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Opinion

PARK: What’s the deal with Bill de Blasio?

On the morning of May 16, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced his candidacy for president of the United States. His wife, Chirlane McCray, flanked his right in the Good Morning America interview. 

But a day before de Blasio went on ABC to announce his candidacy, high school journalist Gabe Fleisher scooped a poorly-timed Facebook announcement from a local county Democratic Party in Iowa announcing that “di Blasio” would make his first presidential campaign appearance in Sioux City.

The unexpected pre-announcement sent de Blasio’s team into a frenzy, forcing them to push the formal announcement up a day. The unfortunate kickoff is a striking metaphor of de Blasio’s run for president: someone has already beat him to it.

When you look at de Blasio’s background, he checks the boxes of a widely popular candidate. He’s an older Caucasian male in an interracial marriage with an abundance of political experience. He was elected mayor of the most populous city in America in 2013 with 72 percent of the votes, and re-elected in 2017 with 66 percent. During his time as mayor, he has introduced universal pre-K to 70,000 four-year-olds. He’s ended stop-and-frisk, a Bloomberg-era policy that disproportionately affected young men of color, and is a self-proclaimed progressive. He’s funded new affordable housing in New York for the first time in decades, and he’s introduced state mandated paid sick leave. De Blasio’s administration has made school lunch free for all New York City students, and successfully raised the minimum wage in the city to fifteen dollars.

Yet, the response to his candidacy announcement was nearly comedic. De Blasio’s former aides, staffers, political consultants and his former campaign advisor oppose his candidacy. Even his own wife admitted that “the timing is not exactly right.” Blasio’s notoriously critical hometown tabloids published covers ridiculing his candidacy like this. And this

While the presidential hopeful has concrete policy wins to point to, his criticism isn’t entirely undeserved. He’s been accused of campaign finance violations and corruption scandals and he’s had an ongoing feud with the local media. He’s constantly late and demands to be driven 22 miles roundtrip in an SUV to his favorite Brooklyn gym every day. He also dropped the groundhog on Groundhog Day.

De Blasio certainly has a bad reputation in New York. 76 percent of New Yorkers said Bill de Blasio should not run for president. They even put up a sign saying “by entering these premises you agree to not run for President of the United States in 2020 or any future presidential race” in his Brooklyn gym. He’s known for being self-righteous and egotistic, which may explain the confidence behind his long-shot run for president. But across the country, many folks outside of the tri-state area don’t know who he is. 

He’s polling at a meager one percent in national polls, and he’s the only Democratic candidate with a net negative favorability rating. His unpopularity across the country highlights the fact that there is simply no room for Bill de Blasio to run for president in 2020. 

In fact, nearly every facet of de Blasio’s campaign identity is trumped by a more favorable and higher ranking opponent. Kirsten Gillibrand has branded herself as the New York native, Pete Buttigieg has taken the “Mayor” moniker and Kamala Harris has addressed her interracial marriage. Bernie Sanders socialist views outweigh de Blasio’s self-proclaimed progressiveness and Elizabeth Warren’s vow to fund public education raises questions about de Blasio’s nonexistent national education policies. Cory Booker’s “baby bonds” proposal would aid communities of color, and has rallied support among African-American votersde Blasio’s most supportive voter bloc. Like de Blasio, Joe Biden has adopted a strong anti-Trump angle for his campaign, only vastly more successful than the New York City mayor’s. And Beto O’Rourke, Jay Inslee, Tim Ryan, Michael Bennett, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Eric Swalwell and John Hickenlooper are similar to de Blasio in that they are all white men.

De Blasio’s campaign website has three buttonsa bio section, a link to his three-minute campaign video, and a big yellow “Contribute” button. There is notably no policy section currently in existence, and no tab explaining where he stands on political issues. Compared to Elizabeth Warren’s robust “Issues” section and even Andrew Yang’s website with over 100 policies listed, de Blasio’s policy platform is lackluster.

Still, de Blasio managed to rack up enough supporters in the early polls of the 2020 race to clinch a spot on the debate stage. De Blasio will appear in the far-left corner on the first night of the debates, but even the mere chance to debate alongside front-runner Elizabeth Warren is a huge opportunity for de Blasio in itself. 

But de Blasio’s complicated relationship with the New York City press corps is the mayor’s Achilles’ heel, and may be the biggest obstacle preventing him from being considered as a top-tier candidate. Throughout his terms as mayor, de Blasio has openly fought with reporters, refused to respond to certain outlets, rejected unfavorable coverage and criticized the tabloids as “corporate media.” He’s reduced his number of press conferences and calls the New York Post “harmful,” divisive, and “propagandistic.” Despite the anti-Trump vitriol de Blasio advocates, his personal  relationship with the local press is ironically comparable.

Press coverage is highly influential in politics. Other 2020 candidates have made a conscious effort to build positive relationships with the press into their campaign strategies. In a metropolitan city of over eight and a half million people and a Democratic field of 23 candidates, without his hometown media in his corner, de Blasio will be left out to dry as the months crawl toward primary season. No one in the country is as familiar with New York City politics as New Yorkers themselves. When it comes to running for the American presidency, de Blasio will need the city press to vouch for his accomplishments as mayor and attest to his potential efficacy as Commander in Chief. 

Without loyalty back at home, de Blasio has no chance of making a ripple in the Democratic electorate. The chances of making an impression at the debates are slim, especially with 10 candidates all fighting for their moment to shine. (De Blasio would probably need to shout to be heard even by Amy Klobuchar, six podiums away.) Without a positive relationship with his hometown press to fall back on, de Blasio has nothing. New York votes are critical to the Democratic primary, and in order to have a chance of gaining a national following, de Blasio really needs a strong base backing him from home. 

Tonight in the debates, we’ll see if de Blasio can light up his corner of the race.