NEW YORK– Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political vision – and his political travels – have increasingly reached far beyond the borders of New York City.
On the same day last week, he made an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” co-authored an op-ed for the Washington Post with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and was featured in a glowing Rolling Stone profile. This week, he’ll head to Washington to present a national liberal political agenda and then is on to California to give a pair of speeches.
And so far in 2015, he’s made as many trips to the Midwest – two – to lecture on income inequality as he has made official visits to the city’s borough of Staten Island.
It is commonplace for New York City mayors to become national figures, but some experts believe that de Blasio – not even 18 months into his first term – is risking being perceived as someone who has forgotten about his home. A poll last week showed that fewer than half of New Yorkers believe the city is moving in the right direction.
“He’s entering a path that can be dangerous for big-city mayors,” said Kenneth Sherrill, a retired political science professor at Hunter College. “It’s not unusual for a New York City mayor to be a national speaker for urban issues. But it is unusual for one to be so concerned about his national political party and its issues.”
De Blasio – whose staff insisted that his focus is New York – made little mention of a national focus during his campaign, instead promising to give a voice to those who felt forgotten during a gilded decade when the gap between the rich and the poor widened.
Since taking office, he’s argued he can do that by impacting the national political conversation.
“We’ve got to change the politics of this country to be able to serve our people and the issue of income inequality is even deeper,” de Blasio said last month. “Anyone who represents everyday people needs to be a part of this effort.”
De Blasio said that as he convened a gathering of national progressives at Gracie Mansion. They will meet again Tuesday in Washington where they will unveil a liberal platform that calls for the national adoption of some of de Blasio’s work at home, including paid sick leave and free universal pre-kindergarten. The group has said it wants to move political candidates – including Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom de Blasio has yet to endorse – to the left on many issues, namely the fight against income inequality.
De Blasio has delivered that same message across the country in recent weeks as he takes steps to become one of the nation’s loudest liberal voices. First came a trip to Nebraska and Iowa. Then, Wisconsin. And after his appearance at the U.S. Capitol, he’ll fly to California to deliver two more lectures.
According to the mayor, his message may better received there than at home, where he has been bogged down at times with municipal concerns like a revolt by the police unions and an at-times disagreeable governor.
“A lot of people outside New York City understand what happened in the first year of New York City better than people in New York City,” he told Rolling Stone. “But I’m convinced something very special happened here.”
A large swath of New Yorkers are less sure, according to a poll released last week by the Wall Street Journal-NBC 4-New York and Marist College. Though the mayor’s overall approval rating rose to 44 percent from 39 percent, only 45 percent believe the city is heading in the right direction, the first time that dipped under 50 percent since November 2013.
Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College, said de Blasio becoming a national figure could lead to benefits – like perhaps increased federal funding – for New York, but the mayor ran the risk of “coming off as self-aggrandizing.”
“It could be perceived like he’s eyeing something bigger, not for the city but for himself,” Zaino said.
De Blasio is trying to balance the national and the local: The day after his “Morning Joe” appearance, he delivered a budget presentation and attended the wake of a slain police officer. His lead spokesman, who insists the mayor has no interest in higher office, said de Blasio can “walk and chew gum at the same time.”
“I think that we have seen this mayor take on multiple issues and challenges simultaneously and achieve results all the while staying focused on the needs of New Yorkers,” spokesman Phil Walzak said.
Vincent Ignizio, a Republican and Minority Leader of the City Council, said he no issues with the Democratic mayor traveling the country “as long as it doesn’t distract with the issues at home, and so far it hasn’t.”
“But it’s a problem that it looks like you care more about the people of California or Iowa than the people on Staten Island,” he said, noting how infrequently de Blasio has traveled to the Republican-heavy borough. “He needs to be the mayor for all people, not just those who agree with him.”