Bill de Blasio Has Discovered YouTube, Self-Promotion


Bill de Blasio may finally be getting the hint that he, as the mayor of New York City, can actually talk directly to the people without the filter of the news media getting in the way. This is something President Barack Obama has used to his advantage since he was elected in the social-media age, taking to YouTube and Twitter to voice his thoughts directly or answering questions in a Reddit AMA like, well, a normal person.

But a year and a half into his term, de Blasio is still trying to get his achievements across — particularly in an area he counts as one of his most cherished projects: affordable housing. In a video posted to YouTube and online at the mayor’s office’s website today, he tries to do just that — to explain why his office has focused so much on pushing developers to create more affordable housing units and to preserve the units the city now has.

“New York City is literally in a housing emergency,” a narrator starts. She points out that “many New Yorkers are handing over a third, even more than a half, of their salary on rent. Do the math: That doesn’t leave much left over for food, clothing, medicine, or anything else.” She then goes on to list what de Blasio’s office is doing to address this problem:

  • Building or protecting 200,000 affordable apartments (“enough for the entire city of Miami”)
  • Reserving some 80,000 units for the poorest to working families
  • Building more affordable housing than at any time in the last 40 years
  • Locking in affordability for another 120,000 units by offering landlords loans for building repairs and incentives to keep units rent-controlled for decades
  • Investing in new housing accessible to good schools, parks, and transportation

These are all points highlighted in the office’s ten-year, citywide plan for affordable housing, which the mayor hopes will create or preserve 200,000 affordable units by 2024.

There’s nothing flashy in the two-minute video; in fact, it’s quite sparse in its hand-drawn, whiteboard animation. But the message is clear: “The way we see it, housing is a basic right, and if we fail to be a city for everyone, we risk losing what makes New York New York.”

The video comes just days after the New York Times quoted allies of the mayor criticizing his office for not doing a good enough job of touting his accomplishments. “In interviews, allies of the mayor said they deeply supported Mr. de Blasio and his efforts to combat inequality. But they expressed worry that his administration had not done enough to ensure New Yorkers recognize his accomplishments,” the Times reported.

In an interview with the Times, de Blasio said that his team “can always communicate things better.” But he also faulted the news media, “saying that coverage of his City Hall had been focused on stories he deemed trivial.”

On Wednesday, a man named Louis whom many believe to be comedian Louis C.K. called in to The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC to defend the mayor, echoing sentiments that de Blasio was being covered unfairly in the press. “You know, I really like this mayor, and it’s bothered me that there’s sort of a culture of clickbait in the news right now that only little negative stories get attention,” the man said. He also said he was “disappointed” in the Times for writing an article that highlighted missteps from the mayor’s office.

It is undoubtedly true that de Blasio has made more news this summer for his squabbles with Governor Andrew Cuomo and his public relations blunders than for his targeted push for affordable housing. But while a politician’s office cannot control what the press writes about him or her, the burden is ultimately on that politician to speak directly to the people — especially in this day and age, when there are so many tools available to do just that.

The housing video seems to square with a new trend from the mayor’s office. On August 13, the office released a similarly hand-drawn animated video discussing the Bronx’s Legionnaires’ outbreak and its efforts to combat the disease. That seems to have been the mayor’s office’s first foray into making videos the social-media way — i.e., following a model that eschews the boring press conferences, mayoral speeches, and signing ceremonies that otherwise populate its YouTube channel. The mayor’s office seems to have discovered that it’s time to engage with his constituents the old-fashioned way: by knocking on their iPhones.