They say presidents meet their last regular citizens in New Hampshire — the crucial early primary state where intimate campaigning is expected. After that, just photo-ops, big rallies, and the Oval Office’s bubble. Few normal folks.
It would be a shame if Mayor Bill de Blasio’s big win Tuesday night means something similar. Even without an election ahead, New Yorkers still need a mayor responsive to their issues.
A dramatic victory
De Blasio became the first Democrat in decades to win re-election for mayor, easily beating Republican challenger Assemb. Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island. It was hardly a competitive campaign and de Blasio wasn’t forced to work his feet too much. But we still got glimpses of what voters care about. The mayor held dozens of town halls, absorbing the complaints of reverends, civic leaders, drivers, straphangers, and homeowners.
Down to the last hours of the race, his campaign events offered a brief arena for New Yorkers to get their voices heard. This is the type of democracy we have: one where we rely on bending our chosen candidate’s ear in one way or another about the things we’d like government to fix.
So it was Tuesday morning, when activists gathered at de Blasio’s voting place to confront the mayor on closing jail facilities on Rikers Island.
So it was on 72nd Street and Broadway in the afternoon, during de Blasio’s meet-and-greet with voters outside the 1-2-3. There, Lisa Gersten, 40, wouldn’t let the mayor continue without hearing the full complexities of a tricky issue on 108th Street, where the city plans to dismantle parking garages in favor of affordable housing. Another woman who gave her name as Andrea S., said she told the mayor three words: “homelessness, homelessness, homelessness.”
Does the citizen lobbying help? Gersten said the mayor explained her issue involved a land-use process; regarding homelessness, de Blasio started on about 15,000 promised supportive housing units, not yet completed.
But maybe the seed is planted. An aide is pulled to the side. A note taken, and an argument eventually weighed. That’s the hope, anyway. Stand in line to talk to the mayor while he wraps both hands around yours, listens to your issue, before coming to his half of the bargain: “You vote yet brother? Did you vote?”
What comes next?
Now that the votes are in, it’s worth asking, what’s next for de Blasio? The New York Times reported Tuesday that de Blasio was considering creation of a federal political action committee for future political activities. There has been scattered speculation that de Blasio could make a progressive run for president.
He has often shown a longing for a bigger stage, reaching to be a progressive gatekeeper during the 2016 presidential election, before being stymied. More recently, it has been politically helpful for him to dwell on President Donald Trump.
In a primary debate, de Blasio promised to serve his full four years and thus, implicitly, miss a presidential run. That’s a typical promise, and New York mayors have never fared well when scaling up: but something is next, certainly.
As he prepares for it, will the gritty, granular, implacable needs of five borough dwellers remain front and center?
De Blasio’s election night victory speech showed his usual toggle between local and national. He hit his favored notes about making New York a “fairer” city. He gestured at ways to do that: fixing the subways, creating “good paying jobs,” installing body cameras on police uniforms, and continuing city initiatives on early education and affordable housing. Those are difficult issues that were also features of his first term.
Then he turned to the national scene. “I bring you tidings of joy this evening,” he said, because America had gotten “fairer” and “bluer” thanks to Democratic wins Tuesday night.
“New York City sent a message to the White House as well,” he said. “You can’t take on New York values and win, Mr. President.”
He gestured at the “fights ahead” on the national scene, on tax policy and health care and immigration. These issues all have great effect on NYC, certainly. With Trump in office de Blasio will always have large currents to tilt against. Hopefully he’ll also make progress on more local problems: the ones he heard again and again during the campaign.