Last night, Mayor Bill de Blasio debated Democratic challenger Sal Albanese ahead of the September 12th mayoral primary, defending his record on policing, housing, transparency and pay-for-play allegations. There were some juicy exchanges—check out the full recap over on DNAinfo—but one of the more interesting nuggets was when NY1 reporter Grace Rauh called de Blasio out on some of his recent national and international trips, like his much-maligned jaunt to Germany for the G-20 conference last month. De Blasio pledged he will not run for president, but he likes talking about the national stage—he name-dropped President Obama and Elizabeth Warren a couple times last night and spoke forcefully about his efforts to stand up to President Trump. WHAT COULD THIS MEAN?
Earlier this month it was reported that de Blasio was considering a presidential run in 2020, and indeed, Rauh pointed out that the mayor appeared to be bolstering his profile outside the city. "Throughout your mayoralty, you've at times seemed to be more interested in having your moment on the national or international stage than in your day job," she said, noting trips de Blasio took to Italy, Germany, France, England and Israel, among other places. "Given that record, why should New Yorkers believe that you will be focused on the job of running the city, should they give you another four years?"
But de Blasio promised last night that he'd be sticking close to City Hall if re-elected in November. "I’m running for one thing and one thing only—mayor of New York City,” he said. "I will serve for the full four years."
Still, it was clear de Blasio wanted to compare himself to players on the national stage. When pressed on whether his hefty campaign donations affected his governing, de Blasio mentioned Warren and Obama as politicians who were not compromised by donors. "Unless you want to say that Elizabeth Warren was unduly influenced by donations, and that Barack Obama was unduly influenced by donations, I don't believe that," de Blasio said. "I believe they were making decisions based on merit."
Warren and Obama came up at least a few other times in the debate as well. De Blasio also addressed some of the Democratic Party's foibles during the 2016 election, noting that the party should focus on economic issues and policies aligned with those of Senator Bernie Sanders, who challenged eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in the primary.
It seems like national politics have been a boon of sorts for de Blasio. Prior to Trump's election last November, rumors swirled that a slew of Democratic challengers were mulling a mayoral run, including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and Representative Hakeem Jeffries. But once Trump set foot in the White House, de Blasio positioned himself as the Anti-Trump, pledging to defend NYC's status as a sanctuary city, uphold the city's commitment to the Paris Accord, and affirm protections for transgender New Yorkers, among other things.
De Blasio mentioned NYC's tension with the White House several times last night. "We have to fight a battle in Washington right now," he said. "Because of the Trump administration and the Republican Congress, our budget is threatened. Healthcare is threatened for 1.6 million New Yorkers. The 'tax reform' that Donald Trump talks about will be a tax giveaway to millionaires and billionaires. The way you fight that is by pushing the spectrum on these issues in any way you can," and recalled his coalitions with other mayors around the country to fight for things like the Affordable Care Act and immigration.
"Every New York City mayor has also had to work on the national stage as one of the leaders of urban America to protect the funding, to protect the initiatives that millions of New Yorkers depend on every day," he said.
The mayor also argued his term was tested more than his predecessors' thanks to Trump. "The people of this city are also very smart. They understand that it's not like what my previous colleagues went through. They did not deal with a Donald Trump as president. They didn't deal a lot of time with both houses of the Congress being Republican. We've had to fight in a new way to protect New York City's interests."
Still, Albanese did not seem impressed by de Blasio's self-portrayal as NYC's progressive defender against Trump. "I overlapped three mayors, in their first term they were rarely out of this city," he said. "I can tell you this, if Bill de Blasio gets re-elected, the best job in the city will be to be his travel agent."
Anyway, no President de Blasio (probably), but Governor Cuomo's made no such pledge yet, so.