Mayor de Blasio has been traveling the country on his “Wrong Hands” tour, rehearsing his message of seizing wealth for bunches, clutches, veritable smatterings of people in New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa. Just as he vowed earlier this year, our own hometown Elmer Gantry has been on the revival circuit, “preaching the gospel” that “there’s plenty of money in this world, it’s just in the wrong hands!”
Straight from the laboratories of his many consultants, “agents of the city,” p.r. specialists and communications gurus, this apothegm — no doubt market-tested and fine-tuned by experts in the art of resentment and persuasion — was clearly designed as an applause line, a show-stopper. Listen next time you hear him say it: he pauses expectantly for the thunderous response that, so far, has not arrived.
So what’s wrong with de Blasio’s latest effort to propel himself onto the national stage? Why isn’t he catching fire? Regarding his “transformative,” “historic” work, he assured us back in 2015 that “a lot of people outside New York City understand what happened in New York City better than the people in New York City.”
That being the case, we would expect his many flyover fans to crush each other at the doors to the grange halls and church basements in the early-primary states he’s been visiting almost every weekend. But, by all reports, there’s plenty of empty seats serving as hat racks and coffee tables, so feel free to grab yourself one.
This isn’t the first time Mayor de Blasio has made a push to seize the national limelight. Recall when he went to Iowa in 2016 to canvass for Hillary Clinton, after his belated, dilatory, will-he-or-won’t-he endorsement and was snubbed by the campaign in his offer for help. The images of de Blasio in mom jeans, walking deserted Des Moines streets with Chirlane, clipboards in hand, were the very picture of political awkwardness and despair — unmatched until this year’s footage of the mayor flapping his hands and rocking back and forth to R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” at the Victory Tabernacle Deliverance Temple of the Apostolic Faith in Orangeburg, SC (pop. 12,394).
In 2016, Mayor de Blasio took the stage at the Democratic National Convention on the afternoon of the third day — immediately following the “In Memoriam” segment. The message from the Clinton campaign to make himself scarce couldn’t have been clearer, but de Blasio took his humiliation in stride, as he always seems to do. When his wife’s signature mental-health program is shown to be a failure, it’s just “haters” and “naysayers” criticizing him. When numerous donors admitted in court that they bribed him in exchange for favors, they were “bad, bad people.”
Meantime, he has put the plane on autopilot and is checked out as far as executive leadership goes. He made a virtue of disowning any responsibility for the disaster of the subway system and stepped back and gave the MTA effective control of our streets in the bungled congestion pricing scheme. His only solution to the problem of education is to end “racial segregation” — in a system in which 85 percent of the kids are nonwhite to start with. He announced the Amazon deal with great fanfare, failed to get local buy in and then scorned at the company when it withdrew its bid.
Out of the 15 or 20 Democratic candidates — declared or not — for the 2020 presidential election, Mayor de Blasio hasn’t registered as even a blip. If the polls were a seismograph, his campaign would be a single-use plastic bag fluttering to the sidewalk. New Yorkers — who know him best — are adamant that he should not run for president, with 76 percent, across every category, saying it’s a dumb idea. The mayor of South Bend, Ind., who has never won more than 9,000 votes in an election, has left de Blasio in the dust.
But what’s really going on here? Mayor de Blasio, no matter what kind of promptings he may get from his advisors, can’t seriously believe he has a shot at the presidency. In all likelihood, he’s looking ahead to unemployment, and like many men in late-middle age whose future career prospects are dim, he’s starting to panic.
Twenty years in elected office have trained him only in failing upwards. The mayor’s bizarre antics are a bid for some kind of appointed job — cabinet secretary, DNC chair, ambassador? — that wouldn’t require him to do any real work.
In a regular person, we might see it as a midlife crisis or a cry for help; but for a politician like Bill de Blasio, this kind of shamelessness is just how you polish your résumé.
This piece originally appeared at New York Post
Seth Barron is an associate editor of City Journal and project director of the NYC Initiative at the Manhattan Institute.
Photo by Rob Kim / Getty