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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

The boogeyman from New York City

Republicans see Mayor Bill de Blasio as a boogeyman in State Senate elections. What gives?

Republicans see Mayor Bill de Blasio as a

Republicans see Mayor Bill de Blasio as a boogeyman in State Senate elections. What gives? Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

He’s lurking in the shadows behind what appears to be a curtain. He’s laughing a big-bellied laugh along with a co-conspirator. He’s making an A-OK symbol with his hand over the backdrop of a dark and benighted Gotham.

It’s Mayor Bill de Blasio in various photo-shopped Facebook campaign ad images. He’s the villain of choice for suburban Republicans.

Insert movie trailer voice: “Bill de Blasio and his political machine is in Suffolk County trying to elect Monica Martinez to the State Senate. They’re supporting Martinez so they can pass their radical agenda.”

That agenda includes taking Long Island’s school funding and forcing taxpayers to pay for “government-run health care.” Another absolutely top-of-mind and terrifying development mentioned in the ads: a statewide campaign finance system.

One ad pictures one of those can-and-string setups that kids in old movies used to use as telephones. On one end, de Blasio with his eyes narrowed. On the other, Long Island State Senate candidate Anna Kaplan listening happily.

These are some of the portents in more than a dozen Facebook ads paid for by the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee, blasting Democratic candidates running against Long Island and Hudson Valley Republicans. The ads are preserved in the new Facebook archive of paid political material. Outside of the digital universe, there are also mailers, and TV ads warning about the supposedly costly “de Blasio agenda.”

You’d think de Blasio was president, or that he was barnstorming the state for Democrats.

Instead, he’s a term-limited mayor who almost entirely sat out the hotly contested September Democratic primary, with limited endorsements even in races where Democrats were running against Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference members.

It could be that Republicans haven’t forgiven the mayor for previous efforts to turn the State Senate blue in 2014. That included de Blasio trying to get some funds to Democratic challengers, which raised campaign finance law questions. Since then the mayor has been less aggressive on the issue, despite the Trump era being marked by other activists and politicians railing against State Senate Republicans and their allies. The State Senate is still held by Republicans.

But the ads are a sign of the continuing divisions between the city and surrounding suburbs, the latest in a long-running series of fights over funding and cultural differences.

Democrats are aware of those divisions, too. On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo swooped in for a visit to Long Island with local Democratic candidates for State Senate, including ones who were slammed in the anti-de Blasio ads. Cuomo and the candidates signed an “agenda” that included suburban-friendly issues like a 2 percent property tax cap (which NYC is exempt from) and ensuring that the city pays its “fair share” of MTA taxes.

Neither of those issues would go over particularly well with the fired up progressive base in NYC which is hoping to ride anti-Trump fervor into a Democrat-controlled State Senate after November.

But the path to a Democratic State Senate goes through the suburbs, where there are multiple opportunities to flip seats. Also, Cuomo has always been a little less than enthusiastic about leftist city causes. He’s not a fan of a new millionaire’s tax to fund the MTA, a proposal that de Blasio keeps pushing. Cuomo has been accused of doing little to flip the State Senate in previous years, when de Blasio was more active.

This year he’s trying to have it both ways, presenting himself as a progressive anti-Trump Democrat while also assuring moderate suburban voters that he won’t do anything totally crazy if re-elected. He made similar rhetorical moves in endorsing Democratic State Senate candidate Andrew Gounardes in a moderate Brooklyn district on Tuesday. Some suburban candidates are walking similar fine lines. Kaplan, the one in the Republican ad with the can-and-string, ventured into de Blasio’s Manhattan on Tuesday to talk to progressive activists, for example, even as she also allied herself with the Cuomo suburban agenda.

Meanwhile, de Blasio serves as a magnet for anti-lefty sentiments.

“It’s a time-honored tradition for Long Island Republicans to make NYC mayors the boogeymen,” said de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips in a statement.“New York City crime is at a record low, there are more jobs than at any point in the city’s history, and the high school graduation rate is the highest it’s ever been.”

A different picture, naturally, than the advertisements.

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