Mayor in search of big stage

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who jumped into the 2020 presidential race Thursday morning, is finally getting the national stage he has often craved. What’s his pitch to the big audience? He put it right into the opening line of his launch video: “There’s plenty of money in this world. There’s plenty of money in this country. It’s just in the wrong hands.”

It’s a neat line that underscores de Blasio’s focus on income inequality, which he has pitched for years.

An early test run for this line on the local stage came at Manhattan’s Symphony Space in January, when de Blasio was delivering his 2019 State of the City address.

“There’s plenty of money in this city, it’s just in the wrong hands,” he preached.

If the line tells you everything that de Blasio wants you to know about his aims, then the January address more generally might say everything you need to know about his campaign, for better or worse.

The speech highlighted his efforts on behalf of working people, from universal pre-K to paid sick leave.

But it also showed the limits of his rhetoric when the problems are entrenched. One of the key city vehicles for helping the economically disadvantaged is the New York City Housing Authority, a beleaguered agency that the mayor named just once. Homelessness also merited just a brief mention.

And the speech’s policies about transit hint at some of the arguments de Blasio will surely face in the next months. His announcements about clearing the way for buses on city streets were applauded mightily by advocates, but also were seen as coming a little late in the game, five years into his mayoralty.

During that time, city buses have struggled, moving slowly in traffic and losing riders.

“He came late to the issue,” says former city Department of Transportation official Jon Orcutt.

Advocates have also taken issue with the other modes of transit de Blasio has spent time amplifying, like flashy and (for now) niche ferries. Buses, in comparison, are workhorses often serving the less well-off de Blasio says he tries to aid.

Welcome to being a big-city mayor looking to break onto the national stage. Everyone back home has got an opinion and something to criticize. And the job’s more complicated than a good slogan.

Mark Chiusano, an editorial writer for amNewYork, writes the column amExpress. Sign up at amny.com/amexpress.

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