Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign is over. What a sentence! First because it’s crazy that Bill de Blasio – Bill de Blasio, the least likeable politician ever – ran for President, and second because it just feels so fucking good to finally see this monstrosity aborted like it should have been ever before conception. Oh my god, I hate Bill de Blasio.
I am not a hateful person, I swear. My heart is full of love! If anything I’m a little naïve – I once wrote a sorely misguided essay defending Trump voters from the blanket claim of racism. I let people borrow books, I genuinely enjoy babysitting, I feel bad for people who are rude to me. I believed Michael Jackson was innocent for a little longer than a little too long. I’m pure, perhaps too pure for this world. And I hate, hate, hate Bill de Blasio, a fact which frankly disturbs me to no end.
I take some comfort in knowing I’m not alone. You can get a feel for the public’s, um, ambivalence toward Bill de Blasio from the numbers. His favorable/unfavorable rating was the worst of any Democratic candidate for president, real or fake, and he usually polled at a healthy zero. Before his ill-fated decision to run, a resounding 76 percent of NYC residents – theoretically his base – came together to tell him, please do not. Across New York State, his approval rating is mired in Trump territory, a shocking result in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. Compared to de Blasio, notoriously unpopular Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell might as well be Netflix and a stern father’s grudging approval; both have favorability ratings that are multiples of Hizzoner’s.
But the numbers don’t tell the full story. Other politicians are unpopular. But other politicians, especially male politicians who need not be concerned with appearing overly “shrill,” don’t warrant longform Politico pieces about the “visceral” (that’s the word they use, derived as it is from the Latin term for intestines) distaste their colleagues have for them. Other presidential candidates haven’t been hit with mocking New York Magazine pieces based on the gimmick of hunting down someone who actually supports them, or Vox headlines gawking in astonishment at a truly “inexplicable” presidential campaign. Only de Blasio has warranted reported pieces about how much fun everyone has dunking on him. There is a legitimate fear that America will soon devolve into actual civil war, and yet – we all, nearly to a man, hate Bill de Blasio.
Some of the reasons why are obvious to anyone who has ever studied him. De Blasio acts like an entitled shit – he is peevish and petty with reporters, and notoriously late to everything. He exudes no charisma and has anti-gravitas. He is tall and weird-looking, which is even worse than being ugly, which people can at least relate to. He is outdone in gravity and heft by the prominent New Yorkers of yesteryear, such as Big Bird and the Olsen twins. His personal habits – like going to the gym every morning in a different borough from where he lives and works – would be grounds to end a lifelong friendship. He is, as my mother would politely say, abrasive.
I think de Blasio hate goes deeper than this, though. Something must explain why even in his own party, among people who ostensibly share his views and believe in the causes he claims to fight for, he is so widely and deeply loathed.
It’s because de Blasio is not just a doofus. He’s also a bullshit artist, a mirror Trump, a pandering cynic. He is, in one gawky man, the failure of every progressive city in America to escape rule by monied elites. He reminds liberals of the limitations of leftism in a capitalist society. He is what all good left-wingers fear they would become if given power. He is what The Wire warned us about – the failure of well-intentioned people to triumph over ego and greed, and to ultimately swear fealty to the institutions they once purported to despise.
Understand, when de Blasio first ran for mayor, he did not run as a technocratic manager-type. He ran as a revolutionary. In his speech announcing his run, he vowed to form a government that would “be the protector of neighborhoods and must guard the people from the enormous power of moneyed interests.” At his inauguration, he highlighted the theme that won him the contentious Democratic primary, that New York was facing a “tale of two cities,” plagued by an “inequality crisis.” His well-received first State of the City speech was both a soaring paean to radical social change and a harsh condemnation of a city where the middle class is “at risk of disappearing altogether.” De Blasio didn’t mince words – he rejected those who would claim that “attempts to remedy [inequality] are simply sowing the seeds of class warfare,” and promised that his administration wouldn’t “set its priorities by the needs of those at the very top.”
De Blasio hasn’t delivered – income inequality in New York City has actually gotten worse under his watch, and rent is still nearly the highest in the nation. But this isn’t why people hate him. I don’t think de Blasio can really blamed for worsening income inequality, which is such a massive structural issue that no one mayor can do much, one way or the other. And high rents are an issue that politicians of all political orientations are terrified to tackle, given the interests at play. No, people hate de Blasio not because he failed, but because of how he failed. He let the darkness take over so quickly and assuredly that it makes us wonder just how we were so badly hoodwinked. And to add insult to injury, he pulls a Trump – repeatedly asserting that things aren’t the way they are, refusing to let his rhetoric bow to reality.
