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The ballad of Bill de Blasio

In New York, you can win elections even if everybody hates you. We just have to hate the other candidate more

September 20, 2019

4:47 PM

20 September 2019

4:47 PM

This is a story about some kittens and a groundhog, and a politician who should not be allowed to go near kittens and groundhogs. Or anywhere near politics, for that matter.

We begin in a very liberal enclave of very liberal Brooklyn, whereupon this Thursday evening, I hosted a group discussion in my backyard to talk about climate change. Because there are still a bunch of Democrats running for president, including several that I am very sick of hearing about, I instituted a ground rule: anyone who derailed the discussion by hyping up a presidential candidate had to put a dollar in the ‘Bill de Blasio Jar’ and it would be donated to his presidential campaign. I took this very seriously. I retrieved a large glass jar left over from my failed attempt to brew kombucha in my kitchen (remember, this is Brooklyn) and taped on it a print-out of a picture of our mayor-turned-presidential-candidate dropping a groundhog at a Groundhog Day photo op. (This was a horrific mishap in which the groundhog, ‘Staten Island Chuck’, later died of internal bleeding. More on that later.)

We raised a total of $0. The following morning, de Blasio announced the end of his presidential candidacy. Clearly, he could have used our money. I was also comfortable in assuming that there would not be a single de Blasio supporter present who might be offended by the gag. Because literally no one was supporting his campaign. When he dropped out of the race, he was polling at zero percent in his home city.

bill de blasio

The de Blasio jar

You see, in New York City we hate our mayor. We really hate him. We sometimes can’t even really articulate why we hate him, just that we do and that doing so is the natural state of things. We tend to hate Donald Trump, too, but we had to acknowledge that his tweet about de Blasio’s presidential campaign ending was a really, really sick burn (‘NYC is devastated, he’s coming home!’)

Yet de Blasio’s candidacy — hell, his entire existence as a politician — is also a teachable moment for New Yorkers. We are a well-educated city. We are a wealthy city. We are a deep-blue city that is home to many people who like to wring their hands about politics taking a turn for reality-show trashiness and about people in Those Other Parts Of America voting for terrible people because they were driven by emotion and irrationality rather than sensible things like policy and science and whatnot.

But de Blasio and his failed presidential bid, and how we all reacted to it, should be an indicator that we aren’t actually better than visceral, ignorant, reality-show politics. And maybe we should just accept that.

To backtrack a bit, Bill de Blasio is our mayor by accident. He won a competitive Democratic primary in which he first started to rise in the polls after one well-known candidate dropped out due to a sex scandal (why, yes, it was Anthony Weiner) and absorbing some of that candidate’s support. Then, two other candidates — Bill Thompson and Christine Quinn — split a good portion of the remaining vote. After that improbable win in the Democratic primary, de Blasio headed to the general election and faced off against Joe Lhota, a Republican whose likability problems were compounded by the fact that he had gone on the record saying he would let kittens die. No, really. That summer, two subway lines were shut down during rush hour in order to rescue two kittens on the tracks. Lhota told the New York Post that he would not have stopped the trains, and the press promptly branded him a kitten killer.

You heard that right. It is only moderately oversimplifying things to say that Bill de Blasio was elected by kittens.

In New York, you can win elections even if everybody hates you. We just have to hate the other candidate more. New Yorkers are used to hating people. And there are plenty of New Yorkers who, if asked, could not actually tell you anything bad that Bill de Blasio has done as mayor. They probably couldn’t tell you anything good, either (to his credit, establishing universal Pre-K seems to be a legitimate accomplishment). But they could tell you he eats his pizza with a knife and fork, he takes an SUV to the gym and never rides the subway, and he is a supporter of the Boston Red Sox. They could also probably tell you he killed a groundhog once. He also apparently doesn’t work very hard, which is a cardinal sin in a town where we have a superiority complex about how hard we work and how stressful our lives are and how resilient it makes us. Perhaps the only relatable thing about Bill de Blasio is how like us, he hates our governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Pretty much none of us wanted him to run for president, but it’s not like he was doing much here, anyway. When tens of thousands of NYC residents lost power in a blackout in August? Mayor de Blasio was campaigning in Iowa. He probably wouldn’t have been able to keep the lights on if he’d stayed home.

Bill de Blasio is emblematic of the fact that New York City is one of the most shamelessly petty places on earth, especially when it comes to our politics and the city’s media machine. And after all, sometimes it’s not about the issues. It’s about Staten Island Chuck. It’s about the Subway Kittens. It’s about de Blasio taking a taxpayer-funded SUV from Gracie Mansion to Park Slope so that he could spend half an hour on the elliptical machine at his gym of choice. And yet somehow we re-elected him, because — whatever, no sex scandals, and he’s only killed one groundhog (that we know of).

In New York, a lot of us think we’re somehow more worldly, more cultured, more entitled to insight about the future than the rest of America. I’m guilty here for sure — I mean, I just hosted a climate change discussion group in my backyard. But when we look at our own politics, and what makes us love or hate the people we elect to represent us (and we mostly hate them), we don’t have much of a soapbox to stand on. And maybe that’s all right — but at the very least, we should own it. When it comes to politics, we’re kind of the worst.

But when it comes to pizza, we’re the best. Chicago’s the worst. Those things they make are casseroles and should be labeled as such.

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