Last week, something that has been dormant for the last calendar year suddenly reawakened. Bill de Blasio’s unofficial campaign Facebook page started running advertisements.
“This country has spent decades taking from working people and giving to the one percent. I’ve had enough,” says one ad.
“With so many Americans struggling to deal with rising costs, it’s time for universal health care. Do you agree?” asks another.
Over the last week the de Blasio page ran more than 50 ads for a cost of $13,445, according to Facebook’s political ad archive. Here’s another taste: “President Trump is leading our country in the wrong direction. But in New York — and across the country — progressives are showing how we can build a fairer, more diverse, and more prosperous America. Sign on to join the fight.”
Just what fight is that?
The ads were paid for by Fairness PAC, a national political action committee set up last year by de Blasio to support progressive candidates and, presumably, the term-limited mayor’s future. For months now de Blasio has flirted with a run for president, saying things like “soon” when asked when he’ll make a decision. Meanwhile, he dashes off to early-primary states like New Hampshire and Nevada and hops on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" to announce piecemeal local initiatives with the rhetoric of national implications (like "guaranteed health care" that is mostly a program expansion).
“They’re looking at their watch and they’re looking at their watch and they’re looking at their watch," de Blasio said Monday in Manhattan.
He was announcing a push to firm up early voting in New York City, talking about people who got stuck in long Election Day lines waiting to vote. But with the first Democratic presidential debates soon approaching and the field approximately as big as a baseball team, anyone out there who’s still waiting for a de Blasio presidential bid might have his or her eye on the clock, too.
From his perspective, it would not hurt to try. His campaign says he has hit sufficient levels in two polls out of the three required by the Democratic National Committee to reach at least the first qualifications for the first debate. He’s out of a job by 2021 and has exceeded expectations before. He was relatively early to the economic populism now embraced by the party’s left flank. His family is a picture of diversity — a picture literally pictured in one of those Facebook ads, de Blasio and his biracial family smiling on a couch. “Together Against Trump” is the slogan below. And he has been mayor of a city of millions at a high point in that city’s history.
Yet 37-year-old Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who leads a place the size of a couple Co-op Cities, nabs presidential headlines and meets with Democratic kingmaker Rev. Al Sharpton. By contrast, people at de Blasio’s gym are discouraging him from running for president. He faces an uphill battle even winning New York State voters, given local love for people like Sen. Bernie Sanders and the established 2020 campaign of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
To put de Blasio’s not-insignificant $13,445 Facebook spending in context, former Vice President Joe Biden spent more than $400,000 last week for his online launch. Monday found Biden in Pennsylvania revving up a crowd with some of the progressive rhetoric de Blasio might be expected to deploy: the country wasn’t built by "CEOs and hedge fund managers," reliable centrist Biden said. “We need to reward work in this country, not just wealth."
Let’s say de Blasio finds a lane between Biden’s name recognition, Mayor Pete’s novelty, Sanders’ populism and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s fleshed-out (and truly national) progressive policies.
De Blasio would still have to maneuver around a long record as chief executive that has pluses but also lots of places for critics to criticize. Recent weeks have shown how the past is never really past for de Blasio, with the return of a fundraising scandal that resulted in stern words from law enforcement officials in 2017. The Daily News even unearthed a covered-up car crash that the mayor’s detail got into in 2015.
Yet de Blasio appears happy to have his name still being floated, and a presidential possibility glittering out there as a possibility. For that, too, the clock might be ticking.