Bill de Blasio was right on time.

Punctuality, after all, has been a notorious challenge for New York City’s former mayor, but he was prompt for a sit-down interview on Wednesday morning at a Brooklyn cafe a day after announcing he would withdraw from the race for an open seat in Congress. In a tweet, he cited a lack of support from voters in a district covering Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, including his home neighborhood of Park Slope.

Instead, it was this reporter who was 10 minutes late after her taxi was stuck in traffic. But de Blasio waved off an apology. In a note of self-deprecation, he conveyed an incredulous look that said, “You’re apologizing for being late to me?”

In the end, timing may have also had something to do with why de Blasio — the candidate with the most name recognition in the crowded 10th Congressional District race — failed to win over voters even as he threw himself into on-the-ground campaigning, meeting people in the streets and in their homes.

Hear WNYC reporter Elizabeth Kim's interview with former Mayor Bill de Blasio:

“It’s probably just too soon,” he said of his failed run.

Joseph Viteritti, a public policy professor at Hunter College who has appraised de Blasio's mayoralty more positively than some, argued that the chronically late mayor might have been too early for once.

“Some would say that if you've been mayor or if you've been governor, you gotta sit out a few dances before you get back into it,” Viteritti said.

Having announced his candidacy on May 20th, one day before the lines of the new district were finalized, de Blasio sprinted out of the gate in the face of an August 23rd primary. He tried to remind voters of the successes of his eight years in office, such as universal pre-K, his push for a higher minimum wage, healthcare for low-income and undocumented residents, the first-ever rent freeze, and his aggressive vaccination policies that many credit with keeping New Yorkers protected during the pandemic. Under his tenure, data showed that the city’s income inequality gap shrank.

During a roughly one-hour interview, the ex-mayor and now ex-congressional candidate reflected on those accomplishments, his latest ill-fated campaign and more, including why he doesn’t see himself running again for elected office, the mistakes he made as mayor and the nagging questions about his campaign debt, which he refused to answer.

The notion of time came up more than once. Speaking about moments during his mayoralty, de Blasio said at one point, “I'd love to go back, and if I had a time machine, I would fix it.”

Below is an excerpt of the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Given that the race was so crowded and that there were five weeks left, was there a part of you that thought maybe in two weeks the world might again have shifted and we might be talking about something different? A candidate may have imploded, things like that.

Unquestionably. I think all that's very real. And in two weeks that might happen and I might say, ‘Oh my God, what a stupid move I made.’ But I think to me, the evidence was strong and unfortunate. I mean, I didn't like seeing it. It was painful to see it.

When I was running for mayor, I was fourth and fifth most of the time and that really didn't change profoundly until July for a September election. But there was massive media coverage. There were huge opportunities to get a message out. We had shepherded our resources, we had a lot to work with toward the end. So there were objective reasons to say, ‘Well, you might be far back now but there's a way to make it up and I see a pathway.’

But if you don't feel it and you can't see it, then that's the time to stop.

Bill de Blasio

There are other good [congressional] candidates for sure. I have differences with them. But I came to a conclusion with five weeks to go — even with decent resources — there wasn't a lot of media coverage; it wasn't the kind of race that people were focused on; it was absolutely unpredictable who was going to vote. You can see that very optimistically. You can see that pessimistically. But one thing we knew for sure is we just didn't know. And I just didn't see how to overcome the disadvantages in that time frame given the dynamics. I think if this had been a front-page kind of election, I might have felt very differently. I might have said, ‘you know, there's still a lot of tools here.’

Honesty is the best policy in these things. If you feel it, if you feel that even though you're an underdog but you feel a pathway, I always would tell people to go for it. But if you don't feel it and you can't see it, then that's the time to stop.

How painful was it for you to drop out?

Well, it's painful because I tried to give it my all in City Hall. And this is all related, obviously, to my service as mayor and especially during the pandemic, I really did everything I could possibly think of to protect people in the city and try and help us [get] out of COVID. And I think in many ways, this city led the nation in terms of things like vaccine mandates and keeping schools open.

And we obviously rebounded and became extraordinarily safe in COVID terms compared to what we have been before. I mean, we were one of the most vaccinated places in the country. I was very proud of that. I thought that would all mean more.

But I think, at the same time, when there's a crisis, when people are going through pain, they can’t obviously associate with the people in leadership, even if the people in leadership are trying their best. And again, I made tough decisions. I made a lot of tough decisions knowing they wouldn't necessarily be popular and if I had been thinking about elections, it would have been the worst thing in the world in terms of trying to lead people out of crisis.

It's one thing to withdraw from this election, but you also announced that this would be the end of your career in elected office. Why?

Well, I certainly want to stay involved in public life. I want to stay involved in political life in a variety of ways. Because from my point of view at this point there's kind of a natural endpoint, and I'm very, very blessed. I truly am. I got to do things I could only have dreamed of. And I feel like I actually fulfilled a lot of my campaign promises and that's an amazing feeling. But it’s been clear in the last few years that whatever I did right and wrong — and I'm clear I made some mistakes — that it left a lot of people with sort of a sour feeling and that that's not going to change anytime soon.

It's just important to be honest about that and say, ‘OK, this was a great chapter of life, really amazing chapter.’ I'm not going to complain. Some of it’s bad luck, and some of it's the result of making decisions and knowing that people would react to those decisions. And some of it, though, was my own mistakes and my own failures of communication and things I did that bothered people and I gotta just accept that. And I don't feel bad. I'd love to go back and if I had a time machine, I would fix it.

I think it's interesting that you keep saying, ‘I've made mistakes.’ Is it that you feel regret? Are they policy regrets?

I think that the biggest regrets are about my inability to understand that so much of the job was about communication, was about creating the emotional connection with people. I knew it. Of course, I've been in public life, political life, for a long time. I knew it. In one way, I practiced it in different points of my career much better.

But I think in the maelstrom of City Hall, I lost the current. It's extremely difficult. I don't think even folks who watch City Hall every day — report on it or other people in the political class — I don't think hardly anyone understands how difficult it is. And it is humbling as all hell. It is not impossible to be mayor obviously, but it is incredibly difficult.

You had eight years as mayor. Is it the kind of job that you get better at? Or not necessarily?

I think I did not learn the lessons early on that I could have and should have. For example, I did not come up with [a] social media [strategy]. And social media became more and more important over the course of the eight years, even on the first day of my administration; its role was very different than on the last day.

And remember there was this little reality of Donald Trump in between. On the first day of my administration, no one was even thinking Donald Trump would ever be president of the United States. By the last day, he had already served a full term and he had transformed the landscape, among many other factors. I just didn't get how important it was to center a lot of my energy on social media. I didn't get how much in today's dynamic, it was important to sort of bring people into my personal space, personal dynamics, that people needed that sense of connection.

...all the protesters and all of the everyday New Yorkers who thought it was wrong, they were right.

Bill de Blasio

Can you give me another example of something else you’d change as mayor?

Yeah, sure. It’s a very painful example. The night during the protests after the killing of George Floyd — and I'm gonna take absolute personal responsibility for every mistake — but this particular instance was when the police car had gone through a crowd of protesters. And of course that was unacceptable. And of course that was painful and scary to people. But in the day or two before that we had also seen a lot of situations where officers were really put in danger and protesters were surrounding their vehicles very aggressively and smashing windows. Things that were really scary for everyone involved.

I felt fundamentally if, God forbid, a protester was killed or a police officer was killed, I thought much more violence would ensue. So I really was worried and I did not like seeing anybody being aggressive to anybody else on either side. And so when I looked at the video, I didn't like what I saw in any way because the police officers should never have gone into the crowd the way they did. But the crowd was surrounding the vehicles and not making way for them. So it was really bad all around.

And I felt very torn and pained by that situation and I was struggling with the words to talk about it. But obviously, the first thing people needed to hear was, ‘We can't let that happen.’ And it's wrong and it's dangerous. But I was really worried about this other piece of the equation, that somehow, some amongst the protesters felt it was OK to confront officers in that manner. And I was struggling with it.

And my team really wanted me to go out to speak because I hadn't spoken to the media and of course, that day, I really was tired. I was struggling to try and figure out what to say but they kept saying ‘you gotta go out, you gotta go out,’ and I should have resisted. I should have said that I'm just not ready. And I don't have the answer. I wish I had; I don't have the words and sometimes you're just exhausted and sometimes you're just confused. Sometimes there isn't a good answer.

But I went out there and I think I didn't handle it right. And so you know, I look back on that. I should have just said to everyone I am not going out until I have something to say that I think is right. Because people, all the protesters and all of the everyday New Yorkers who thought it was wrong, they were right.

Going back to the congressional race, I wanted to ask you to respond to the story in The City in which the outlet suggested you can use your donations to pay off your debts related to your presidential campaign.

The fact is that all those issues are still being considered. I said very clearly, we are pursuing an appeal. I'm not gonna get into a lot of detail but I'll simply say I believe there was a lot more information that needs to be taken into account in determining security issues going forward. And I have certainly provided a lot of information for consideration and there's a process under way and I'm not going to talk anymore until that's over.

And how about the donations?

I'm not going to speak to it because we have to see how all that goes. And obviously we have immediate obligations we have to meet like with any other campaign.

People are pretty obsessed with your debt. Do you feel under financial pressure?

I think we're talking about apples and oranges. Campaign debt. I've had campaign debts before. I've always paid them off. I will make sure when all the appeal process is complete, I'll follow whatever the ultimate outcome is, but I've never had a personal or political debt I haven't paid.

But if you were to lose the appeal?

You can keep asking but I've given you the answer. I've been very generous with time and I'm not gonna keep saying 12 versions of the same thing. And I'm gonna cut it off in a few minutes. So if you have anything else you want to get to, please here's your chance to think about that.

My editor was very interested in asking you what you think is going wrong with the Democratic Party.

I'll take another 12 hours.