Newly-declared presidential hopeful Bill de Blasio kicked off his campaign on Thursday, making stops at Times Square and the Statue of Liberty—like a true-blooded American tourist visiting NYC from, say, Boston—before heading to Iowa for a five-state tour of the country. Along the way, the mayor promoted himself as a progressive big city leader uniquely qualified to take on President Trump, even as many New Yorkers greeted the announcement with a collective groan.
"What I bring is absolute, total focus on putting working people first," the mayor declared after returning from Ellis Island on Thursday afternoon. "When you look at the things we have done to ensure working people have opportunity—pre-K, paid sick leave, guaranteed health care—these are realities that change people's lives."
De Blasio has been testing out that (somewhat inflated) stump speech for weeks now. But he got a big boost on Thursday from President Trump, who dubbed him "the worst mayor in the U.S," and then reiterated the point in a video tweeted aboard Air Force Once.
The mayor shot back with his devastating new moniker for the current White House occupant: "Con Don." Within hours of his announcement, the rhyming insult had come out of the mayor's mouth no less than four times.
— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) May 16, 2019
"I am going to keep calling him Con Don because that's what he deserves to be called," the mayor promised. "Any good New Yorker who's watched a game of three-card monte or any other example of the way some in this city try to get one over on others—we're a pretty streetwise people. We know a con man."
The mayor also stressed that he was serious about winning, and not deterred by his sizable polling deficit or lack of institutional support. Among national Democratic primary voters, de Blasio has the highest unfavorability ratings of 23 candidates. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, more than three-quarters of New Yorkers do not want him to run for president. The constituent response may have been best summed up by a NY Post cover of people guffawing at the idea.
But if the city's regard for his candidacy as farce is bothering de Blasio, he's not letting on. When the mayor met with City Hall staffers on Thursday afternoon, according to a source who was in the room, "he was in the best mood I've ever seen." (De Blasio, a reportedly obsessive boss, added that the staff should be happy he won't be around to micromanage them as much.)
Even the protesters who showed up outside his Good Morning America appearance didn't faze him. As their chants of "liar" and "go back to bed" threatened to drown out the interview, the mayor shrugged it off as a "little serenade."
The group outside the live-taping seemed to confirm the mayor's recent observation that his campaign would finally unify New Yorkers: those pinned outside of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. included Black Lives Matter activists angry about the continued employment of Eric Garner's killer, NYPD officers in want of a contract, and elderly New Yorkers upset that the mayor has not followed through on a promise to budget $500 million toward housing for low-income seniors.
"Homelessness is rising in our city, conditions are not improving," said Reverend David K. Brawley, an East New York resident. "We want Americans to know the truth about this man."
Other New Yorkers gravitated toward the spectacle on the Broadway pedestrian plaza (which the mayor once threatened to rip out) to add their voices to the chorus of people opposed to the nascent candidacy.
"I guess he's been okay, but this will really kind of upset things," Mac Gushanas, a 25-year-old book seller in Times Square, told Gothamist. "Any kind of goodwill he had will be lost from this...I have no idea what he's thinking."
Asked about the city's cool reception to his candidacy later in the day, de Blasio once again pivoted back to the president: "The mean-spiritedness you refer to is something we need to get out of our political culture. We need to get more unified. But that's only going to happen if we confront Donald Trump because he's been the wellspring of so much of it."
First Lady Chirlane McCray noted that she'd grown "immune" to the heckling from other New Yorkers, and the mayor added that the country's opinions would change once "people get to know who I am" and "what this campaign is about."
But thus far, the mayor isn't winning any endorsements from those he works closely with either.
"It's going to be hard for him," said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson earlier this week, when asked by Gothamist if he would support the mayor's candidacy. "The job of being mayor of the city of New York, with the number of emergencies and unexpected events that happen every single day, is constant."
Shortly after the mayor's announcement, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams told Good Day New York that his tenure had been a "net negative for the city."
Over the next three days, de Blasio will make campaign stops in Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina and Connecticut. He pledged on Thursday not to spend more than eight days outside of the city, saying he was "well aware" it would mean forfeiting his job as sitting mayor (under the city charter, Williams would become the city's acting executive once the mayor is away for nine days). De Blasio wouldn't elaborate much more on how he plans to continue managing a city of eight million people while mounting a serious run for the presidency, other than to say New Yorkers should trust him.
"It'll depend on the week obviously," the mayor said. "I'm going to be here a lot. I'm going to be constantly in touch. Things are going to happen. You're going to see it with your own eyes."
Additional reporting by Christopher Robbins.