Bill de Blasio has spent his last few months in office soaking up all the attention that the office of New York City mayor affords, with appearances on national cable news networks and presiding over popular events like the tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.

But on Monday morning, de Blasio, who is reportedly mulling a run for governor, used an appearance on MSNBC to roll out a policy that took some by surprise: a vaccine mandate for private sector employees.

The move was viewed by some political experts as shrewd politics as de Blasio mounts what resembles an informal primary campaign for governor that will hinge on more liberal downstate Democrats. Left-leaning Democrats are generally more supportive of stricter vaccination policies.

Strategists said the new mandates bolster the mayor’s legacy as a national leader on vaccination, but they also risk angering the business community.

“He's just going back to reclaim the turf that got him to office in the first place,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant who has worked with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Governor Andrew Cuomo. “He was elected mayor in an upset by being the left-wing candidate. He believes he's likely to be elected governor in an upset by being the left-wing candidate.”

The mayor has repeatedly argued that vaccine mandates are the only way to end the COVID-19 era and has used a step-ladder approach to implement citywide requirements that now cover nearly every segment of society.

“It’s something that needs to be universal to protect all of us,” de Blasio said.

Neal Kwatra, a Democratic strategist who represents the Hotel Trades Council, a powerful lobbying group that backed de Blasio, argued that the mayor's mandates appear “increasingly surefooted” as the White House continues to follow his lead.

President Joseph Biden praised the city’s initial vax-or-test policy, which enabled workers to opt-out of shots with a weekly COVID-19 test, and the eventual move to stricter mandates. He also urged other cities to offer vaccine incentives for the first dose as New York City has done. “It’s good policy and politics,” Kwatra said.

Mayor de Blasio is seen in the background with a monitor in the foreground that describes NYC's vaccine mandate for the private sector, which begins December 27th

Mayor Bill de Blasio during his press briefing on December 6, 2021

arrow
Mayor Bill de Blasio during his press briefing on December 6, 2021
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Last month, Biden set a January 4th deadline for large private companies to set a vax-or-test policy. That order, however, is currently stalled in federal courts.

De Blasio has been coy about whether he plans to run for governor, though he has spent the last month acting very much like a candidate. He has launched a new statewide campaign to expand universal pre-K and provide year-round schooling options. He has also spent several Sundays speaking to Black church parishioners about his latest proposal.

During an interview on MSNBC last week, de Blasio said he plans to travel across the state next year to promote his education plan. Pressed on whether he was planning to enter the gubernatorial race, he said at the time, “You can draw your own conclusions. But I'm going to be talking to the voters and the people of New York state.”

Despite his success on vaccinations, de Blasio would be considered an underdog to incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James, two Democrats who are seeking to make history—Hochul as the first woman elected as New York Governor and James as the first Black woman governor in the U.S.

With the exception of health care workers, Hochul has been more reluctant to impose strict vaccine mandates. State workers can currently opt-out of getting vaccinated by submitting to weekly testings.

Both Hochul and James are also expected to raise hefty war chests for the June primary. Meanwhile, the mayor has reportedly been gauging his support among potential donors, but he has generally had a fraught relationship with the city’s business community.

George Arzt, a political consultant who was a former press secretary for Mayor Ed Koch, said that he spent the morning fielding angry calls from business leaders about the mayor’s latest mandate.

“This will enrage them to vote against him,” he said.

On Monday, de Blasio also announced that restaurants, gyms and cultural venues would now be required to ask for proof of vaccination of anyone ages 5 and up. The mandate had previously applied only to those 12 and older.

Some business owners and commerce leaders immediately expressed concern that the rule would impact their revenues during a crucial holiday season.

But Mark Levine, the Manhattan Borough President-elect who currently chairs the City Council’s health committee, argued that business at restaurants was “booming,” largely due to the fact that mandates gave customers confidence to dine out.

Levine, a Democrat who has sometimes criticized the mayor in the past, praised the mayor’s use of mandates.

“It has protected us from the worst of this summer or early fall wave and puts us in a better position for the winter wave,” Levine said.

Ultimately, the fate of the latest mandate — which is set to take effect on December 27th — rests with Mayor-elect Eric Adams. He assumes office five days after the mandate takes effect, on January 1st. Adams has often made efforts to foster goodwill with the business community.

Adams notably did not appear remotely with the mayor at his daily briefing. He is currently in Ghana and is expected to return on Wednesday.

“The Mayor-elect will evaluate this mandate and other COVID strategies when he is in office and make determinations based on science, efficacy and the advice of health professionals,” Evan Thies, a spokesman for Adams, said in a statement.

Noting that Adams may simply undo the order, Arzt said the newest mandate amounted to “publicity” for the outgoing mayor.

But Sheinkopf argued there was no political downside to de Blasio’s latest decision.

“His great skill is being a political consultant,” he said. “Anybody who undersells him is absolutely wrong.”

An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote about vaccine mandates from Mayor Bill de Blasio to Hank Sheinkopf.