New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks highly of himself, and his many “historic” and “transcendent” “progressive” achievements.
“Hmm,” say many New Yorkers. “Who?” say most other Americans as he’s worked frantically to insert himself into the national conversation without ever quite catching up to it.
There were his trips out of town. To Italy. California. And Washington, where the 13-point “progressive contract with America” he rolled out after less than a year and a half as mayor was simply ignored by senior Democrats, including both his home state senators, then immediately dismissed by the president and promptly dropped into the memory hole.
“I’ve got to use the tools we have here to address income inequality, and a host of other issues,” de Blasio told the Daily News, in trying to justify that trip to New Yorkers who were almost universally against it. “But I also have to participate in changing the national debate.”
But he’s hit more false notes than an ex-Beatle’s spouse singing backup.
There was the time Pope Francis came to New York, and de Blasio tried to use the papal visit as a backdrop for his own policy proposals, all but anointing himself as God’s guy’s local rep (at least on the inequality stuff that God’s guy is on the historic, transcendant side of).
Then we had his complaint to Rolling Stone that “something special” was happening on his watch—something that New Yorkers just didn’t get.
And don’t forget his Hamlet act in refusing for months to endorse either Hillary Clinton, his old boss, or Bernie Sanders—insisting he needed to hear more about the candidates’ plans to fight income inequality, even as both campaigns, ignoring him, went on and on about exactly that.
And his progressive presidential candidate forum in Iowa, finally canceled after precisely zero candidates agreed to attend it.
So when de Blasio finally split with his longtime allies in the Working Families Party and many other core supporters who’d lined up with Sanders to back Clinton, her campaign seemed positively uninterested. Finally he went to Iowa—after the Clinton campaign told him to stay home!—to go door to door by himself on her behalf. It was all the wrong sorts of historic: A six-foot five-inch progressive urban icon by himself in the political wilderness.
Even after paying the penance for that, though, de Blasio kept hedging his bets, strongly suggesting in an interview that his adult children, who he’s made an off-putting habit of speaking about and for in his public remarks, preferred Sanders.
So cast in the wilderness by the Clinton campaign and as her opponent has moved the conversation in the direction he wanted to claim credit for, De Blasio has registered, when at all, mostly by getting into kayfabe feuds with the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Even with the contest having arrived here in New York, Clinton has largely kept her distance. After a year-plus of the guy who ran her 2000 Senate campaign, and who she and Bill stood next to the night he was elected mayor, playing hard to get, no wonder she’d rather go to a rally with Gov. Andy Cuomo, who ain’t perfect—I mean, the progressives hate him, but they’re not going to vote for her anyway—but at least is a Democrat who just signed a $15 minimum wage and knows his steps in this dance.
Still, in a close contest, and one where Clinton is, once again, counting on the black voters who’ve largely stood by de Blasio as her firewall, she finally gave him a moment—at Saturday’s Inner Circle show, New York’s off-Broadway version of Washington’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner, where the leader and special guest stars join the press regulars to do skits (it’s where Donald Trump memorably felt up a cross-dressing Rudy Giuliani in our simpler city).
So there was de Blasio, beside Clinton at last, with all press eyes on them, plus one of the stars of Hamilton, too. With everyone reading off a script, what could go wrong?
And then it was “C.P. time,” with the chronically late mayor, his African-American wife in the crowd, cracking a joke about the initials standing not for “colored people time” but for “cautious politician time.” The crowd groaned, and life went on.
Just kidding. This was days before an election, when people seize whatever they can to fan supporters’ fires and when Cautious Politician Time can come back to bite politicians reading scripts on stage.
So when the video came out Monday, the ugh moment started trending on Twitter. Then leading the evening news.Tuesday morning, “Skit for Brains” was on the cover of the Daily News Tuesday morning. And Tuesday night, Hillary passed the buck to Bill: "Well, look, it was Mayor de Blasio’s skit," she told Cosmopolitan.
And there he was—the mayor who’d caught the car.