Did Bill de Blasio’s political career just end?

De Blasio's coziness with the NYPD may be the nail in his coffin.
De Blasio's coziness with the NYPD may be the nail in his coffin.
City & State
De Blasio's coziness with the NYPD may be the nail in his coffin.

Did Bill de Blasio’s political career just end?

The NYC mayor isn’t going to resign – but the last week will hurt his legacy.
June 3, 2020

The chant could be heard clearly in the crowd of hundreds at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge: “De Blasio resign! De Blasio resign!” The Black Lives Matter protesters in Chinatown Tuesday night were not the only ones to share the sentiment lately.

Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, called for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s resignation in an interview on NY1 Tuesday morning, saying that the mayor “has failed black New York time and time again.” Mehdi Hasan, a columnist at the leftist outlet The Intercept, wrote that “de Blasio needs to resign.” And it’s not just the left. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now a close ally of President Donald Trump, said that either de Blasio should resign or that Gov. Andrew Cuomo should remove him from office. A petition demanding de Blasio’s resignation, started by Republican Staten Island Assembly candidate Marko Kepi, had nearly 1,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning. Another petition that called for de Blasio’s impeachment in 2014 because he is “anti-police” and a “socialist” has resurfaced and has more than 80,000 signatures. 

It seems everyone can find something to be angry about when it comes to de Blasio. The protestors like Newsome have excoriated the mayor for the NYPD’s heavy-handed response to the largely peaceful protests and marches that mourn the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and call for an end to police brutality, especially against black people and Latinos. The mayor earned his strongest criticism for his initial defense of the NYPD officers who drove their SUV forward into a crowd of protestors blocking them even though it appeared that the cars could have backed up. 

On the other side, conservatives like Giuliani attacked de Blasio for not doing more to stop the widespread destruction of property that has occurred on recent nights, sometimes following on heels of Black Lives Matter protests. That’s what got Gov. Andrew Cuomo musing at his Tuesday press conference about how he could remove the mayor – “technically the governor could remove a mayor, but you’d have to file charges, and then there’s an acting mayor,” he said . To be clear, it was all hypothetical and Cuomo has a habit of pointing out what his theoretical powers would be even when not intending to use them so dramatically. But even if it wasn’t quite a threat, it did come with a scathing critique of de Blasio’s government. “I’m not happy with last night,” Cuomo said. “Police did not do their job last night.” 

There’s no reason to think de Blasio is going to resign. He has devoted too much of his life to politics to just give up now, and while he may not seem to particularly enjoy the job, his presidential run proved that he isn’t lacking in personal ambition. And de Blasio has brushed off earlier calls for his resignation. First, upon the murders of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, NYPD officers who were killed in an ambush in 2014. Later, after he was campaigning for president in Iowa when much of Manhattan faced a summer blackout. Those earlier movements never got much further than the New York Post editorial page, and while this recent round of calls for resignation includes New Yorkers across the political spectrum, the mayor doesn’t seem bothered.

“It doesn’t appear that any of it affects him,” said John DeSio, a political consultant with Risa Heller Communications. “The farthest left and the farthest right and everybody in between has some reason to say ‘he’s a shitty mayor and he needs to go.’ And it’s like it rolls right off his back.”

While many politicians and allies of the mayor have shared harsh criticism of de Blasio, nobody seems to be asking for his resignation. Even New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who would potentially have the most to gain from de Blasio’s resignation, since he would temporarily take over as mayor, didn’t go as far as to tell him to step down.

“All I want is leadership,” Williams told City & State Tuesday night, when asked about the mayor’s job. “So if you’re going to step up, great. If you’re not, then we need new leaders.”

Of course, the situation could change quickly – particularly if somebody dies as a result of either the protests or looting in New York City. But for now, de Blasio is safe in his job until the end of his final term on December 31, 2021. 

But the same can’t be said about his future after leaving office, as de Blasio’s legacy could be the New York of the last week – protestors marching against the kind of policing he promised to end, while looters shatter windows and clash with cops in the street. 

To this day, you’re hard pressed to find a mention of the mayoralty of David Dinkins without an immediate reference to the 1991 Crown Heights Riots. The circumstances were different, but some of the story was the same then as it is today. Dinkins, like de Blasio, was accused of calling off the police and letting people riot. De Blasio was working in City Hall at the time, taking calls from New Yorkers who were fearful and furious about the violence. 

But in the three decades since, it doesn’t seem like de Blasio learned how to respond. “Now the second half of his second term is filled with a complete and total disregard and lack of understanding of the anger and anguish of the residents of his own city,” said Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, and host of the FAQ NYC podcast.

A former aide to the mayor, who asked for anonymity to speak freely, thought that the mayor’s response has been “abysmal,” but that these days of protests after the death of George Floyd would only be one part of de Blasio’s complicated legacy. “I don’t think this one response will be the defining moment of his legacy the way it is for Dinkins,” the aide said.

But many of the people in de Blasio’s orbit have started thinking of their own legacy. Some of the mayor’s once-close allies have started to openly criticize him – first during his initial, slow response to the coronavirus pandemic in New York, and now for his response to the protests. More than 200 current and former staffers have written a letter denouncing his record on police accountability and demanding new reforms.. Under City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the city’s legislative body had been increasingly defining itself in opposition to de Blasio. But even that has escalated in recent weeks, with Johnson vowing to criminalize chokeholds by passing a bill that could earn the first veto of de Blasio’s mayoralty. 

“This is the time to remove yourself from alliances with the mayor, and, and not necessarily be penalized by New Yorkers for doing so,” Greer said. “So I think that, you know, we'll see a lot more intra-party dissension over the next few months.”

The aides and Council members are all planning ahead for a life under a new mayor starting in January 2022, and so has de Blasio. It’s a poorly kept secret that the mayor is interested in seeing his wife Chirlane McCray as the next Brooklyn borough president, but the past week may have ruined any chance for that. De Blasio and McCray have always presented themselves as a political package deal, and the mayor’s sinking stock will hurt his wife.

“You can't run on our record, when Bill andI were helping New Yorkers when you have so many New Yorkers who were disappointed and disgusted with the way Bill de Blasio has handled so many crises across the city,” Greer said of McCray’s potential argument to voters.

And, of course, nobody knows exactly what de Blasio plans to do next after leaving office in 2022 – other than move back to Brooklyn. His own presidential exit plan failed, and any hopes of joining a Bernie Sanders presidential administration have disappeared too. 

“What’s he going to do? There’s no job waiting for him,” DeSio told City & State. “There’s no organization that would be like ‘You know who we should put in charge of this? Bill de Blasio, because he did so much for us when he was mayor.’”

In 2017, Dinkins told The New York Times that in the newspaper’s pre-written obituary for him, “They’ll say, ‘David Dinkins, first black mayor of the City of New York,’ and the next sentence will be about Crown Heights.” But Dinkins’ life after Gracie Mansion has been, by all accounts, positive. He became a professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (from which de Blasio received a master’s degree). He hosted a weekly talk show on the radio, and wrote a memoir. De Blasio could do worse than to have the same fate.

With reporting by Rebecca Lewis

Jeff Coltin
is a senior reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.
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