This might be bad for the people of New York City, but de Blasio seems to think it’s good for him, for the sureness of his legacy, for the influence of his voice and, maybe most of all, for his peace of mind.
“Look at last night for God’s sakes. Jesus! That was like bad high school debate. It was just so petty,” he says of the final mayoral debate that aired the night before. “It was like, is this really healthy? Is this really as good as it gets?”
De Blasio traces the perimeter of Prospect Park Lake, the cars from Parkside Avenue visible through the trees, moving from one dirt path to the next, heading north past the boathouse. The next person de Blasio passes, a 30-something guy, spots the mayor from afar and averts his gaze, craning his head to the left as he walks. Another woman passes and does a double take, placing the mayor before walking ahead without comment. Only one person stops de Blasio on his walk that day, a young musician who asks de Blasio about arts and culture in the city.
“I mean, the folks who are corrupt, and the folks who really are not in it to help people, go get ’em. But there’s a lot of decent people. And don’t try and like find things that aren’t there,” de Blasio says, turning the conversation back to himself. “So if my sin is, I go for walks, I’m like, really? Think about that! The thing that makes people upset is [me] going for walks.”
There is, of course, more than the walks: de Blasio spent much of the pandemic in his own petty battles with Cuomo. He frustrated parents with a confusing and shifting plan to reopen public schools. After the killing of George Floyd last summer, former City Hall employees staged a series of major protests outside his office and he is now facing a worrying spike in crime in his final months. One public opinion survey in May showed his approval rating above 50 percent, a rare moment above water still touted by his staff. Recent polls show him well below that figure.
In January, de Blasio and aides had what they now refer to as a “reset” meeting. The mayor, worried about losing his “bully pulpit” during this summer’s mayoral race, said he wanted to re-run the “Tale of Two Cities” campaign that swept him into office in 2013 with a message about rampant inequality after 20 years under Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, helping de Blasio build broad support from the Black community. His fear that one of the candidates would run as a viciously anti-de Blasio candidate, as he did with Bloomberg, never played out as sharply as he suspected, nor did, in his view, a candidate emerge with a clear and leading vision. “I think this has been an entirely amorphous election. If they embrace what I did, great. If they don’t, fine,” he says. “The question is: Did the things we started”—his signature issues of universal pre-K and paid sick leave, for example—“did they prove to continue to work and be meaningful, and I think they will. I think they’re going to have a long life, these ideas. And I’m at peace with it.”
To some degree, de Blasio has come to accept New York’s special relationship with its mayors, who function in public life as irrepressible and vivid personalities—figures to like, to dislike, to puzzle over and mock. It seems significant, as a matter of the city’s sensibility, that the next mayor might, for instance, be the city’s first smoker in decades (Kathryn Garcia) or a man who, as a means of self-critique, writes journal entries in the third person (Eric Adams). “This strange animal that is being mayor of New York, it is unlike anything else. I’ve worked with mayors around the country,” he says. “They come up to me and are like, ‘I can’t believe what’s going on, or that that’s happening to you.’ I mean, it’s almost like a sympathy line at every meeting to say: ‘What is going on?’”
Often during his time as mayor, that constant razor’s edge between love and hate, enthralling and impossible, seemed to annoy rather than enamor its mayor. Today it seems to delight him. There is a story he tells about a city council meeting to debate a proposed bike lane on 11th Street in Park Slope. De Blasio supported it, and one of the “old timers,” who didn’t, stood up in the meeting. “He points at me accusatory and says, ‘You don’t know what it’s like on 9th Street!’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I live two blocks from you, I really feel like I do know what it’s like on 9th Street!’”
“It was like I was from an entirely different nationality. I mean, he just thundered, ‘You! You! You interloper!’ It was fabulous!” he says.
A former City Hall staffer recently described Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty as an encapsulation of the human condition, which is less grand than it sounds. “The pendulum was always swinging,” the person said. “There were days when he was confident and days when he was riddled with self-doubt. There were days he felt he really embodied what New York City needed in a mayor. And there were days when he lost that.”
In 2013, during the first campaign, when de Blasio was at the bottom of the polls and free from the burden of expectations—“We were lovable losers,” he says—Bill Clinton called him one day after seeing a front-page photo of the candidate and his family dancing at a parade: “‘I saw the photo in the New York Times.’” De Blasio drops into a Clinton impression. “‘And you guys look like you’re having so much fun out there. That’s what people want from a candidate.’”
“He’s one of the great masters. You think I would have written it down,” the mayor says. “I think I heard it, but I didn’t take it in.”
“We are coming into the home stretch,” he says. “I’m giving you a warning. We will end at the stump.” It’s an hour and 15 minutes into the walk and de Blasio has covered 2.53 miles.
The official story of the stump, according to the New York City Parks Department’s forestry director, is that a large pin oak got sick and had to be felled at the height of the pandemic. The Parks Department suspected oak wilt disease, bacterial leaf scorch and symptoms of a disease called Hypoxylon canker. They tried to save the tree, but couldn’t, and it came down last August.
It was on one of his walks that de Blasio discovered what happened to the tree where he and McCray had their wedding.
“There was a tree,” he says. “It’s part of a tree now. I went one day in the middle of Covid and everything was horrible and I’m walking by my tree for solace and my tree’s not there anymore!” he says. “Recalling the great line from Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders: ‘I went back to Ohio and my city was gone.’”
Author: Ruby Cramer
This post originally appeared on Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories