New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president, adding his name to an already long list of candidates itching for a chance to take on Donald Trump.
The mayor announced his run with a video released by his campaign, then headed to the Statue of Liberty, where he said the country is in an “identity crisis” around immigration, which he called “the founding and unifying element of the American experience.”
“We are figuring out who we are,” he said. “There are American values we need to return to and fight for in order to achieve our greatest potential.”
On his campaign’s first day, he dove into an insult match with Trump.
During an appearance on “Good Morning America,” de Blasio borrowed one of Trump’s tactics by giving the president a disparaging nickname: Con Don.
“He’s a con artist. I know his tricks. I know his playbook,” the mayor said.
Trump tweeted that de Blasio was “considered the worst mayor in the U.S.”
The president said, “He is a JOKE, but if you like high taxes & crime, he’s your man. NYC HATES HIM!”
In announcing his candidacy, de Blasio, 58, seeks to claim a role on the national stage that has eluded him as mayor of the biggest U.S. city.
When he took office in 2014, de Blasio seemed briefly poised to become a leading voice for an emerging left wing of the Democratic Party. His central message then and now is fighting income inequality, a theme he hit in the video announcing his candidacy.
“There’s plenty of money in this world. There’s plenty of money in this country. It’s just in the wrong hands,” he said.
Liberal enthusiasm faded during his first term, partly because of political missteps at home and the emergence of bigger names elsewhere. He could face obstacles trying to distinguish himself in a crowded field.
After his appearance at the Statue of Liberty, for a ceremony opening a new museum, de Blasio planned to travel to Iowa to campaign Friday, then fly to South Carolina for events Saturday and early Sunday.
De Blasio has drawn small audiences so far in visits to early primary states including New Hampshire, where just six attendees showed up for a mental health discussion.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found 76 per cent of New York City voters say they believe he shouldn’t run. And de Blasio’s hometown press has, so far, delighted in disparaging his presidential hopes.
The New York Post on Thursday greeted his candidacy with a front-page photo of people laughing.
“De Blasio for President? ‘Nah,“’ read one recent New York Times headline.
“Who hasn’t told Bill de Blasio that he shouldn’t run for president?” asked New York Magazine.
Local criticism has focused less on his policies than his reputation for stumbles, like showing up late to a memorial for plane crash victims, getting into a feud with the state’s Democratic governor and dropping a groundhog during a Groundhog Day celebration.
Earlier this week, de Blasio held a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower to blame the skyscraper for contributing to air pollution, but the event turned comical as Trump supporters heckled the mayor, who had to shout to make himself heard.
De Blasio, though, has remained undaunted and says he has a message that can resonate with the American public.
“I think the key thing is that working people want to see change in this country. And I honestly believe that cuts across the regional realities, ethnic realities, even people’s political identification,” he said at an afternoon news conference. “One thing that truly unifies people is they want fairness. And a lot of Americans believe this is not a fair country right now.”
Asked about the Quinnipiac poll, de Blasio laughed and pointed out that those same voters had elected him to office twice.
“You know, I got elected mayor with 73 per cent of the vote originally, re-elected with 67 per cent of the vote,” he said. “I think you’d agree that the poll that actually matters is the election.”
Even if de Blasio’s candidacy doesn’t catch fire, he’ll be able to promote his policies and potentially angle for a job in a future Democratic administration. He is barred by term limits from running for mayor again.
“If he ran a strong and credible campaign, it could enhance his stature for gaining a major appointment or becoming a significant player, particularly if a Democrat is elected president,” said Michael Malbin, a professor of political science at the University at Albany.
But Matthew Dallek, an associate professor of political management at George Washington University, said a losing White House campaign wouldn’t come without risks.
“If his legacy is that a crisis happened and he was off campaigning in Iowa, that’s significant,” Dallek said. “So yeah, there are risks.”
On the campaign trail, de Blasio will be able to cite accomplishments including expanding full-day prekindergarten and curtailing police tactics that critics say were discriminatory, while presiding over continued drops in crime rates, which are now at historic lows.
De Blasio was born Warren Wilhelm Jr. in 1961 but took his mother’s family name in adulthood because, he said, his father was “largely absent from his life.” The mayor has spoken about how his father, Warren Wilhelm, a veteran who lost part of his left leg in World War II, descended into alcoholism and killed himself when de Blasio was 18.
Born in New York City, de Blasio grew up in the Boston area and has provoked New York sports fans by rooting for the Boston Red Sox. He graduated from New York University and earned a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
De Blasio met his wife, Chirlane McCray, when they both worked for Democratic Mayor David Dinkins. They married in 1994 and have two children, Chiara and Dante.
With his candidacy, de Blasio becomes the latest in a line of New York City mayors who have run for president. None has ever won.
John Lindsay sought the office in 1972. Rudy Giuliani ran in 2008. Michael Bloomberg flirted with a run for years before ruling it out in both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns.
De Blasio said he was sure he’d do better.
“I intend to break the mould. I intend to make history. And I intend to win,” he said.