During a Democratic primary season in which Hillary Clinton’s putative opponents have pointedly declined to criticize her, Bill de Blasio has emerged as the voice of the liberal opposition, declining to endorse her on national television on the day she announced her candidacy, traveling to the early primary states to tout his vision for the Democratic Party, and on Tuesday unveiling a “Progressive Contract With America” alongside dozens of fellow travelers in Washington, D.C.
But if all that activity is supposed to rally the Democratic base to pull Clinton to the left, the Clinton campaign would like to thank de Blasio very much for his effort, but says it is unnecessary.
“For her entire career, Hillary Clinton has championed many of the issues included in this contract,” said Karen Finney, senior campaign spokeswoman. “She has a long record of pushing for progress on issues like family leave, income inequality, and education, and she looks forward to continuing the conversation around these important topics as she lays out her own ideas in this campaign.”
Indeed, many of the nearly a dozen Clinton advisers and supporters contacted for this article said they welcomed de Blasio’s forays into presidential politics, as so much of what he has been trying to do is create a constituency that dovetailed with Clinton’s own record and platform. Most of the issues de Blasio touts in his Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality, like a higher minimum wage and higher taxes on the wealthy, have been pushed by President Obama, to little avail, and Clinton has spoken out in favor of them.
“Hillary Clinton has a long career of advocating for progressive issues—the minimum wage, issues important to women,” said Jack Rosen, a New York-based real estate executive and longtime donor to Bill and Hillary Clinton. “De Blasio has a right to speak out on issues he cares about, but Hillary Clinton doesn’t need any advice. She has her own inner compass on this.”
Tom Sheridan, a top D.C lobbyist and a donor to the Clinton campaign, said that by trying to pressure Clinton from the left, de Blasio was actually creating space for Clinton to position herself as palatable to the broad middle.
“He is giving her running room and new ways to position herself on these issues,” he said. “I think it’s all good, I really do. You have people trying to put pressure on the left wing and the right wing, and Hillary gets to show that she knows how to fly the plane, so to speak.”
Polls show that Clinton remains strongly popular with even the most liberal elements of the party, though grassroots organizers continue to push Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a populist challenger to her. Robert Wolf, a former CEO of UBS Americas and friend of Obama who has already signed on to the Clinton campaign financial operation, predicted that the impact of de Blasio’s press conference Tuesday on the Clinton campaign would be minimal, especially once Clinton flushes out more of her own agenda.
“To me the candidates that are talking about real issues like the secretary last week on immigration versus trying to rally the far left or the far right seem to get the most traction to the thoughtful person, as opposed to getting the most media hype of the day,” Wolf told The Daily Beast.
Which isn’t to say Team Clinton isn’t a bit mystified at what de Blasio is doing. The New York City mayor owes his career in part to Clinton, having served as campaign manager for her 2000 run for the U.S. Senate, then parlaying that experience into his first political run. Bill Clinton inaugurated de Blasio as mayor, while Hillary Clinton looked on. “I am proud to come from the Clinton family,” de Blasio told reporters after he won the Democratic nomination.
“If he were running for president, that would be one thing, but he is not,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist and longtime adviser to both Clintons. “People who hold elective office like to get covered and like to be heard and like to be part of the conversation. I take him at face value.”
People in and close to the Clinton campaign say they take de Blasio at his word, that he is not running for president (despite a New York Post report to the contrary). Rather, they assume he is trying either to elevate his national profile and capitalize on a Democratic base yearning for a standard-bearer, or trying to shore up his credentials with progressives in New York in the face of sinking poll numbers and what could be a potentially competitive reelection in 2017.
“I know Bill de Blasio like the back of my hand,” said Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer, who served with de Blasio in the David Dinkins administration in City Hall and in the City Council, and who was one of the first New York City elected officials to endorse the Ready for Hillary super PAC that laid the groundwork for another Clinton run.
“He thinks this is part of his official duties as mayor,” she said. “Of course, you elevate yourself when you do that, but in his head it is about elevating the city.”
Brewer said she was supportive of the mayor’s efforts if it meant getting more resources to the city. If it also meant getting Clinton to tack left, well, good luck.
“I don’t think that is helpful,” Brewer said. “She is going to do what she needs to do to win the election. I don’t know too many people who are listening to what Bill de Blasio is saying about Hillary Clinton being to the left or not. They are judging Hillary Clinton on her own pluses and minuses.”
Much of the Democratic establishment backed Clinton long before she was even a candidate, even many of those who appeared alongside de Blasio at his press conference in Washington on Tuesday. If de Blasio’s non-endorsement on Meet the Press was a bit curious, few Clintonistas doubted that he would eventually come around.
“I was with Bill de Blasio in the 2000 Senate campaign. I bumped into him several times in Ohio in 2008 when he was campaigning for Hillary,” said Ann Lewis, a longtime Clinton adviser. “And I fully expect to be campaigning with him again.”
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, a one-time de Blasio opponent—and whose wedding to a Hillary Clinton aide was officiated by Bill Clinton—agreed. He said de Blasio had every right to step out on the national stage as mayor of New York but that he was not sure exactly what the point of it all would be.
“It takes some hubris here to suggest that Hillary Clinton doesn’t understand the challenges of inequality or the challenges facing our country,” Weiner said. “So what are you going to do, say, ‘I am going to hold my breath until Hillary becomes a good Democrat?’ If the purpose of this is to put pressure on our candidate, there are better ways to do it, and it’s unnecessary anyway.”