In this deeply divided age of partisan politics, it’s challenging to find a politician despised by both the left and the right, but most politicians aren’t Bill de Blasio. As the mayor of New York City, de Blasio is a blundering, tone-deaf monument to incompetence and ideological dogmatism. At a time when NYC is in dire need of a unifying figure to stop its fall from prominence, de Blasio has succeeded in alienating himself from his electorate. If the pandemic is the primary reason for the exodus of people and businesses from NYC, his administration and brand of politics are surely a close second. De Blasio’s approval ratings have never signalled great popularity, but as the pandemic drags on, violent crime surges. And with unrest over police brutality and institutional racism, New Yorkers appear united in their hatred of him.
It hasn’t always been this way. When de Blasio was first elected mayor in 2013, he was considered a breath of fresh air—a rejection of the years of mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, under whose leadership the city had become polished and gentrified. After two decades of conservative-leaning leadership, voters sought a Democratic mayor. Having run under a reformist banner, promising to tackle income inequality, injustice, and police reform, de Blasio appeared to fit the bill. In his inaugural speech, de Blasio championed a “progressive vision,” denounced “trickle-down economics” and “rugged individualism,” and promised “to protect the dignity and rights of [people] … of color.”
Instead of fulfilling these promises, de Blasio quickly began wasting political capital on an array of projects ranging from the ill-advised to the bizarre. Hoping to ride the coattails of Bloomberg’s Manhattan Waterfront Greenway and PlaNYC initiatives, which added over 400 miles of well-placed bike lanes to the city, de Blasio expanded bike lanes through urban arteries like Columbus Avenue. As a result, motorists were packed into single lanes—increasing congestion, disturbing the delivery of goods to businesses, and aggravating taxi drivers, who became effectively unable to pick up and drop off passengers. In ensuing news conferences, de Blasio appeared to celebrate the increased number of fines issued to motorists blocking cycle lanes; he spoke as though he and his department were waging war against an evil, reckless, car-driving elite, woefully unaware that they were disproportionately punishing those simply trying to do their jobs.
In ensuing news conferences, de Blasio appeared to celebrate the increased number of fines issued to motorists blocking cycle lanes; he spoke as though he and his department were waging war against an evil, reckless, car-driving elite, woefully unaware that they were disproportionately punishing those simply trying to do their jobs.
In perhaps one of the more bewildering debacles of New York politics, de Blasio also mounted a failed attempt to rid the city of horse-drawn carriages. Although it’s not entirely clear what motivated de Blasio to take on the circa 200 carriages ordinarily spotted ferrying tourists around Central Park South, he wasted no time blasting through political capital and alienating a variety of interests. De Blasio’s effort to ban horse-drawn carriages outright failed. And his scheme to restrict the size of the industry, and to spend $25 million converting a park maintenance facility into a new horse stable, also collapsed. The Central Park Conservancy and surrounding community boards slammed de Blasio’s proposal, while the Transport Workers Union representing the pedicab drivers filed a lawsuit. Having made a public spectacle of what most residents agreed to be a trivial matter, de Blasio succeeded only in alienating himself from council members, union leaders, pedicab drivers and animal-right activists alike.
New York City is the largest and most highly funded per capita school district in the country; yet, 71 district schools have rates of English proficiency below 20 percent, and 100 have math rates below 16 percent. Sadly, these gaps in academic achievement are mirrored across racial lines. In math, there is a 39-point achievement gap between black and white students, and a 49-point achievement gap between Hispanic and white students. In reading, there is a 33-point achievement gap between black and white students, and a 31-point achievement gap between Hispanic and white students.
How do you remedy such an abysmal standard of education and a stark racial discrepancy? If your name is Bill de Blasio, this could only mean attempting to do away with charter schools. In NYC, charter schools consistently outperform traditional public schools and are overwhelmingly populated by students from low-income and ethnic minority families. Charter schools have nonetheless become a target of the mayor and his cronies. Since his ascent to office, de Blasio has refused to increase the cap on the number of charter schools, attempted to deny them space in public buildings, and introduce rent payments based on their private donations. At a 2019 educational forum, de Blasio declared his “hate” for charter schools and “the privatizers.” In so doing, he demonstrated that his animus is rooted not so much in practical reason as in socialist dogma. If de Blasio were serious about delivering a sound education to the youth of NYC, he would surely cast aside ideology and embrace progress. Alas, no. Most recently, de Blasio committed to disbanding a gifted and talented program widely hailed as an academic springboard for the city’s brightest students.
If de Blasio were serious about delivering a sound education to the youth of NYC, he would surely cast aside ideology and embrace progress. Alas, no. Most recently, de Blasio committed to disbanding a gifted and talented program widely hailed as an academic springboard for the city’s brightest students.
It is no secret that New York City has been badly afflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. Although it would be dishonest to level sole blame for the spread of the disease at the mayor, it’s fair to conclude that his response has been far from stellar. As the virus first spread around the country, de Blasio and his administration downplayed the threat posed by the disease, appearing to regard any health concerns as xenophobic hysteria. Through early March, de Blasio continued to urge people to go about their lives normally, while peddling false facts about the nature and transmission of the virus. In an act of petulant defiance, he even flouted the advice of his own administration, continuing to exercise at his favorite Brooklyn gym until NYC was plunged into full lockdown. With the pandemic taking hold, de Blasio misjudged the tone of the city, using media appearances to attack the president, instead of working with his administration to source supplies. There is no playbook for handling a pandemic, but de Blasio failed to establish himself as a leader at a time of crisis.
New York City has long been facing an exodus of its wealthiest residents. Even before the pandemic, an estimated 2,600 individuals were exiting the city each week in favor of low tax states. Understandably, this trend has accelerated as a result of the pandemic, with many areas experiencing an almost biblical exodus. Although some of these residents have, and will, return to the city, there remains cause for concern, as many of the people replacing those moving away from the city are earning much lower incomes. And with the pandemic having now cost the city an estimated $34 billion, New York’s future fortunes are precariously tied to an exceedingly mobile tax base.
Even before the pandemic, an estimated 2,600 individuals were exiting the city each week in favor of low tax states. Understandably, this trend has accelerated as a result of the pandemic, with many areas experiencing an almost biblical exodus.
Yet, throughout the pandemic, de Blasio has doubled down on his demands to increase taxes in what is already the country’s most expensive and highly taxed city. With major financial institutions such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs actively reimagining their future outside of the Big Apple, this would seem an inopportune moment to raise the issue. De Blasio, however, is unabated. At a recent press conference, he took matters further and ominously declared that “[o]ur mission is to redistribute wealth.” It is undeniable that the city could certainly benefit from being shaped into a more equitable place for all its inhabitants, particularly for those at the lower end of the economic spectrum who have borne the brunt of the pandemic. However, such comments are only likely to reach the ears of the city’s wealthiest residents, as they turn their backs and run for the hills, or the Hamptons. In this way, de Blasio’s rhetoric continues to disenchant residents whose wealth is key to rejuvenating the city and improving its economy. Once again, de Blasio has shown himself to be blithely ignorant of the fiscal challenges faced by his city.
Blinded by his own dogmas, de Blasio shows no understanding of the delicate balance necessary to ensure that those who can contribute to the revival of this city, and the fortunes of its most needy, hang around long enough to do so. His need to assert and laud his political ideals is seemingly far greater than his desire to actually fulfill them.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.