Bill de Blasio

De Blasio biographer plots mayor’s pragmatism

Photo by Jeff Coltin

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s running for reelection this fall, and everyone seems to be drawing comparisons. Republican Nicole Malliotakis is comparing de Blasio to Mayor David Dinkins, who was in office when the city’s crime rate hit a peak. De Blasio is comparing Malliotakis to Donald Trump, the man she voted for. And independent candidate Bo Dietl keeps calling de Blasio “Big Bird”.

Now  Joseph Viteritti, a Hunter College public policy professor, is jumping in with a new book, comparing de Blasio to past mayors of New York. It’s called “The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York,” and it looks at the city’s history of progressive politics while examining the life and times of de Blasio.

Viteritti joined the City & State Presents podcast to talk about the provocative title, which mayor de Blasio is most like and more.

RELATED: Read an excerpt from “The Pragmatist"

You can stream the full interview below, on iTunes or Stitcher (for Android), and read on for an excerpt:

C&S: The book’s title, “The Pragmatist,” was that deliberately provocative? Many think of de Blasio as a bleeding heart liberal, a proud leftist who sometimes takes unrealistic positions. Can you explain that?

JV: He’s a pragmatist in the sense that, unlike some people who started out with such a strong, leftist disposition, rather than stay on the outside of the system and prod it to move along, he decided to make things happen. And once you’re in the political process at that level, then you’re in a situation where you’re constantly challenged to make decisions that on the one hand will advance your agenda, and on the other hand deal with the realities of politics around you. And the realities of the politics that surrounded him when he came here – as I said to him when we met, I said, ‘You’re trying to live LaGuardia’s dream in Bloomberg’s city.’ And the way the power system is set up these days, it really is predisposed to help people who are better off. And you’re sitting at that table with that hand to play and it will require negotiation and compromise, and it’s a very difficult proposition for a new mayor. 

C&S: De Blasio has been associated with third parties like the Working Families Party. Since then, he’s jumped into the Democratic Party, and it’s worked well for him – he’s now very powerful. Do you think he misses being so tied to third party politics? Is he constrained by the Democratic Party?

JV: He’s the consummate insider/outsider. And that’s what interesting in watching him. You’re never quite sure what he’s going to do in a situation. And he goes back and forth in terms of being very pragmatic and dealing with reality of situations at the time, and at times doing things you wouldn’t expect from an elected official.

RELATED: The Albany Power 100

C&S: I was interested in how many members of de Blasio’s family were at one point writers and journalists – including his wife Chirlane. Does his animosity towards the press surprise you, given that history?

JV: I’ve never picked up the animosity, but I’m not looking at it or hearing it from where you are. In the days of Trump, there’s a different standard to measure that by, I guess! It was interesting, being an academic, seeing the strong academic roots and intellectual roots in his family and his wife… I found a lot of similarity between his wife and his mother – and his mother’s a very important figure in his life – in the sense that they were both very bright women who both were writers. Intellectual, very principled, a real sense of who they are. And there’s a deep well of intellectualism in his family that involves his father and his uncle, who were very well educated and who were prolific. His mother wrote a couple of books, one of which was reviewed in The New York Times on the Italian resistance. I wish I had the chance to meet her. She sounded like a really interesting woman.

C&S: You also draw connections to past mayors, like John Lindsay. There are a lot of similarities between the two, and not just their height. What mayor is de Blasio most like?

JV: I’ve been studying John Lindsay for a long time. I wrote my master’s thesis and my doctoral dissertation on him, my first book actually. And a couple of years ago, I published a book on Lindsay that was a book of essays, which had some very fine contributors. And that’s what actually got me into writing this book … people started asking me, how would you compare the two? They’re both progressives, they both see a clear commitment to people who are in need. And I would continue to explain to folks, it’s very hard to compare mayors because they each functioned in different times and they faced different challenges, so you have to understand them in that perspective. And the more I talked about it and got into it, the more interested I got into saying, well maybe this is an interesting story to tell … it finally clicked. I could use Bill de Blasio as kind of a mechanism to access that history and tell the story of the city and how the city has gone through great changes.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.