Philadelphia is not a very long way from New York City, but for Mayor Bill de Blasio, in town for the Democratic convention, it is far enough. Back in New York, the City Hall press corps is ready to barrage the mayor with questions about the news that he is the subject of yet another federal investigation—this time into his role in the sale of Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, which he unsuccessfully tried to keep open.
And then there’s yesterday’s revelation that the city’s top lawyer covered up documents showing that the de Blasio administration knew it was a bad idea to lift deed restrictions on an AIDS hospice yet did so anyway, ensuring that Rivington House would turn into luxury condos and prompting federal, state, and municipal investigations into the transaction.
But in Philadelphia, de Blasio is making the rounds like the celebrated progressive visionary he has always wanted to be, even sharing a private meeting with Bernie Sanders. He was even magnanimous towards Michael Bloomberg, whose endorsement tonight is scheduled for prime time while de Blasio has a 4:30 p.m. speaking slot.
“God bless him but he never would have made it,” de Blasio told reporters at a Politico event this morning, referring to Bloomberg’s decision not to run for president, and calling him “an important independent voice.”
Asked about the Rivington House development, the mayor replied, “This is probably bigger than Watergate. It’s ridiculous.”
At a National League of Cities panel on infrastructure investment yesterday, de Blasio played the role of big-city advocate, which he does fairly well.
“We’re the executive closest to the ground,” de Blasio boasted of America’s mayors, before an audience that included big shots like former Pennsylvania Governor (and Philadelphia mayor) Ed Rendell. De Blasio called for “urgency and audacity” in the reinvestment in cities. Infrastructure, he argued, transcends political differences. After repaving a lot of roadway in conservative Staten Island, where most people hate him, he said, “the feedback we got from people who didn’t agree with us on lots of other things — you could find real common ground on the most fundamental level.”
With overlapping state and federal investigations and the possibility of multiple primary and general election challengers next year, next year is shaping up to be a rough one for de Blasio. But he predicted 2017 could be a “golden moment” for progressives nationally if Hillary Clinton is elected president. He may be partially right: a Clinton victory would probably mean a Democratic Senate, and enough momentum to recreate some of the Obama victories on stimulus and healthcare that characterized his first two years before the House GOP stomped on his hopes and dreams.
A few blocks over at the Marriott, de Blasio spoke to a Working Families Party panel and got to experience something increasingly rare: unconditional praise. Nation publisher Katrina vandenHeuvel hailed de Blasio as the progressive champion New York needed after the darkness of the Bloomberg years. The WFP, the left-wing political party which has undoubtedly tilted the city’s politics left (even if it’s lost some local clout in the last year or two), was partially a de Blasio invention: before he was elected to office, he helped found the party in 1998, along with activists and labor leaders.
Taking the stage in the small ballroom, de Blasio momentarily lived the alternate reality he always wanted: life as an untarnished, widely popular liberal champion, the Elizabeth Warren from Brooklyn. He reflected on a meeting he had with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, gushing about how she passed a raft of progressive legislation, excepting a minimum wage hike, which she eventually got anyway. For New Yorkers reading between the lines, it was a nod to his acrimonious relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, the most shameless of triangulators, and how New York Democrats (unlike those elsewhere) engage in internecine warfare instead of uniting to slay conservatism once and for all.
In a preview of his re-election stump speech, de Blasio touted his universal pre-K program, the passage of paid sick days, and affordable housing. “I cannot tell you how many doubting Thomases we met along the way,” de Blasio said.
“Something extraordinary is happening in this country,” he added. “I fundamentally believe the best is yet to come.”
After he lumbered out of the ballroom, leaving the panel to go on without him, a woman asked for a photograph. He obliged. “I got my de Blasio picture!” she later bragged to a friend.
The mayor, after all, still has his fans.