Bill de Blasio is a clown. Let’s start there. We could actually end there, too, honestly, but I might as well explain.
In 2014, when de Blasio was first sworn in as mayor — by former President Bill Clinton at that — he reiterated his lofty vision for an egalitarian city, united across socioeconomic lines. “When I said we would take dead aim at the tale of two cities, I meant it,” he said. “And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city. We will succeed as one city. We know this won’t be easy. It will require all that we can muster.”
By the time he was sworn in a second time some four years later, fewer people were present. News outlets covering the day at the time noted “empty seats were scattered throughout,” but it’s hard to believe it was simply attributable to the January chill: Previous attendees like Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Harry Belafonte, and Governor Andrew Cuomo did not bother to show. (Bernie Sanders was there, but I have to wonder if he has any regrets.)
Indeed, on that day, de Blasio said, “In this heyday of hatred… we in our city refuse to be dragged down to a place we know is beneath us.” The words fell on deaf ears; a full term into his mayoral tenure, a man who had campaigned as a progressive reformer had little to show for it. And by April 2019, most New Yorkers didn’t even want him to run for president.
But the circus was just gearing up. Enter: the coronavirus pandemic. New York City may finally be taking its first halting steps toward reopening this week, but report after report (after another report) has shown how de Blasio’s early response to the outbreak worsened the crisis. As late as early March, when Washington and California began taking aggressive steps to mitigate the spread, de Blasio went on MSNBC to parrot Donald Trump’s wishful thinking about everything being under control.
Did the city ultimately save some lives by implementing strict stay-at-home orders? It did. But if you know of folks who died of the coronavirus — or even those who survived a run-in with Covid-19 — you also know that his mishandling cost lives. (You also might know the frustration of not even being able to get reliable antibody tests.)
As if one bungled unprecedented situation wasn’t enough, de Blasio managed to lose even more goodwill due to his response to the NYPD’s unconscionable conduct during the demonstrations following George Floyd’s murder. Last week, as he does most Fridays, the mayor appeared on local radio station WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show for his “Ask the Mayor” segment. By then, we were on day four of the curfews he had imposed in response to looting in neighborhoods ranging from SoHo to Midtown to the Bronx. (It bears pointing out that despite what Fox News might be feeding your parents, the vast majority of the protests were peaceful — until New York’s finest started driving into crowds and swinging batons.)
“The city has a problem of protests against too much police violence being met with too much police violence,” Lehrer said as he began the segment. “Do you accept the premise?” “No,” de Blasio defiantly replied.
“What followed,” the New Yorker’s Alexandra Schwartz later wrote, “was a 30-minute performance of defensiveness, denial, and bizarre false equivalence.”
Before this pathetic display on public radio, de Blasio was already going above and beyond to defend the police. When footage emerged showing NYPD police officers trying to run over protestors in Brooklyn, de Blasio’s initial response was to condemn the protestors. “It is inappropriate for protestors to surround a police vehicle and threaten police officers,” de Blasio argued. “That’s wrong on its face, and that hasn’t happened in the history of protests in this city.” Though de Blasio says he wished the officers hadn’t driven into the crowd — what a humanitarian — he also said he “understood they didn’t start the situation.”
In the face of public outrage, of course, de Blasio changed his tune. Notable in the chorus of blowback was a letter signed by 236 former and current staffers slamming de Blasio not only for poorly handling the current turmoil between the NYPD and the protesters, but also his entire past commitment (or lack thereof) to advancing racial justice. “None of us joined the de Blasio Administration believing this mayor would be radical on criminal justice policy,” states the letter. “That was apparent from the moment he hired Bill Bratton to be his police commissioner. But we saw in Bill de Blasio a chance for real change.”
When your own staffers take to the streets to protest you, you may want to hold off on reaching out for LinkedIn endorsements.
The letter goes on to excoriate de Blasio for refusing to fire the police officer who had choked Eric Garner to death; for “a failed ‘Broken Windows’ policing strategy that criminalizes our Black and brown communities”; for rejecting basic police accountability measures. When your own staffers take to the streets to protest you, you may want to hold off on reaching out for LinkedIn endorsements.
To be fair, de Blasio did criticize the police, finally, for one recent action: doxxing his own daughter. After she was arrested during a protest, the union representing NYPD sergeants tweeted a photo of the arrest record — which included her height, weight, and address. Twitter temporarily suspended the union’s account and removed the tweet (while Gothamist rightly questioned whether the union violated city charter).
De Blasio’s tenure hasn’t been without any progress whatsoever. Supporters can correctly say that he delivered universal pre-K and expanded paid sick leave, reduced stop-and-frisk policing, put forward various justice bills, and was in favor of the city’s $15 minimum wage hike. But this is also a White man who used his Black son in a campaign ad to say he was going to help make Black people feel safer from the police.
So Bill de Blasio has not only failed his constituents with his lack of promised police reform, he adds insults to injury by placating the police force that has helped make this pandemic all the more terrifying and insufferable for Black and Brown people. As the father of Black children, he should hang his head in shame. As a mayor, he should do us the honor and resign.
Of course, in more recent days, de Blasio is sounding a lot more like the people on the streets protesting him. He’s promising reform. He’s down with the people!