand and place in history.
“It will take time to rebuild trust,” Jones acknowledges. “But if I think if anything deals with income inequality and the danger to people who are at the margins, I’d focus first on NYCHA.”
De Blasio will ultimately be judged not just on the substance of his mayoralty but for its style, too. PoliticoNY City Hall bureau chief Sally Goldenberg said the mayor “has got the remaining two years and three months to fill out his legacy and his kind of core priorities” but also will be scrutinized for his approach to the job.
“What came up during the presidential run and what will come up more and more as people are running to replace him are nuts and bolts management of the city, sort of combined with a desire to be here and a love for New York,” she said.
Since coming in from the national stage, de Blasio has projected more interest and energy for his day job. Whether that will last across his final two years could help determine whether de Blasio is remembered as a remote figure with a mixed policy record or an accessible leader who made enemies and mistakes but earnestly tried. The verdict, over which the mayor and his contemporaries will have only partial control, could reflect not just on de Blasio the human being, but also on the policies and ideology he brought with him in 2014.
Ironically, some of the demands on de Blasio faces in the next 27 months will be national in nature. While he’s not on the stump anymore, the presidential campaign continues—and with it, a need to get the priorities of cities on to the agenda. De Blasio, who as mayor of the largest city should be a default leader of urban advocacy, and the Conference of Mayors tried to get urban affairs some of the spotlight in 2016. They had little luck.
“The mayor’s got to try again” to get cities talked about, Louis argued. “He’s got to do this.”
with reporting by Xavier Means