Let’s take a small example. Candidate de Blasio was arrested – arrested! – protesting the closure of Long Island College Hospital. Inspiring! Immediately after taking office, he threw his support behind a proposal that would dramatically reduce the hospital’s footprint and result in hundreds of layoffs, the very thing Candidate de Blasio was protesting against. Okay, typical politician flip-flop, right? But here’s the de Blasio touch – he called the LICH deal, which now is going to create luxury condos where the hospital once stood, “historic,” refusing to acknowledge that any flip-flop occurred. Then, the U.S Attorney’s Office in the Southern District announced it was looking into de Blasio’s role in the deal – he apparently asked a potential buyer of the LICH property for a donation while the sale was being negotiated.
This is a recurring pattern for the Mayor. Whenever he gets called out on his fake progressive bullshit, he doubles down, trusting that gullible leftists will take him at his word. He maintains this posture even in the face of criminal investigations and sworn testimony. He is unshakeable.
Consider the Harendra Singh saga. The restaurateur pleaded guilty to bribing de Blasio with campaign donations in exchange for renewal of the lease for his restaurant, which sat on city-owned property. Singh specified that he had many conversations with the Mayor, conversations in which both donations and the lease issue were discussed. After the plea, did de Blasio express contrition, regret at getting involved with a scumbag? He did not. Instead, his office said: “This administration acted appropriately at all times. We make decisions on the merits. Period.” Well, okay then!
When the city’s Department of Investigation found that de Blasio’s scandal-plagued non-profit, the ironically titled Campaign for One New York, had violated ethics rules by courting wealthy donors with business before the city, how did de Blasio react? Did he respect the findings of a city agency with no apparent axe to grind, and promise to do better? Of course not. His office put out this statement: “It’s been said a million times: the Mayor acted lawfully and ethically.” No collusion! No obstruction!
It’s the yawning chasm between de Blasio’s rhetoric and his behavior that makes him so hated. Try to imagine Bernie Sanders caught taking donations from Goldman Sachs – that’s the level of hypocrisy we are dealing with here. Is it any wonder it makes actual progressives feel betrayed? Add on top of that a generous helping of condescending, Trump-style reality readjustment, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for a despised, distrusted politician.
De Blasio’s public position on slumlords: “We will seize their buildings, and we will put them in the hands of a community nonprofit that will treat tenants with the respect they deserve.” De Blasio’s actual position: paying two notorious slumlords $173 million – $30 million over appraisal – for their slums, and by the way, the lawyer who negotiated the deal for the slumlords is a big muckety muck in the Brooklyn Democratic party.
De Blasio’s position on Amazon the day before they pulled their proposed new headquarters: “Mission critical” to let Amazon build in Long Island City. De Blasio’s position on Amazon a week after they pulled their proposed new headquarters: A disgusting example of “the 1 percent dictating to everyone else.” Oh, and by the way, de Blasio wants to remind you that he has “been a self-identified progressive since high school.”
New York City is, ostensibly, one of the most progressive cities in the country. De Blasio positioned himself as the natural culmination of that progressive nature, the one who would finally take New York back from the monied interests that have shaped it for decades, the only politician unapologetically willing to buck the elite for the good of the working man. Instead, he’s become more entwined with the city’s wealthy donors and corporations than Republican mayor Bloomberg was. By any reasonable definition of the word, de Blasio is not just a betrayer of principles – he is a crook.
Blue states and cities across the country are finally reckoning with this phenomenon – that no matter how progressive an electorate, seemingly nothing can be done to alleviate repressive social conditions. Look at San Francisco, or Seattle – these are epicenters of liberal activism, and they have been all but taken over by corporate monoliths. They are unlivable for anyone but the privileged. We New Yorkers thought we were different, as we usually do. Turns out, we were just more gullible.
This is why people hate de Blasio. It’s not because he’s weird, although he definitely is crazy weird. It’s because he reminds us all that if we can’t make real change here in New York City, a leftist bastion, with an avowed progressive fighter, how can we possibly expect to make change anywhere….and should we trust any politicians, even – or especially – the ones who are telling us exactly what we want to hear? Bill de Blasio’s faith in himself may be bizarrely unshakeable, but he’s left the faith of the rest of us, our hope, our last vestiges of resistance to cynicism, in shambles. It’s hard to imagine a politician more hateable.