These days, Hillary Clinton appears unstoppable. White voters, and particularly white women, are at least momentarily enthusiastic about her, and without the white vote the Republicans are destined for defeat. But Bill de Blasio, New York City’s progressive mayor, may yet emerge as an unintended impediment to Clinton’s presidential quest.
It’s not that de Blasio has dreams of challenging Hillary, whose 2000 senatorial campaign he managed. Rather, de Blasio’s mayoralty stands to pose as a headache for the would-be Democratic Dynasty. Right now, the city is showing signs of slipping into the bad old days. Crime, fiscal recklessness, and homelessness are stirring like discordant strains of music. If New York City again goes awry, Hillary will be called to answer for it.
The city’s tabloids blare out true tales of shootings jumping by 10 percent, and Brooklyn students slipping rat poison into their teacher’s water bottle. But going soft on street crime is not the Clintons’ way.
In Clintonworld it is one thing to be mindful of the needs of the poor, and quite another to spit into the eyes of middle-income voters. Bill Clinton was the guy who actually ended welfare as we knew it. He also understood that if the Democrats were soft on crime, the party’s brand would suffer as it did in the 1968, 1972, and 1988 presidential elections, when crime was an issue.
As Arkansas Governor, Bill oversaw the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a killer with an I.Q. of around 70, ignoring last-minute pleas to stay the death penalty. Clinton also denied a request by Rev. Jesse Jackson to pardon his Wharton alumnus half-brother—who still languishes in federal prison, having conspired to commit murder for hire. Yes, Clinton gave a pass to the late fugitive financier Marc Rich—a darling of the Democratic donor base and a former client of Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s convicted chief of staff, who failed in his own bid to wrangle a presidential pardon—but killers are a whole other story.
While New York has proved to be a mother lode for the money and attention Bill and Hill crave, it has also created headaches for the Clintons with its hyper-ethnic and identity-driven politics. Remember, the last time Hillary ran, she was flummoxed at a late October 2007 presidential debate over whether she supported then-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to grant drivers licenses to illegal aliens.
Her gaff led Barack Obama to chime-in, “I was confused on Senator Clinton’s answer… I can’t tell whether she was for it or against it,” and left Clinton to stammer, “I did not say that it should be done.” That moment marked the beginning of the end for Clinton. Her loss just months later in Iowa simply confirmed a reality that many had failed to grasp in the moment.
A political divorce from de Blasio by Clinton would be ill-advised, but a de facto trial separation might be worth considering. Clinton will need to put distance between herself and the Mayor before Election Day 2016, assuming that she is the nominee—the same way that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has used de Blasio as foil in his reelection campaign, even as Cuomo seeks the Mayor’s help in being stamped as kosher for the left-wing.
Cuomo’s campaign ads tout his commitment to the environment, support for universal pre-K, safe streets, and keeping the lid on taxes—all of which play well with Larchmont moms and Great Neck dads. Unlike the Mayor, Cuomo is also all-in for charter schools, the bane of New York’s teachers unions. Unstated and understood is that Cuomo rejected the Mayor’s attempt to tax the city’s golden-handcuffed professionals and the truly rich to pay for his social experiments.
Disengagement by the Clintons from de Blasio won’t be simple, just as it isn’t for Cuomo. It will be complicated by the emergence of progressivism as a Democratic battle cry; de Blasio starring role in the party’s journey away from Clintonian centrism, and Bill and Hill’s never-ending need for cash.
At this moment, Hillary continues her $5 million and counting Wall Street Listening Tour, even as the entrepreneurial spirit of Doug Band, Bill Clinton’s former aide and principal of Teneo, may come to haunt her election bid. Teneo is the global corporate advisory firm that hired Huma Abedin, Hillary’s right hand and the wife of former Rep. Anthony Weiner—even as Abedin was simultaneously being paid by the taxpayers to perform undisclosed consulting work for Clinton at the State Department. Among Teneo’s clients is MF Global, the collapsed brokerage firm headed by ex-New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine.
The Clintons know that the progressive label is now essential for any Democrat who is seeking to seize the national stage. Luckily for Hillary, Bill is already on the case, as he actively seeks to redefine progressive, much as he once redefined “is.”
When New York Democrats renominated Cuomo for governor last month, they did so after watching a videotaped message from Bill lauding Cuomo, who was his HUD secretary, for Cuomo’s “progressive” vision. In his Clinton’s words, “New York has once again become a progressive beacon for America.” Whether New York is a beacon is debatable, as its population continues to grow at a snail’s pace and each decennial census is a reminder of how the state has fallen from its past glory. Texas now tops New York in population, and Florida should be there by 2020.
Regardless, the test for Hillary is whether she can continue to keep progressives happy while still appealing to the center. For her sake, New York cannot revert to the way it used to be. Bill de Blasio, the Clintons are counting on you.