Columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. tells a story about former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who once spotted a man drowning in Lake Michigan and “against all odds, walked on water to pull him to safety.” The headline in the Chicago Tribune the next day? “Mayor Daley Can’t Swim.”
Given the difficult summer Mayor Bill de Blasio has had, he may take some solace in the anecdote. The media are tough on big city mayors. Despite de Blasio’s protestations, the media haven’t been any harsher toward him than they were toward his predecessors.
But as he looks to change the narrative this fall, de Blasio should stop complaining about unfair media treatment and consider some basic coping strategies.
First, accept that this is the reality. All mayors are in the spotlight, and with intense scrutiny comes criticism. Other public officials get attention, but nothing compares with the coverage the mayor receives.
Second, stop blaming the media for difficulties. He complained recently that, “There’s a huge dichotomy between what’s happening in the mainstream media and what people are feeling and understanding.” The media are responding to difficulties he’s had recently — many self-inflicted. For example: attacking Gov. Andrew Cuomo without a strategy or institutional power to win the fight, and being caught on the wrong side of the fight with Uber. These do not include the homelessness problem, or that he did an about-face on hiring new police officers.
Third, take every opportunity to speak to the public directly. He should learn from past mayors and hold regular Town Hall meetings, or a weekly radio call-in program, to show he is open to taking questions from average New Yorkers. The public may not agree with everything he says, but people will respect his willingness to speak his mind.
Fourth, try to fight the impression you’re interested in something other than being mayor. He should be clear that this is the job he wants and that there is nothing he’d rather do — including being the leading progressive in the nation.
Constituents need to know their interests and needs are first and foremost, and sometimes this requires doing mundane things like ensuring roads are clean — not making speeches around the world.
Jeanne Zaino is professor of political science at Iona College and campaign management at NYU.