Leonard Quart | Letter from New York: Mayor De Blasio under siege
NEW YORK — During a presidential election year, local New York politics usually play a peripheral role in public consciousness. That is especially true this year given that Donald Trump's mixture of macho bluster, personal insults, and con man rhetoric dominates the media.
Still, though we may not focus our full attention on city politics, New York City continues to be governed by Mayor Bill De Blasio, whose candidacy and political agenda I supported in the 2013 mayoralty primary and election. I wrote a column then praising his "cogent agenda structured to battle inequality" and his socially committed vision for the city. But I also "expected him to make mistakes and take wrong political turns," and like every other of the city's mayors, he has.
Even in that early column, I felt that De Blasio conveyed an excess of self-confidence and a lack of self-awareness that almost begged for journalists to bring him down. Well, we are now in 2016, and despite my being no Nostradamus, much of what I wrote then has come true.
De Blasio is in political trouble, intensified by the sleazy tabloid New York Post of Rupert Murdoch. Almost daily derisive headlines and columns label him an "incompetent" and have turned him into their whipping boy. In recent weeks one could read pieces headed, "Here's why no one likes De Blasio," and "NYPD corruption scandal leads straight to De Blasio."
The right-wing Post sensationalizes De Blasio's failures out of ideological antipathy, and also because it helps them sell papers, but the bad news is real and continues to snowball for him. A federal probe is emerging, involving, among other things, top cops in Brooklyn accepting diamonds, trips, and more from two big donors to various appendages of De Blasio's political operation. There are now four separate investigations into a city-aided transformation, again involving a well-connected backer of the mayor, of a Lower East Side nursing home for AIDS patients into just what the neighborhood needs, more luxury condos.
Two other big donors rewarded with board appointments have been discovered to run firms with big integrity issues. Of course, politicians often appoint big donors to these types of board posts, which are typically unpaid but offer a certain cachet, as well as some influence over City Hall decisions.
De Blasio, however, has for years criticized the effect of money on politics. So, all of these unsavory actions, including the suggestion that De Blasio appointed lobbyists who were and are actively lobbying his administration on behalf of their wealthy clients, make him merely another politician doing business as usual. It's not that De Blasio is trying to enrich himself or has turned the city into a den of corruption. But his moral obtuseness, especially for a mayor who claimed to bring a fresh vision to the city, is truly disappointing.
Needs to right ship
One hopes that De Blasio will begin to right himself from this political low point, and pursue the policies whose advocacy helped him win the election. He has accomplishments — crime is down, pre-kindergarten is available free of charge to 68,500 children, 15,000 permanent housing options have been provided for the homeless, and the city has closed financing on more than 30,000 affordable apartments, the central piece of De Blasio's agenda. This is, however, a drop in the bucket on a goal that is too dependent by necessity on developers and the market. And he has met with protests and criticism, some of it justified, from preservationists, community boards, unions, and neighborhood activists.
De Blasio's political reputation has been tarnished. Though his policies for the city primarily remain ones I agree with, I'm no longer sure I'd support someone this stolid and politically tone deaf if he runs again for mayor.
One of the politicians who ran against De Blasio in the 2013 Democratic primary was Anthony Weiner, the disgraced Brooklyn congressman whose term ended in scandal in 2011 over his garish and infantile tweets and texts. The revelatory and boisterous film "Weiner," was co-directed by Josh Kriegman, who had previously worked for him, and had almost total access to Weiner during his futile campaign.
However, though Weiner is narcissistic, self-promoting, and self-destructive, he is also charismatic and articulate, if glib, on the issues. Weiner is also a natural campaigner who skillfully connects with minority voters. But he has a penchant for behaving unpredictably and becoming enraged when defending himself against the provocations of hecklers and journalists.
The film also captures the quiet despair of his self-possessed, politically knowing wife Huma Abedin (long-time aide to Hillary Clinton), who actually assists in his campaign. The film never asks why Abedin stays with Weiner, or, more importantly, why Weiner had shamelessly indulged in this absurd behavior, not only once but a second time after resigning from Congress. Weiner is today still involved in politics as a commentator, but it's a minor tragedy to see this talented, deeply flawed man destroy his career as an active politician.
Leonard Quart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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