Bill de Blasio’s Summer, New York’s Future
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Howard Wolfson: I thought it might be fun to talk before the election. Let me ask you the topic that is on everybody's mind before they go and vote in the election: Who are you supporting?
Bill de Blasio: I have made no final decisions on my own ballot, let alone if I will take a public stance. And I'm very interested in Wednesday’s debate. I'd like to hear more from the candidates.
HW: The New York Times reported that you were secretly supporting Eric Adams. Is that not the case?
BdB: Again, hard to typify it that way when I haven't even decided who I'm voting for. I think they're a little ahead of themselves there.
HW: And if you don't know who you're voting for, do you know that anyone is not going to make your ballot?
BdB: Well, you know, there's eight leading candidates and three will not make my ballot, but I haven't decided which three yet.
HW: Then let me ask you this: None of the candidates are really running on a theme of “Let me continue the work of Bill de Blasio and finish it.” Does it bother you that there's nobody who's running on your legacy explicitly?
BdB: I think a lot of them are running implicitly on it. It was very entertaining in the debates to hear people talk about things we should do as a city that we’re already doing. There's an embrace on the focus on early-childhood education. There's embracing of the approaches that became neighborhood policing. No one's talking about going back to stop and frisk. When you go across the board, Vision Zero is embraced by these candidates. I think they have bought in to the vast majority of the core policies of my administration, even if they don't want to admit it.
HW: Why wouldn't they want to admit it?
BdB: You'd have to ask them. I don't know what research people are working from, and I don't know what research anyone can believe anymore after what we've seen in the last few national cycles. But I know after eight years and two elections of my own that the basic policies of my administration have clear majority support in the city. So, again, I'm not surprised by politics and political posturing, but I'm quite comfortable that what we're doing represents a clear majority of New Yorkers.
HW: Are you surprised with how prominent the crime issue has become in the race?
BdB: If you had asked me six months ago, Would I have predicted it? No. I wouldn't have. But the way things emerged, it got less and less surprising — none of the candidates really came in with a strong, overarching vision to pull the election in a different direction. I'm the first to say I've had good and bad moments in my political life. I do think in 2013 I had a clear direction of where I wanted to take the city. I thought the issues around income and equality were the essence of the discussion we had to have. I hope in my own way I took the discussion in that direction. I don't see a strong parallel here where someone has a particular vision or program that they're promoting that has really driven some of the dialogue. And I think that's unfortunate. It feels much more of a reactive than a proactive discussion.
HW: Do you imagine that's going to change between now and next Tuesday?
BdB: As you and I both know, the last week of the election is a very long week. Debates offer great opportunities for candidates to sharpen their message and define themselves. This is the time if people are really paying attention. So I do hold out hope. I think there's a hunger for more vision.
HW: You've been a pretty successful vote-getter in this city. If you were running, what would your message be?
BdB: I think the issues around equality are still very pertinent. I understand why, given some of the tough situations we've been through in the last few months, there's been a lot of media focused on crime. And it's always pertinent to talk about public safety. But I think the underlying issues of inequality are profound, and they were made even more evident by Covid. So I think an accessible vision of how we fight inequality would be very pertinent. With deep respect for the candidates — and one of them's going to be our mayor — I have been a little surprised that it hasn't been easier to identify both that overarching theme and the specific things they're going to do about it.
HW: Let's talk about the “Summer of Bill.” I've known you for a long time and have certainly known that you have the capacity to enjoy yourself and to express great enthusiasm. That capacity was not always in evidence over the last seven years. In fairness, you had a tough job. But it seems as if you have kind of discovered, or rediscovered, how much fun the job can be. Does that resonate with you?
BdB: I think the first and most important point is the energy that has been gathering in this city the last few months. That's really helped me to feel tremendous energy and a lot of joy and to express it. I also think it's fair to say there's an element of rediscovering. I used to let myself be a little more open, a little more free, a little more funny. When you take this job, it's a pretty awe-inspiring role. It's very tough. It's humbling. I think at times I let the challenges make me a little too serious and sort of took away some of my spontaneity.
And I let some of the joy get obscured by some of the challenges. But all along, I could name wonderful moments along the way, and powerful moments that I've experienced out there in communities. I think I would have been better served by letting some of that humanity and emotion and joy come through. It happened pretty spontaneously. I think this is really who I am, and I want to stay this way.
HW: It's a bit like you're sitting in your senior year of high school and, all of a sudden, people sort of discover who they are. They remember all the great things about school just as they're beginning to leave.
BdB: You learn along the way. You get to the end of something and you do see it more deeply. But again, I think the pertinent factor has been the comeback. If last year had been my last year in office, it would be really hard to find much joy. It’s the combination of getting to the end of this journey and really having a chance to reflect on it, plus the incredible energy around the city.
HW: There is an optimism, there is an energy, and I think people are looking for a cheerleader of sorts. I think that’s what accounted for some of Andrew Yang's initial popularity. He was, I think, the candidate who captured that energy. I think that may be less particular to him now, but a couple of months ago, he was the candidate who had his finger on that pulse.
BdB: It's great to have leaders act as cheerleaders, but it's even better when the people are the cheerleaders. Five months ago, folks were really worried, and now, before I can get any positive words out of my mouth, they start bragging about how the city's coming back.
HW: At the same time, we had murders up 40% last year. We've got murders up double digits this year. People are concerned about crime. They're concerned about homelessness and violence in the subways. What will you be doing between now and December 31 to get a handle on that?
BdB: There is a direct connection between recovery and safety, and safety and recovery. I'm trying to feed the recovery in every conceivable way, starting with deepening the vaccination effort and taking the kinds of steps that are going to help the city move forward — things like the full reopening of schools and helping to build future economic possibilities. All this, that constant drumbeat of recovery, is going to help make us safer. It's going to put more people in the subways, more people in the buses. Places that are filled with law-abiding people and natural, positive energy are just plain safer places.
At the same time, we've got to keep addressing the specific public-safety issues, and getting the court system up and running [after its closure during Covid] is maybe the single most important [issue]. There have been gang takedowns, and there's going to be more, and that's going to be a big piece of the equation. A substantial number of cops have come out of the academy, and more are coming out this month, and we’ll be getting them in the right places. We're seeing a lot of good results for the anti-violence movement, uh, deepening that I think it's going to be persistent. I don't think there's one thing where you sort of snap your fingers and you're done. Persistently driving this approach will get us there.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Howard Wolfson has worked in New York politics for nearly 30 years and served as a deputy mayor to Mike Bloomberg from 2010 to 2013. He is currently a senior adviser to Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP.
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