To meet Bill de Blasio, read the emails he thought were private

Bill de Blasio's emails offer a rare, unfiltered glimpse of the mayor's mannerisms and obsessions.
Bill de Blasio’s emails offer a rare, unfiltered glimpse of the mayor’s mannerisms and obsessions. Photo Credit: New York Attorney General’s Office

The short story of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently released batch of more than 4,200 pages of emails is this: de Blasio came to office in 2014 and a number of his close advisers decided not to come with him. They worked at PR firms and other ventures and sometimes did work for their friend in Gracie Mansion. De Blasio kept emailing them for help and advice, even as his administration also worked on issues in which their firms had a potential financial or strategic interest. The mayor thought these conversations would stay private because of an exemption to open records law for communications with staff, which these people clearly weren’t. But NY1 and the New York Post sued the city to get access to the communications. The outlets won.

And so: the periodic release of big batches of emails. The end-of-week news dump. Embarrassments for de Blasio. The latest came last week. The emails in general have shed light on important issues. Jonathan Rosen, co-founder of consulting firm BerlinRosen, for example, was involved in discussions regarding the administration’s affordable housing agenda even as his consulting company represented big developers. (De Blasio has said Rosen didn’t talk to him about clients.)

The emails show how political narratives are packaged and how “support” can be drummed up from other officials, regular people, or unnamed sources.

But mostly, the thousands of pages of dashed-off communications offer a rare, unfiltered glimpse of de Blasio’s personality and obsessions.

As with his old boss Hillary Clinton, also revealed through emails, de Blasio tends to feel that the media is woefully unfair to him, and he spends little time with profile writers and other workaday journalists whose job is to give the public a balanced and contextualized look at their elected officials.

Exhibit A: in last week’s email dump, witness de Blasio calling an early Atlantic profile “horrible” and “really shocking how bad and unfair it is.”

Perhaps it was the line about his “long, hairy hands,” or the writer’s audacity to ask, in an often positive profile, “Is his project in New York working?” Regardless, the mayor didn’t like it and vowed to try something different. “I have no use for these people. Let’s just do the work and go right around the so-called referees,” he wrote in an email to internal and external advisers.

Yes, he meets the public during town halls, but that is a packaged, time-limited version of de Blasio, not his direct musings. (And, thanks to the emails, we know that he responded to criticism that he wasn’t holding town halls by writing “I’m thinking of just scheduling town hall mtgs so these guys can’t write about it anymore.” You’re welcome!)

So we must know him through his emails.

Peruse the emails to see your mayor struggle to make plans like any good New Yorker: “How about 5:15pm at Bar Toto and you get out before 6pm?” See how he is guarded about his time: not wanting to spend more than an inning with a reporter at a Red Sox game, or how he wistfully looks ahead to vacations.

See his use of 🙂 punctuation and his dad jokes about the Red Sox. See him pound his chest over news stories he believes to be positive, and celebrate over scoring a national TV appearance: “YES!” See him praise staff members who praise him and sometimes address him as “sir.” See him rail against journalists’ criticisms, and a general news media he finds “pitiful and it’s sad for our city and nation.”

But he urges his staff to fight on the beaches. “They will never defeat us. Only we can do that. Let’s get tighter, clearer, faster, better.”

Though, he also has had temper tantrums at staff, telling them this is “why I don’t get to let go enough of details” after a scheduling mixup at a baseball game. See him obsess and strategize about the way people see him, in good times and in bad: “Whaddya think?? How are we doing?” he asks Rosen. In emails that are often about appearance, given Rosen’s role as a messaging guru, see how appearance can become a concern even when responding to emergencies like the shooting of a firefighter on Staten Island.

See the mayor getting his feet under him and adjusting to the spotlight, hungry for a national role and reproachful of all who oppose him or even provide a vaguely critical quote to a reporter. See him learning on the job, assembling a “scorecard” of enemies and friends and generally putting his stamp on the mayoralty. See it here, because he doesn’t like letting you see it anywhere else.